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New Army Recruits Pre-Programmed for Violence?

Reported by Marie Therese - December 31, 2004

By Lt. Col. David L. Thomas II -- Fort Benning Army Substance Abuse Program
From: Military.com. December 27, 2004. (Military.com is webzine designed for soldiers and their families.)

Actually, yes. The new recruits we get into the Army are already "hard-wired" with both good and bad types of behavior. Of course, as usual, we don't focus much on the good types of behavior except to reward it occasionally when it occurs. More often, we focus on the bad behavior because that is what causes problems and takes up so much of our time as Leaders. We spend 90 percent of our time with the "problem" Soldiers and only 10 percent of our time with those "good" Soldiers that have acceptable or excellent behavior.

Why is that? Is it possible that we are now getting recruits that have been pre-programmed by American society? Of course it is! Take violence for example. According to Abelard.org "The average American child will have watched 100,000 acts of televised violence, including 8,000 depictions of murder, by the time he or she finishes the sixth grade (approximately 13 years old)." Pretty startling, huh? Bet you didn't know that. Think about your own children in today's permissive society where television serves as the "great babysitter" of children.

Consider this: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "The level of during Saturday morning cartoons is higher than the level of violence during prime time programming. There are 3 to 5 violent acts per hour in prime time vs. 20 to 25 violent acts per hour on Saturday morning." Just think about how many children are watching Saturday morning cartoons. I used to every Saturday morning. Did you as well? If so, we might be more violent than we would have been if we did not have a television. We would not have seen as many violent acts or depictions of violent acts were it not for TV. We usually saw shows in black and white, now you can see the blood in bright red color, which makes even more of an impression in the minds of young children and teens. They want, make that demand, sequels of movies like Chucky, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, the Texas Chain Saw Massacres and other types of violent movies.

Dr. George Gerbner, from the University of Pennsylvania states "Children who watch a lot of television are more likely to think that the world is a mean and dangerous place." Is it? Think about it. As a society, are we more violent? Do we commit more violent acts than generations before us that did not have television? Is the world a mean and dangerous place? It depends where you live and what you learn and who teaches you. If the television is teaching your children values, mores, beliefs, behaviors, there is a significant problem and no wonder we are producing a lot of violent adults in this country.

The American Psychological Association, after reviewing hundreds of research findings, states three major national studies have concluded that heavy exposure to TV violence is one of the most significant causes of violence in society. They also go on to say that by the age of 18, the average American child will have viewed about 200,000 acts of violence on television alone. That does not include violent movies or violent video games. If you don't believe it, just turn on the local news to see how many violent acts were committed just that day, especially in big cities. "If it bleeds, it leads" is the popular mantra that is used by the reporters when they are looking for big stories to report. Columbia University & New York State Psychiatric Institute conducted a study which determined "Teenagers who watch more than an hour of TV a day during early adolescence are more likely to be violent later in life. The rate of violence -- assaults, fights, robberies -- increases dramatically if daily TV time exceeds three hours. The study also shows a five-fold increase in aggressive behavior from less than an hour to three or more hours of TV watching.

Is this a problem in the Army, where we actually want people to be violent? We want to rain death and destruction down on enemy forces, especially terrorists. We teach Soldiers how to do this and they become very, very good at doing it. Unfortunately, when they enter the Army, they come with some pre-programmed types of unacceptable violent behavior, such as fighting.

Then throw alcohol abuse and/or drug abuse into the mix: a Soldier pre-programmed for violence will become more violent when drugs and/or alcohol are involved. Of violent acts that are committed, a significant amount of them (about 50 percent) are alcohol-related. Violence, alcohol and drugs do not mix well. If they do mix, watch out! Trouble will soon follow. Look at the local news and you will be able to determine that for yourself -- no one really needs to tell you.

The Josephson Institute of Ethics, after conducting a national survey, found that "43 percent of high school and 37 percent of middle school boys believe it is ok to hit or threaten a person that makes them angry." The same survey found that "75 percent of all boys and over 60 percent of all teenage girls said they hit someone in the last 12 months because they were angry." These are the same students that are recruited into the Army. Think these anger issues are resolved before they enter the military? Think they won't be a problem in the future? Think again. Not only could they result in the Army being forced to separate the individual, someone could get seriously hurt.

No wonder we have problems with domestic violence and substance abuse in the Army. We are getting new recruits with anger and violence issues. We don't have much of a choice if there is no record for an individual committing and being charged with a criminal act of violence, so this individual is allowed to join the Army. While the anger and violence may be suppressed for a while through basic training and advanced individual training, it will surface soon enough once the Soldier is assigned to a unit and starts doing his/her job. We are having more and more domestic and violent acts committed by Soldiers, and I believe it is because we are getting individuals who are preprogrammed for violence.

What can be done about this serious problem? There are many resources available to the Soldier: Anger Management Classes, Counseling, talking with Chaplains, medical and mental health services. Normally it takes a significant emotional event such as an attempted suicide, or an arrest for assault and battery or domestic violence, before an individual gets the treatment he/she requires. We need to identify these individuals up front, before they get into trouble, so that they not only get the help they need, but also that the Army does not lose its significant investment in that Soldier. Commanders/1SGs/Leaders should be looking for warning signs: explosive outbursts, damaging equipment/property, threatening others, injuring themselves by taking out their aggression by punching a wall or other object. Look around your unit and see if someone has these types of symptoms/issues and get them the help they need. The Soldiers require our full attention in this area -- more importantly it is just another way we can take care of our Soldiers.

About the Author: Lieutenant Colonel David L. Thomas II is a Field Artillery Officer with over 25 years Active and Reserve Service. He served as a Battery Commander during Desert Shield/Storm and is also an Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran after being recalled to active duty in February 2003. He has served nine months in Afghanistan as the Director of Information Operations, and is currently assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia to work as a Special Projects Officer for the Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP). LTC Thomas promotes ASAP's services as well as educates Soldiers and Leaders on the military readiness impacts of substance abuse.

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