Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Army wants to believe that "faulty" beliefs, rather than war itself, cause depression, anxiety, suicide and homicide among soldiers

Today's New York Times reports on the front page that the Army is instituting "classes" for all soldiers to help them identify false beliefs that are believed to cause anxiety, depression, suicide and homicide among soldiers. In my view, this is the extreme application of cognitive-behavioral thinking that reveals the basic fallacy in the approach.
To my mind, anxiety and depression, if not suicide, are very understandable reactions to the conditions of war. War, of course, creates conditions in which the line between justified killing and homicide can get very blurry. War generates unthinkable experiences: killing and the ever present risk of being killed, seeing one's fellows blown to bits. The senseless discontinuity between life in the war zone and back at home in the malls and on the freeways, while one's buddies are back in Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam or France killing and being killed. Telling people that their breakdowns are due to their faulty beliefs is mystification and pathologization that can only generate further confusion and despair, or a false and brittle adaptation to the official expectation.
In my view, what this application of cognitive-behavioral thinking exposes is its basic grandiosity: the belief that emotions, human responses to the conditions of life, are controllable through manipulation of thoughts. The Army wants to believe that war-generated anxiety, depression, suicidal and homicidal feelings are controllable by manipulation of thought in 90 minute classes. I wish those classes were devoted to validating the sense of confusion, horror and helplessness that these soldiers feel, making room for a sense of betrayal by those who sent them to war, without undermining the feeling others may have that they have served their country, if not all of humanity, by going to war.

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