Military Intelligence Meets Emotional Intelligence

By Jason Marsh | August 18, 2009 | 5 comments

The top story on the front page of today's New York Times reports that the U.S. Army is going to require that its soldiers–all 1.1 million of them–take an intenstive training course meant to strengthen their emotional resilience.

"The training, the first of its kind in the military," writes the Times's Benedict Carey, "is meant to improve performance in combat and head off the mental health problems, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide, that plague about one-fifth of troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The program draws on the work of Aaron Beck, founder of cognitive behavioral therapy, and Martin Seligman, a founder of positive psychology. It's essentially designed to improve soldiers' emotional intelligence, helping them become more attuned to their emotional responses and recognize how unchecked emotions can induce violence, aggression, or even suicide.

Programs like this have become a mainstay of grade school curricula, but they've never been introduced to the military. This one's long overdue, with tens of thousands of U.S. veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan at heightened risk of committing suicide or acts of violence against others.

Indeed, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army's chief of staff, tells Carey that "the mental effects of repeated deployments — rising suicide rates in the Army, mild traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress — had convinced commanders 'that we need a program that gives soldiers and their families better ways to cope.'"

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Jason Marsh is the editor in chief of Greater Good.


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We keep forgetting that the purpose of soldiering is killing. We keep forgtting that we are moral entities, and that deep inside us is an awareness that killing does not solve problems.I have been there, and know how it feels to kill, symbolically and physically.

r. de rycke | 8:56 am, August 19, 2009 | Link


So let me understand, first the army takes 18year old kids and trains them to be killers (see recent Colorado Springs article on returned vets committing crimes)turns them loose on a foreign population then wants to mellow them out for reintroduction to civilian life??  Doesn’t this lead to schizophrenia?

Why not just use robots for the empire’s dirty work?

jgwiss | 11:20 pm, August 24, 2009 | Link


Isn’t war the ultimate unconscious and unconscionable human behavior?  This effort seems a misplaced, sardonic, and yet sad use of good information. If we are to introduce coping to the military, why not try to teach loving-kindness to our leaders so that war might be less easily started?

The scars of war can never be erased.

Loren | 6:22 pm, August 25, 2009 | Link

Jason Marsh's avatar

I appreciate where these comments are coming from, but I think one can feel encouraged by this initiative without condoning war and killing. The fact remains that we have tens of thousands of soldiers attempting to re-enter civilian life while grappling with the traumas of war, and tens of thousands more will follow them. Many of them (as jgwiss points out) pose a threat to their families, their communities, and themselves.
It would be negligent, even reckless, for our government not to try to help these men and women re-adjust to civilian life by drawing on research-based insights into the roots of resiliency and the benefits of emotional awareness. What’s more, I do believe that if soldiers in basic training are treated like killing machines, not psychologically complex human beings, they’ll likely pose an even greater threat to the people they encounter overseas, especially civilians.
This doesn’t mean we should stop working toward a world without war. But until that day comes–indeed, to hasten the arrival of that day–I firmly believe we should share the lessons of this research with anyone who might benefit, from our military and political leaders to kindergarten students. These strategies may not immediately transform the world as we know it. But if they can bring a modicum of peace and compassion to some pretty dark corners of the world, that’s a start.

Jason Marsh | 10:01 pm, August 25, 2009 | Link


When the Armed forces takes into its folds an 18 year old,boys( & girls too) are trained to have confidence in themselves and teams that they are proud to be members of.This confidence comes from the gruelling military training which makes them physically stronger & psychologically more resilient in dealing with the challenges of a demanding military environment .It is a misnomer to say that we train to kill,better put- we train to avoid being killed on one hand and given no other choice ,do away with enemies of the state if all other means of persuasion fail.Let me reiterate here that the purpose of soldiering is not killing but to break the enemy’s will to fight,there is more to soldiering than use of weapons of destruction- a thinking soldier uses his mind as well to achieve the mission objectives.

SAMIR RAWAT | 10:45 pm, June 30, 2011 | Link

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