Rewiring the Human Brain to Train it for Obedience and Violence: The Psychological Reality of Military Training, by David Gee

The First Ambush: Hijacking the Human Brain

‘Unbeknown to me at the time, the army’s training and/or indoctrination would come to shape my life, my decisions and my neurological processes for years to come. I suppose at the time we took it all in our stride and laughed it off. But we as people and in particular our brains were being prepared for the inhuman rigours and demands of traditional war fighting, closing with and engaging the enemy and by extension modern international conflicts’ – Ryan Hall, British infantry, 2000-2008

A major new report has just been published drawing on veterans’ testimony and around 200 studies from the last half-century to explore for the first time the effects of modern army employment on soldiers, particularly their initial training. The studies are mainly the work of military academic research departments in the UK and US, supplemented by research in other countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, and Norway. The report finds that army employment has a significant detrimental impact on soldiers’ attitudes, health, behaviour, and financial prospects. This is partly due to soldiers’ war experiences, but also to how they are recruited and trained, how they are conditioned by military culture, and how they re-adjust to civilian life afterwards.

It reveals how in the process of transforming civilians into soldiers, army training and culture forcibly alter recruits’ attitudes under conditions of sustained stress, leading to harmful health effects even before they are sent to war. Among the consequences are elevated rates of mental health problems, heavy drinking, violent behaviour, and unemployment after discharge, as well as poorer general health in later life.

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David Gee explores the mental health issues of youth recruitment on ‘Armed Forces Day’

PTSD, Suicide, Alcoholism, Child Recruitment, and Violence: Aspects of Mental Health in today’s British Armed Forces

Although not all veterans are severely affected, a military career carries significant mental health risks, particularly at times of war when substantial numbers of psychiatric casualties are usual. Research from the last decade shows that certain mental health-related problems in the armed forces, particularly harmful alcohol use and post-deployment violent behaviour, are a serious problem. Those who have left the forces during the last decade show markedly higher rates of a number of mental health-related problems, particularly PTSD and harmful levels of drinking. These issues are of particular concern in relation to ‘Armed Forces Day’, which serves among other things as a recruitment opportunity for the armed forces. But what are the mental health implications for those who enlist, particularly the youngest recruits who are most vulnerable to these risks?

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