Monday, July 15, 2013

Desensitization in the military

I heard a recent news report on the radio which stated that in the Australian military the number of people returning from combat with PTSD has doubled in the last three years. One possible explanation for this is the soldiers are no longer being properly psychologically prepared before they go into war.

One is reminded of the stereotypical image of the drill Sargent. His face one inch from the trainee soldier with spittle coming out his mouth, shouting that the soldier’s mother is a whore and his father is a faggot. Why would he do such a thing? He is not really talking about the mother’s occupational history nor the father’s sexual orientation. He is brutalizing the young soldier because he knows if he does that then the soldier will desensitize and therefore be more psychologically prepared to go into a war zone. He is less likely to come back with PTSD.


In Australia at the moment the Defence department is undergoing considerable public scrutiny. Some of its members have been doing things like having sex with female members and then streaming it live onto the internet. Emailing pornographic pictures of female soldiers and so forth. Clearly these are very wrong things to do but we need to be careful.

The department of defence is a special case in terms of government organizations. It is not like the department of transportation nor the education department. The defence department is about training people to kill others. It is about training mainly men to go into a war zone and be able to walk around knowing the next step they take may be onto a mine which will blow of his leg and his genitals. This type of thing is not required in the department of transportation whose biggest task is to make sure the trains run on time.

The department of defence must be a brutalizing organization. It must in some way assault the soldiers as there is no other way to get them to psychologically desensitize. People just will not go through the psychological process of desensitization unless they are being faced with some form of repugnant abuse.

heads 4
This is what war is.

As it officially sanctions brutal treatment of the training soldiers it is inevitable that some of its members will then start brutalizing each other. That’s what happens in human groups. The culture of the group is defined by the leadership and then its members will inevitably behave the same way. That can be in a family of four or an organization of thousands. The leadership defines the acceptable behaviour by their actions (not words!) and then the membership will sooner or later display that behaviour to those outside the organization but internally to each other as well.

I don’t know of an answer to this dilemma. It is very wrong for people to send offensive internet images of others or behave in any abusive form to another person. At the same time we have to have a military that has a culture of brutality and therefore it is inevitable some of the membership will do the same to those they live with.

The danger is that the military will become a more ‘sensitive’ organization. If they do not maintain the level of abuse of the soldiers then there will not be the necessary desensitization occurring. Therefore they are going to be sent into war psychologically under prepared and more will develop PTSD. This is an abomination. Not only do we send off these young men to fight our wars and possibly die but we under prepare them so they can come home further damaged for years afterwards with PTSD.

What the politicians will probably say is that we can brutalize them in their training but then teach them not to brutalize each other. I have my doubts if that is possible because human group psychology just does not work that way.

It’s like the mother who smacks her son for hitting his sister. In human psychology actions speak far far louder than words.

girl & gun

I can’t see a realistic solution. The politically correct solution is clear but as I said I have my doubts if that is possible. May be the military is already becoming more sensitive and we are beginning to see the consequences of that with a dramatic increase in PTSD.


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