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.Share