Towards the Guilt-Free Soldier

In the US, The Department of Defence is toying with the idea of medicating soldiers to desensitise them to combat trauma - will an army of unfeeling monsters result?

Critics of the socialist case and experts on human nature are fond of telling class warriors that socialism will never work because, our many other negative behavioural traits aside, humans are naturally aggressive. Assumedly this innate tendency for us to rip one another’s throats out, without compunction, is a big stumbling block to socialism.

Socialists have always been ready to counter such absurd accusations, often pointing to the way governments have to introduce the draft, forcibly enlist people into wars, citing also, as this blog has on several occasions, the numbers of soldiers who just cannot hack the killing game and return home to commit suicide en masse. I personally like to throw into the counter argument the number of army desertions – i.e. 50,000 during the Vietnam war.

Alternet today provides socialist with another gem to counter the “humans are too aggressive” brigade with. Seemingly, last June, the Department of Defence Task Force on Mental Health accepted there were “daunting and growing" psychological problems among US soldiers. Almost 40 percent of soldiers, a third of Marines and fifty per cent of the National Guard have identifiable mental health issues. The department further reports "fundamental weaknesses" in the U.S. military's approach to psychological health.

Two months later came the Army Suicide Event Report (ASER), which testified that 2006 saw the highest rate of military suicides in 26 years. Then, back in November of last year, CBS News reported (and Class Warfare did too here) that, based on its own extensive research, over 6,250 American veterans took their own lives in 2005 alone – which works out as a staggering 17 suicides a day.

On Dec. 12, Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called a hearing on "Stopping Suicides: Mental Health Challenges Within the Department of Veterans Affairs." At that hearing sundry ideas were mooted and dialogue commenced with a view to addressing the problem.

One suggestion proffered was clever use of the Psychological Kevlar Act of 2007, another use of the drug propranalol to treat the symptoms of post traumatic stress injuries. Compunction

I quote at length below from the Alternet piece, written by Penny Coleman, that takes up the story:

‘The Psychological Kevlar Act directs the Secretary of Defense to develop and implement a plan to incorporate preventive and early-intervention measures, practices or procedures that reduce the likelihood that personnel in combat will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other stress-related psychopathologies, including substance use conditions…The stated purpose of this legislation is to make American soldiers less vulnerable to the combat stressors that so often result in psychic injuries….’

‘Since World War II, our military has sought and found any number of ways to override the values and belief systems recruits have absorbed from their families, schools, communities and religions. Using the principles of operant conditioning, the military has found ways to re-programme their human software, overriding those characteristics that are inconvenient in a military context, most particularly the inherent resistance human beings have to killing others of their own species. "Modern combat training conditions soldiers to act reflexively to stimuli," says Lt. Col. Peter Kilner, a professor of philosophy and ethics at West Point, "and this maximizes soldiers' lethality, but it does so by bypassing their moral autonomy. Soldiers are conditioned to act without considering the moral repercussions of their actions; they are enabled to kill without making the conscious decision to do so. If they are unable to justify to themselves the fact that they killed another human being, they will likely -- and understandably -- suffer enormous guilt. This guilt manifests itself as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it has damaged the lives of thousands of men who performed their duty in combat.’

‘By military standards, operant conditioning has been highly effective. It's enabled American soldiers to kill more often and more efficiently, and that ability continues to exact a terrible toll on those we have designated as the "enemy." But the toll on the troops themselves is also tragic….When soldiers are witness to overwhelming horror, or because of a reflexive accident, an illegitimate order, or because multiple deployments have thoroughly distorted their perceptions, or simply because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time -- those are the moments that will continue to haunt them, the memories they will not be able to forgive or forget, and the stuff of posttraumatic stress injuries.

‘And it's not just the inherent conscientious objector our military finds inconvenient: current U.S. military training also includes a component to desensitize male soldiers to the sounds of women being raped, so the enemy cannot use the cries of their fellow soldiers to leverage information. I think it not unreasonable to connect such desensitization techniques to the rates of domestic violence in the military, which are, according to the DoD, five times those in the civilian population. Is anyone really surprised that men who have been specifically trained to ignore the pain and fear of women have a difficult time coming home to their wives and families? And clearly they do. There were 2,374 reported cases of sexual assault in the military in 2005, a 40 percent increase over 2004. But that figure represents only reported cases, and, as Air Force Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain, commander of DoD's Joint Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response pointed out, "Studies indicate that only 5 percent of sexual assaults are reported."

‘…I cannot convince myself that what is really being promoted isn't a form of moral lobotomy…I cannot imagine what aspects of selfhood will have to be excised or paralyzed so soldiers will no longer be troubled by what they, not to mention we, would otherwise consider morally repugnant. A soldier who has lost an arm can be welcomed home because he or she still shares fundamental societal values. But the soldier who sees her friend emulsified by a bomb, or who is ordered to run over children in the road rather than slow down the convoy, or who realizes too late that the woman was carrying a baby, not a bomb -- if that soldier's ability to feel terror and horror has been amputated, if he or she can no longer be appalled or haunted, something far more precious has been lost. I am afraid that the training or conditioning or drug that will be developed to protect soldiers from such injuries will leave an indifference to violence that will make them unrecognizable to themselves and to those who love them. They will be alienated and isolated, and finally unable to come home.

‘Post traumatic stress injuries can devastate the lives of soldiers and their families. The suicides that are so often the result of such injuries make it clear that they can be every bit as lethal as bullets or bombs, and to date no cure has been found. Treatment and disability payments, both for injured troops and their families, are a huge budgetary concern that becomes ever more daunting as these wars drag on. The Psychological Kevlar Act perhaps holds out the promise of a prophylactic remedy, but it should come as no surprise that Big Pharma has been looking for a chemical intervention.

‘What they have come up with has already been dubbed "the mourning after pill…Not surprisingly, the Army is already on board. Propranolol is a well-tolerated medication that has been used for years for other purposes. And it is inexpensive.

‘…Leon Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, object[s] to propranolol's use on the grounds that it medicates away one's conscience. "It's the morning-after pill for just about anything that produces regret, remorse, pain or guilt," he says. Barry Romo, a national coordinator for Vietnam Veterans Against the War, is even more blunt. "That's the devil pill," he says. "That's the monster pill, the anti-morality pill. That's the pill that can make men and women do anything and think they can get away with it. Even if it doesn't work, what's scary is that a young soldier could believe it will."

‘It doesn't take a neuroscientist to see the problem with both of these solutions. Though both hold the promise of relief from the effects of an injury that causes unspeakable pain, they do so at what appears to be great cost. Whatever research projects might be funded by the Psychological Kevlar Act and whatever use is made of propranolol, they will almost certainly involve a diminished range of feelings and memory, without which soldiers and veterans will be different. But in what ways?’

You can bet your last penny that, in their hunt for the perfect killing machine, a soldier who can kill without remorse, who’ll suffer no post traumatic stress, the masters of wars have been carrying our experiments in secret for at last 60 years. Indeed, should the shit hit the fan and mass violent insurrection break out, what better soldier to have on your side (when the trend is for soldiers to ally with the insurrectionists) than to have morally lobotomised troops at you beck and call who’d have no qualms about turning their guns on their own kith and kin!

The very fact that such mind-numbing narcotics are now seriously sought after is proof if ever needed that we are not innately aggressive!

For related info, see The Guilt-Free Soldier.


joeperez said...

In 2003, the Pentagon began research on what it calls "war fighter enhancement", a project to turn run-of-the mill American cannon fodder and draftees into "super soldiers". Among the techniques being studied by the Pentagon are pharmaceuticals, hormones, human genetic engineering and microchip implants. Although the Pentagon has not publicly conceded that it is cloning humans to create races of identical "super soldiers" with identical "desirable" characteristics, it would be naive to assume that the thought hasn't crossed their minds.

The goal of "war fighter enhancement" is to be able to create legions of drones who do not tire, require little or no sleep, kill on command without remorse, have no fear of death and do not form veteran's groups opposed to war.

John: said...

Cheers Joe, further info for anyone interested in this can be found over on Counterpunch: