[News] Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Apr 19 11:14:51 EDT 2019


  Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?

by Roy Eidelson <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/jecaspud8989/> - 
April 19, 2019

When hijacked planes hit their targets on the morning of September 11, 
2001, the American Psychological Association (APA) sprang into action. 
Within hours, through its disaster response network the APA mobilized 
expert practitioners and worked with the American Red Cross to provide 
psychological support to families of the victims and to rescue workers. 
The APA’s public affairs office moved quickly as well to assist the 
public—and especially families, children, and schools—by developing and 
disseminating materials 
<http://www.apa.org/monitor/nov01/aparesponds.aspx> that provided 
psychological guidance about coping with fear and trauma.

But with comparable urgency, the APA also ensured that the Bush 
Administration would view the association as a valued partner in the 
military and intelligence operations central to the new “war on 
terror.” Within days, the APA’s science directorate called upon research 
psychologists to identify how psychological science might contribute to 
counter-terrorism initiatives. Shortly thereafter, a newly established 
APA subcommittee on psychology’s response to terrorism directed 
<http://www.apa.org/monitor/nov01/militarypsych.aspx> its attention to 
“offering psychologists’ expertise to decision-makers in the military, 
Central Intelligence Agency, Department of State and related agencies” 
and to “inventorying members’ expertise and asking government 
psychologists how agencies could put that expertise to use.”

These two responses are clearly very different from each other. The 
first—providing expert, research-informed psychological assistance to a 
grieving and traumatized nation—captures the stated mission 
<https://www.apa.org/about/index> of the APA quite well: “advancing 
psychology to benefit society and improve people’s lives.” The 
second—offering zealous support to the military-intelligence 
establishment after the White House had promised 
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/specials/attacked/transcripts/cheney091601.html> a 
“crusade” in which adversaries would face the “full wrath” of the United 
States and in which our operatives would “spend time in the shadows” 
working “the dark side” and using “any means at our disposal”—certainly 
does /not. /

//Yet in various forms, this troubling dichotomy has appeared again and 
again in the years since the 9/11 attacks. On the one hand, at times the 
APA has taken public stands on key perils and injustices associated with 
issues such as climate change 
<https://www.apa.org/about/policy/climate-change>, poverty 
<https://www.apa.org/advocacy/socioeconomic-status/index>, racism 
<https://www.apa.org/advocacy/civil-rights/diversity/index>, gun 
violence <https://www.apa.org/about/policy/firearms>, consumerism 
<https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun04/protecting>, and immigration 
But when the focus shifts to conquering the third 
<https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/beyond-vietnam> of 
Martin Luther King’s “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and 
militarism,” the APA turns silent, or worse. With large segments of the 
American public so readily and regularly enticed by the bipartisan 
glorification of war and all things military, the world’s largest 
association of psychologists could play an important moderating and 
cautionary role. Unfortunately, the APA instead often acts like the 
“impaired professional” who is**unable (or unwilling) to intervene 
because they too suffer from the same addiction. Here are several examples.


The arena that has received the most attention is the disturbing 
<https://books.google.com/books/about/Unjustifiable_Means.html?id=C3BADwAAQBAJ> of 
psychologists—including members 
<https://jspp.psychopen.eu/article/viewFile/479/pdf> of the APA—in the 
government-authorized torture and abuse of “war on terror” detainees. As 
revelations of this wrongdoing and abandonment of professional ethics 
emerged and then spread well over a decade ago, for years the APA’s 
primary responses were a combination of stonewalling, denials, and 
attacks against critics. The APA’s ethics office director insisted 
<https://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/07/washington/07detain.html> that psychologists 
knew not to participate in activities that harmed detainees, and an APA 
president wrote <http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb06/pc.aspx> that those 
who raised concerns were merely “opportunistic commentators masquerading 
as scholars.”

In 2005, facing growing outrage, the APA created a controversial task 
force to examine psychological ethics in national security settings 
(PENS <https://www.apa.org/pubs/info/reports/pens.pdf>). Stacked with 
representatives from the military-intelligence establishment, the task 
force met for three days and, unsurprisingly, asserted that 
psychologists helped to keep detention and interrogation operations 
“safe, legal, ethical, and effective” 
<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3200196/>—despite multiple 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/30/politics/red-cross-finds-detainee-abuse-in-guantanamo.html> that health 
professionals, including psychologists, were among the perpetrators of 
detainee mistreatment. The APA board of directors then quickly approved 
the PENS report in an “emergency” vote, bypassing the association’s full 
governing body.

Finally, in 2015, following a months-long investigation based on 
analysis of over 50,000 documents and 150 interviews, an independent 
<https://www.apa.org/independent-review/revised-report.pdf> authorized 
by the APA presented extensive evidence of 
secret collaboration–conducted over a period of years—between APA 
leaders and Department of Defense officials. These secret efforts were 
apparently aimed at ensuring that the APA’s ethics policies would not 
constrain interrogation-related activities, and that psychologists would 
remain in operational roles at Guantánamo Bay and other U.S. overseas 
detention centers. The report led to a few much-needed reforms 
but it also produced a backlash from some military psychologists who, 
along with their supporters, responded with defamation lawsuits, a 
formal ethics complaint 
<https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/peteraldhous/psychology-torture-guantanamo-interrogation> and 
more threats of the same, and calls for public suppression of the report 
itself. Responding to an article 
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/psychologists-are-facing-consequences-for-helping-with-torture-its-not-enough/2017/10/13/2756b734-ad14-11e7-9e58-e6288544af98_story.html> by 
this author, the APA’s CEO again reached for old falsehoods, portraying 
the profession’s dark-side participation as limited to the actions of 
“two rogue psychologists” involved in the CIA’s torture program.


As the U.S. propaganda-driven and illegal invasion of Iraq was unfolding 
in 2003, a former APA president offered a polarizing warning 
<https://www.edge.org/response-detail/11109>: “The civilized world is at 
war with Jihad Islamic terrorism. It takes a bomb in the office of some 
academics to make them realize that their most basic values are now 
threatened.” During that same period, the APA’s leadership authorized an 
expert task force 
<https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-american-psychologica_b_242020> to 
produce a report examining the psychological effects on the American 
public of government efforts to prevent terrorism. According to the task 
force chair, members recommended 
<https://www.apa.org/independent-review/revised-report.pdf> that 
“psychologists become involved in the development, implementation and 
evaluations of new programs about terrorism and efforts to prevent it,” 
and that they do so by using “knowledge about enemy images, stereotyping 
of other groups, and the processes of groupthink to develop guidelines 
and recommendations to help national, state, and local leaders tailor 
their public communications about terrorism so that their messages 
minimize known deleterious effects upon the populace.”

The task force also expressed concern about the weaponization of fear by 
the Bush Administration in its rhetoric about the “war on terror,” which 
emphasized ideas about “us versus them,” the importance of loyalty to a 
central authority, and the belief that our cultural norms are universal 
truths.   One task force member noted that the government’s response 
could prove more dangerous than the terrorists themselves. These 
conclusions were met with alarm by the APA’s senior staff, who privately 
worried <https://www.apa.org/independent-review/revised-report.pdf> that 
publicizing the report could significantly damage the APA’s public 
image, and likely cause friction with the White House. The final report 
was quashed. A few years later, it was elaborated and published as a 
book <https://books.google.com/books?id=Fwie5FvWXekC>. The task force 
chair was reportedly advised by the APA’s legal counsel that there 
should be no suggestion that the association endorsed the book in any 

*Comprehensive Soldier Fitness*

In 2011, the APA devoted an entire special issue 
<https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/special/4016601> of its flagship 
journal, the /American Psychologist/, to a series of uncritical articles 
waxing enthusiastic about the U.S. Army’s new Comprehensive Soldier 
Fitness (CSF) program. Based on a “positive psychology” framework, CSF 
was developed under the guidance of psychologists, and all of the 
journal’s 13 articles were written by individuals involved in designing 
and implementing the resilience program. The avowed goals 
<https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-00087-005> of CSF were to “enhance 
soldiers’ ability to handle adversity, prevent depression and anxiety, 
prevent PTSD, and enhance overall well-being and performance.” These may 
be worthy aspirations, but CSF quickly became /mandatory/ for one 
million soldiers /without/ pilot testing or compelling evidence that it 
could achieve these objectives. Not surprisingly, subsequent analyses 
including those conducted by authoritative scientific institutions 
have shown that CSF falls well short of its stated goals.

This APA special journal issue offered little discussion of conceptual 
challenges or ethical considerations, nor did it provide any forum for 
independent critical or cautionary voices. In sum, the APA’s stance 
toward CSF was little more than cheerleading for an untested military 
research project—one with enormous ramifications—about which many 
crucial questions should have been asked. For example, might the program 
be harmful for some soldiers, perhaps by undermining previously learned 
successful coping strategies? Or, by fortifying perseverance in the face 
of adversity, might CSF lead soldiers to engage in actions—including 
harm to civilians—that later cause deep regret and moral injury 
<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19683376>, thereby increasing the 
potential for PTSD and other post-combat psychological difficulties? Or, 
might this resilience program lead some to deny, for a time at least, 
the adverse effects of their traumatic experiences, heightening the 
likelihood of premature redeployment to battle zones with further risk 
of serious disability?

The APA’s promotion of the flawed CSF program is yet further evidence of 
the organization’s failure to adequately confront the often-staggering 
consequences that flow from uncritical support of our country’s military 
ambitions, all too frequently yoked to the interests 
<https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Hidden_Structure_of_Violence.html?id=oTMVCgAAQBAJ> of 
mega-corporations and their largest shareholders. “Blind patriotism”—a 
topic psychologists have studied 
to advance policies, framed as “national security” endeavors, that 
inevitably endanger the well-being of our own soldiers, combatants on 
the other side, and many innocent civilians—all while squandering 
precious resources.

*Drone Warfare*

With names like the Predator and the Reaper, weaponized drones used by 
the U.S. military and the CIA should raise 
<https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dangerous-ideas/201408/predators-reapers-and-psychology-s-do-no-harm-ethics> significant 
concerns for the profession of psychology. A detailed multi-university 
U.S. drone policy found that “Their presence terrorizes men, women, and 
children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian 
communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry 
that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that 
they are powerless to protect themselves.” Similarly, the director of 
the human rights organization Reprieve has described 
use of these drones as “a form of psychological torture and collective 

These realities raise compelling questions about the ethics of 
psychologists’ involvement in such operations. In 2013, members of the 
APA’s peace psychology division (including the author) wrote to the 
APA’s ethics office requesting guidance as to whether, according to the 
ethics code, it is permissible for a psychologist to be involved in the 
operation of a weaponized drone; to work as an intelligence consultant 
in the targeting of drone strikes; to participate in programs designed 
to select drone operators or train them to overcome the natural 
psychological aversion to killing other people; or to assist in 
promoting public support for the use of these drones by misrepresenting 
evidence of the harm caused by such attacks. Sadly, but perhaps 
predictably, this request was never answered by the APA’s ethics office.

It is difficult to obtain detailed information about the ways in which 
psychologists may be participating in drone-related operations, 
especially when that work is classified. But we do know that 
psychologists are conducting research with drone pilots. One area 
involves figuring out which skills and attributes make for a top-notch 
pilot. Some of this research examines 
<http://www.airforcemag.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/Reports/2012/January%202012/Day03/RPA_pilot_psychological_attributes.pdf> how 
a pilot’s belief system and “moral motivation” may /negatively/ affect 
their performance when it comes to the deployment of weapons. Another 
research area apparently involves looking at how to reduce the high 
levels of stress, PTSD, depression, and substance abuse among drone 
operators. According to one account 
<https://www.gq.com/story/drone-uav-pilot-assassination>, the 
development of a Siri-like user interface aims to anthropomorphize the 
drone—so that the pilot feels less responsible for the death and 
destruction wrought. Seemingly /not/ under investigation is whether wars 
will become more likely and more frequent as we become enthralled with 
the prospect of discomfort-free and risk-free killing from afar.

*The Defense Budget*

In an address shortly after becoming U.S. president in 1953, General 
Dwight D. Eisenhower said 
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired 
signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not 
fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” Nevertheless, there is 
near unanimous bipartisan support in Congress for our ever-growing 
defense budget—a budget now exceeding 
<https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/22/us/is-americas-military-big-enough.html> that 
of the next seven largest countries combined. The most direct 
<https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Hidden_Structure_of_Violence.html?id=oTMVCgAAQBAJ> of 
this outsized spending are, regrettably, often giant defense contractors 
and weapons builders. The United States is also the largest 
<https://fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/R44716.pdf>international arms 
seller—with ongoing efforts to promote even bigger markets that include 
countries ruled by ruthless autocrats. But none of this seems to garner 
meaningful comment from the APA, even though psychology offers valuable 
insights into the potentially destructive consequences of individual and 
collective choices driven by fear, greed, conformity, or blind patriotism.

When the federal budget is under discussion in Washington, DC, at times 
the APA does indeed warn 
<https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/03/reject-presidents-budget> against 
cuts to key domestic programs, including those that involve practice 
opportunities for psychologists. But the association rarely if ever 
speaks out against the enormous financial drain that is today’s 
military-intelligence establishment. In fact, when the APA gives 
testimony before defense appropriations committees, it routinely calls 
for /more/ funding for psychological research with military 
applications. Moreover, the APA members selected to argue this case are 
usually high-level staffers at the Human Resources Research Organization 
(HumRRO), a defense contractor first established 
<https://www.huffingtonpost.com/bryant-welch/torture-psychology-and-da_b_215612.html> decades 
ago to develop “psychological warfare” techniques. HumRRO’s connections 
<https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Dutch_Franz/publication/313473797_Subversion_of_the_American_Psychological_Association_by_a_Defense_Contractor_and_Government_Manipulation_of_Vulnerable_On-Line_Communities/links/589b7c3592851c942ddae288/Subver> with 
the APA are long, deep, and arguably problematic. The company has 
received tens of millions of defense dollars, and its research projects 
have included work 
<http://990s.foundationcenter.org/990_pdf_archive/237/237029310/237029310_201109_990.pdf> on 
developing “overwhelmingly lethal” combat systems.

*Professional Ethics*

Leaders of the APA’s military psychology division 
<https://www.militarypsych.org/> have been among the most outspoken 
proponents of modifying our understanding of the profession’s ethics. 
Some of them have participated 
<http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/01/05/attacks-on-hoffman-report-from-military-psychologists-obfuscate-detainee-abuse/> in 
the harsh detention and interrogation operations at Guantánamo. Others 
have argued <https://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4312016> that the U.S. 
government is the psychologist’s primary client in military contexts, 
and that society’s interests—as determined by the government—should 
override other professional ethical considerations for psychologists. 
And another military psychologist has recommended 
<https://books.google.com/books?id=fSciAgAAQBAJ> that 
psychotherapy techniques be used to train soldiers in “adaptive 
killing”—to help them overcome the natural aversion to taking another 
life, and the tendency to feel guilty after doing so. These same 
interests were also behind recent efforts 
<https://medium.com/@jeff_kaye/un-states-us-interrogations-use-torture-guantanamo-is-a-torture-facility-so-why-do-military-14e9dfebfd04> to 
change an APA policy that currently restricts psychologists from working 
at Guantánamo and other U.S. detention facilities that violate 
international law. Although that resolution was soundly defeated by the 
association’s governing body, the APA’s president nevertheless sent 
<https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/paradigm-shift/201810/apa-cozies-the-dod-again> a 
follow-up letter assuring the Department of Defense that the prohibition 
was merely “aspirational” and not enforceable.

Many of these issues reflect a worrisome and growing trend toward what 
this author and colleagues have called 
<https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270940853_Psychology_under_fire_Adversarial_operational_psychology_and_psychological_ethics> “adversarial 
operational psychology.” This area of practice diverges from the 
profession’s traditional do-no-harm ethical principles in three ways: 
psychologists engage in military-intelligence activities where 
individuals or groups are targeted for harm; these targets have not 
provided their voluntary informed consent; and these psychologists are 
shielded from professional ethical oversight by a maze of classified 
projects and security clearances. To be clear, most psychologists whose 
work supports the U.S. military and other defense-related agencies do 
not serve in these roles. But ongoing efforts to build and promote this 
specialization reflect the further weaponization of psychology and can 
jeopardize the public’s trust in the profession. At the same time, they 
also pose a threat to a psychological science that depends upon 
transparency, data sharing, and peer review.

*Breaking Free from the Addiction*

There are undoubtedly multiple reasons why the APA seems to lose its 
scientific rudder, moral compass, and independent voice in the 
military-intelligence arena, where violence, domination, and oppression 
are too often the preferred tools of U.S. foreign policy. Perhaps it is 
in part because the Department of Defense is a valued employer of 
psychologists, a significant funder of psychological research, and a key 
source of internships for graduate students in clinical psychology. As 
well, in influential circles strong connections with the Pentagon can 
bring an organization considerable stature and a proverbial “seat at the 
table” for policy deliberations with national and international 
ramifications. And we should not overlook the reality that, when couched 
as “patriotism,” calls to action—and obedience—are never easy to resist 
for individuals or groups. After all, that is why they have been 
standard fare for demagogues across time and place.

But what does the mission of “advancing psychology to benefit society 
and improve people’s lives” truly mean if the APA refuses to counter 
fearmongering propaganda, the manipulative nurturing of enemy images, 
and the misuse of military might? The consequences of our failure to 
rein in these forces are stark: nearly 800 overseas military bases; 
massive weapons expenditures that hinder urgent domestic spending needs; 
assertions of exceptionalism that encourage a disturbing disregard for 
the lives and suffering of non-Americans; and unencumbered power for 
narrow interests that may find the threat and spoils of war far more 
profitable than diplomatic success or lasting peace.

What would “breaking free” look like for the APA? Here are several 
examples. The APA can advocate for an end to the indefinite detention of 
Guantánamo detainees and for closure of that infamous facility, where 
imprisonment violates international law 
<https://www.commondreams.org/sites/default/files/int_cat_coc_usa_18893_e.pdf> and 
has caused severe psychological harm 
The APA can help the public better understand that the psychology 
fostering exaggerated fears of terrorism can also lead to unscientific 
<https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/almost-addicted/201607/the-dangers-countering-violent-extremism-cve-programs> that 
jeopardize civil liberties—especially for those who are already most 
vulnerable to prejudice and stereotyping. The APA can raise alarm about 
psychological strategies behind today’s military recruitment 
<https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2019/03/27/most-american-youth-first-meet-a-recruiter-at-17-but-the-army-wants-to-start-younger/> efforts, 
which increasingly target younger teens and those whose financial and 
educational circumstances make them especially susceptible to false 
assurances or misrepresentations. The APA can call for reductions in our 
massive and burgeoning military budget that chokes off funding for 
domestic programs 
Medicaid, affordable housing, public transportation, student aid—that 
are essential contributors to our nation’s psychological health. And the 
APA can implement stronger internal policies to ensure that its own 
deliberations are not unduly influenced 
<https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308607679_Recommendations_to_The_American_Association_for_the_Advancement_of_Science_Committee_on_Scientific_Freedom_and_Responsibility_for_Constraints_on_Defense_Contractors_in_the_Health_Behavioral_and_So> by 
those who benefit from financial ties to the military-intelligence 

Urging these and related changes at the APA does not diminish 
appreciation for the valuable work of psychologists—and other health 
professionals—who care for our soldiers and veterans. The stresses of 
military service are daunting, ranging from lengthy family dislocations 
to combat experiences that involve exposure to unspeakable brutality and 
the risk of injury and death. Even after returning home from the 
battlefield, heightened dangers of PTSD, substance use, and 
suicide remain. Certainly, those who serve deserve our abiding respect 
and compassionate support. But we do everyone a disservice when we fail 
to question and challenge a system and a culture that so readily place 
them—and others—in harm’s way. It is time for the APA and its members to 
decide whether the world’s largest psychological association is ready to 
overcome its “addiction” and help lead us forward.

/NOTE: Roy Eidelson, PhD, is a past president of Psychologists for 
Social Responsibility, a member of the Coalition for an Ethical 
Psychology, and the author of POLITICAL MIND GAMES: How the 1% 
Manipulate Our Understanding of What’s Happening, What’s Right, and 
What’s Possible. <https://www.amazon.com/dp/0999823701> Roy’s website is 
www.royeidelson.com <http://www.royeidelson.com/> and he is on Twitter 
at @royeidelson <https://twitter.com/royeidelson>./

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