Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Post-traumatic stress disorder and you

A big heads-up from Swedish Meatballs Confidential to an article by former Army Ranger and paratrooper, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman regarding the provenence of the increasingly high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that have been seen in American soldiers since Vietnam. PTSD is not something that soldiers are simply more susceptible to, or some phantom menace as it is derrided by right wing yowlers, but has been the result of modern psyops training of military forces since WWII. This training was designed to overcome the natural reluctance of soldiers to actually shoot at the enemy, an effect well documented by a variety of studies of various historical battles.
Marshall was a U.S. Army historian in the Pacific theater during World War II and later became the official U.S. historian of the European theater of operations. He had a team of historians working for him, and they based their findings on individual and mass interviews with thousands of soldiers in more than 400 infantry companies immediately after they had been in close combat with German or Japanese troops. The results were consistently the same: Only 15 to 20 percent of the American riflemen in combat during World War II would fire at the enemy. Those who would not fire did not run or hide—in many cases they were willing to risk greater danger to rescue comrades, get ammunition, or run messages. They simply would not fire their weapons at the enemy, even when faced with repeated waves of banzai charges.
Once discovering this, the military clearly had to find some way to overcome the human reluctance to kill. It's what they do.

By the time of Vietnam, bootcamp had become hate camp (possibly Jesus Camp these days). New psyops techniques were developed to create "enemy contempt," something that had never been done in previous generations of war. This has led to the high rates of post traumatic stress now seen in modern soldiers as a result of the internal conflict created by natural aversion to killing and the now highly increased levels of participation in the act. The more effective and efficient the training, the greater the rate of aggravated PTSD.
Since World War II, a new era has quietly dawned in modern warfare: an era of psychological warfare, conducted not upon the enemy, but upon one’s own troops. The triad of methods used to enable men to overcome their innate resistance to killing includes desensitization, classical and operant conditioning, and denial defense mechanisms.

Authors such as Gwynne Dyer and Richard Holmes have traced the development of boot-camp glorification of killing. They’ve found it was almost unheard of in World War I, rare in World War II, increasingly present in Korea, and thoroughly institutionalized in Vietnam. “The language used in [marine training camp] Parris Island to describe the joys of killing people,” writes Dyer, helps “desensitize [marines] to the suffering of an ‘enemy,’ and at the same time they are being indoctrinated in the most explicit fashion (as previous generations were not) with the notion that their purpose is not just to be brave or to fight well; it is to kill people.”

The ability to increase the firing rate, though, comes with a hidden cost. Severe psychological trauma becomes a distinct possibility when military training overrides safeguards against killing: In a war when 95 percent of soldiers fired their weapons at the enemy, it should come as no surprise that between 18 and 54 percent of the 2.8 million military personnel who served in Vietnam suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder—far higher than in previous wars.
Once again, our modern methods of warfare are coming back to haunt us. Sadly, being a military man, Grossman's prescription for this is not to stop turning human beings into killing machines against their will and predisposition, but rather, to advise the afflicted soldiers to seek help. Because we are in a long war. And the killing must go on and on and on.

[big h/t to meatball1. fascinating.]


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