The Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program

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is designed to improve “Soldier performance and readiness. Build confidence to lead, courage to stand up for one’s beliefs and compassion to help others. Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is about maximizing one’s potential.”   This program is deemed so important to forming core values of our men and women in uniform and their families, that they have even developed a camouflaged logo to promote the program.  I suspect that by the time the lobbyists and universities have milked this program dry it will cost well over $125 million, but who is counting with a Federal budget spiralling out of control.

John Hogan, writing for Scientic American in an April 18th article entitled, Beware the military-psychological complex: A $125-million program to boost soldiers’ “fitness” raises ethical questions, addresses the “big picture” issues that surround this program.  Mr. Hogan begins with a reminder from President Eisenhower some 50 years ago of the every present dangers of the “unwarranted influence” on the “military-industrial complex” on American politics.  Mr. Hogan goes on to say that “President Dwight Eisenhower also deplored the growing dependence of scientists on federal funding. ‘The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by federal employment, project allocations and the power of money is ever present—and is gravely to be regarded.'”

According to Mr. Hogan, the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program is “the brainchild of one of the most powerful figures in American psychology, Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania. A former president of the American Psychological Association (APA), Seligman is best-known for founding the enormously popular positive psychology, or ‘happiness,’ movement, which emphasizes positive rather than negative personality traits and emotions.”

Raising doubts on the efficacy of such psychological programs, Mr. Hogan draws attention to  psychologists Roy Eidelson, Marc Pilisuk and Stephen Soldz who published a fascinating article for Counterpunch entitled The Dark Side of  “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness.”  In it, these distinguished psychologists ask “Why is the world’s largest organization of psychologists so aggressively promoting a new, massive and untested military program?”  Their “answers” or lingering “questions” certainly disturbed me and I believe that others will also be alarmed.

Found below are just a few of their observations and, I would certainly encourage SFTT members to read the entire CounterPunch article:

  • “It is highly unusual for the effectiveness of such a huge (1.1 million service members) and consequential intervention program not to be convincingly demonstrated first in carefully conducted randomized controlled trials – before being rolled out under less controlled conditions. Such preliminary studies are far from a mere formality. The literature on prevention interventions is full of well-intentioned efforts that either failed to have positive effects or, even worse, had harmful consequences for those receiving them.”
  • “We also believe that other key aspects of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness should have received explicit discussion in this special issue. It is standard practice for an independent and unbiased ethics review committee (an “institutional review board” or “IRB”) to evaluate the ethical issues arising from a research project prior to its implementation . . . This process is even more critical given that the soldiers apparently have no informed consent protections – they are all required to participate in the CSF program. Such research violates the Nuremberg Code developed during the post-World War II trials of Nazi doctors.”
  • “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness draws heavily on ‘positive psychology’ in aiming to reduce the incidence of psychological harm resulting from combat and post-combat stress . . . But writers such as Barbara Held, Barbara Ehrenreich, Eugene Taylor and James Coyne have offered compelling critiques of positive psychology, including its failure to sufficiently recognize the valuable functions played by “negative” emotions like anger, sorrow, and fear; its slick marketing and disregard for harsh and unforgiving societal realities like poverty; its failure to examine the depth and richness of human experience; and its growing tendency to promote claims without sufficient scientific support (e.g., the relationship between positive psychological states and health outcomes, or the mechanisms underlying ‘posttraumatic growth’).”
  • “Ultimately, there is a paradox that should be foremost in the minds of professional psychologists. Helping people who have already been harmed by trauma is essential. But should we be involved in helping an institution prepare to place more people in harm’s way without careful and ongoing questioning and review of the rationale for doing so? Whatever the needs for a military for national defense, or the benefits of team building, loyalty, camaraderie, and a positive outlook, militaries are, among other things, authoritarian institutions that kill, maim, deceive, and actively reduce an individual’s sense of independent agency.”

This is a pretty strong rebuttal of the “happy soldier” program now being engineered by university psychologists with little empirical evidence to justify such “training.”  The fact that it has been so widely endorsed by our military leadership is quite frightening and I suspect that the debate will intensify as public awareness of this psychological programming receives more attention.

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  1. Mike  April 28, 2011

    Isn’t this the sort of ideological behavioral ‘science’ that the VA had been using when veterans would apply for support after coming down with really bizarre symptoms after serving in Vietnam and Iraq but didn’t have any way to prove what it was?

    Was it not concluded that those war veterans simply must just have bad attitudes? Or that they’re malingerers? It’s their fault that nerve agents drift around after demolition and then follow the prevailing winds — bad attitude causes that. Doubt it? Well, then you have a bad attitude too.

    This isn’t denial, because the people doing the denying aren’t the patients or the troops subjected to ‘conditioning.’ The people doing the denying (i.e. denying large swaths of reality by using ideological psych to begin with) are supposedly public health folks and Army experts.

    Thanks to Stand for the Troops for breaking this down and reviewing some of the literature that distrusts ideological behavioral science.

  2. Mike  April 28, 2011

    One more point, or question: what will psychological conditioning do to the traditional process of evaluating reality on and around the battlefield? Will leaders in the field have to conform to some kind of conditioned responses before they can get real? Isn’t getting real, and getting real really fast kind of key in combat operations?

    This sounds a little bit like the old soviet political officer schtick of last century, merely with a different ideology.

  3. 1SG Steve  April 30, 2011

    This is so typical of the new mind set in the Army. Everything coming at us is conceived by some educated morons that have never spent one day in a uniform (no, a lab coat is not a uniform).

    It should come as no surprise that the leadership is ready to jump all over it. That is the wave of the future. You must accept everything that is shoved at you no matter how ridiculous it may be. The new Army leaders have been conditioned for years to accept change without question. We have been brainwashed to believe that if you don’t accept ludicrous ideas then you are just resisting change and OMG that is a BAD thing. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not it’s a good idea. They are all good ideas because we spent a lot of money on the research and the guys that came up with it have degrees that are a mile long.

    Every generation believes that they are much more enlightened and twice as inelligent as the one before. Something needs to be done to mitigate the effects of combat, but is this the best they could come up with. I think the DOD should demand a refund.

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