World  
comments_image Comments

American Soldiers Brainwashed with "Positive Thinking"

The U.S. military has become increasingly excited about positive psychology techniques. Maybe a better route would be to offer soldiers respect for their critical thinking
 
 
Share
 
 
 
 

While U.S. military psychiatrists are prescribing increasing amounts of chill pills, America’s psychologists are teaching soldiers how to think more positively about their tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and wherever else they are next ordered to kill the bad guys and win the hearts and minds of everyone else.

The U.S. Army is planning to require that all 1.1 million of its soldiers take intensive training in positive psychology and emotional resiliency. Army Research Psychologist Capt. Paul Lester, who leads the assessment of the program, told the National Psychologist (“Army to Train its Own in Positive Psychology,” July/August 2010), “As far as I can tell this is the largest, deliberate, psychological intervention in human history. . . . We don’t know when the global war on terrorism is going to end so we’re preparing to have to be engaged for a long period of time.”

Lester said the program would develop “communication skills, cognitive reforming skills and help soldiers not to catastrophize -- don’t think of the worse case scenario about every potential problem.” The program also teaches soldiers to focus on “expressing appreciation” and “correcting negative views of ambiguous events.”

In August 2009, the New York Times reported that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army’s chief of staff, said the total cost of this program would be $117 million. The New York Times was alerted to the program by psychologist Martin Seligman, director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, who has been consulting with the Pentagon. Seligman’s particular program at Penn is costing the U.S. Army $25 to $30 million, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which in its profile of Seligman (May 30, 2010) noted that he “confidently walked the line between grand and grandiose”; and it quoted him asserting, “We’re after creating an indomitable Army.”

Seligman initially thought that training the entire Army would be nearly an impossible chore because of the enormous number of teachers required. However, Gen. Casey informed him that the Army had 40,000 teachers. “You do?” Seligman said. “Yes,” Casey retorted, they’re called drill sergeants.” Now 150 sergeants come to Penn each month to take a course in positive psychology.

At one training session given at a hotel near Penn, according to the New York Times, 48 sergeants in full fatigues sat at desks, took notes, and role played. In one exercise, Sgt. First Class James Cole of Fort Riley, Kansas and his classmate transformed Sgt. Cole’s negative thinking about an order late in the day to have Sgt. Cole’s exhausted men do one last difficult assignment.

“Why is he tasking us again for this job?” the classmate asked, pretending to be Sgt. Cole. “It’s not fair.”

Sergeant Cole gave the “correct” positive-thinking response, “Maybe he’s hitting us because he knows we’re more reliable.”

While positive psychology makes some sense for teenagers who are catastrophizing their first relationship breakup to the point of becoming suicidal, how much sense does it make to teach soldiers who are trying to stay alive in a war zone to put a positive spin on everything? Moreover, wouldn’t soldiers like their officers to consider worst-case scenarios before ordering them into combat? And wouldn’t soldiers like politicians to take seriously worst-case scenarios before embarking on a war? The healthy option to negative thinking is not positive thinking but critical thinking. Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Bright-sided and astute critic of the dark side of positive thinking and positive psychology, points out:

It’s easy to see positive thinking as a uniquely American form of naïveté, but it is neither uniquely American nor endearingly naïve. In vastly different settings, positive thinking has been a tool of political repression worldwide. . . . In the Soviet Union, as in the Eastern European states and North Korea, the censors required upbeat art, books, and films, meaning upbeat heroes, plots about fulfilling production quotas, and endings promising a glorious revolutionary future. . . .The penalties for negative thinking were real. Not to be positive and optimistic was to be ‘defeatist’. . . . Accusing someone of spreading defeatism condemned him to several years in Stalinist camps.

 
See more stories tagged with: