Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Battle Fatigue, Part 1.2: Understanding the American Bushido

In the previous post on this topic of the series, I spoke about the differences between honor-based societies and guilt-based societies.  Today, I will illustrate how the US military (particularly the ground force branches like the Army and Marines) is an honor-based society and point out some positive and negative consequences of that cultural design.

As a big history aficionado, I recognized early on in my military career the close similarities between the US military and other historical military organizations.  It almost has to be that way in order for the chain of command to function properly and a fighting force to function at peak capability.  It seems impossible to have an effective military force without establishing some form of collectivist culture.  Honor-based cultures have this built in and have the added benefits of being self-policing, disciplined, and aggressive to please superiors.  Over the last 100 years, it has had an added bonus in that almost all of the foreign cultures that the military has operated with are also various kinds of honor cultures in their own right so there is a high degree of common ground to build on.

So, to be clear, I am not saying that current military doctrine and culture is "wrong".  I am also not saying that it should change or that it even could be changed.  My only point is that it exists and that its characteristics (coupled with the natural consequences of those characteristics) do not seem to be well understood by individuals who are charged with preventing and treating Battle Fatigue in all its shapes, sizes, and colors.  It doesn't enter into their thinking as a contributing cause, it is not addressed as an additional concern in their training, and it is not effectively mitigated in their treatments.

To illustrate my point that anyone dealing with our military is dealing with an authentic honor culture, I will take two examples:  a branch of the US military that I know very well, the "US Army", and a very stereotypically rigid honor culture, the "samurai caste of feudal Japan".

Let us look at their doctrinal similarities.  Here are the seven army values that are taught constantly to every army soldier from enlistment to the day they leave the service.  The training doctrine includes these values all the time, they are on walls and posters, and they are even included in the performance evaluation system:

US Army Values (Taught via the acrostic: LDRSHIP)
Selfless Service
Personal Courage

Now we will compare that list of values to the Seven Virtues of Bushido ("The Way of the Warrior"):

The Seven Virtues of Bushido (Feudal Japan)
忠義 (chūgi) Loyalty
(gi) Right Conduct
(rei) Respect or Courtesy
(jin) Humanity and Benevolence
名誉 (meiyo) Reputation or Honor
(makoto) Sincerity
勇氣 (yūki) Courage

They are essentially identical.  I pointed this out on occasion to various comrades in the army and they were surprised because the Army Values are not taught as "Bushido" per se, but while what is "taught" is LDRSHIP, what is "caught" is bushido.

It is interesting to note that the bushido teaching of "meiyo" is much more developed than the army concept of Honor, but the US Army teachings that "Honor" means keeping the other six Army values effectively creates by default the "meiyo" concept of the creation of an individaul's "public face" or "external reputation".  If I am expected to keep these things, well then I will make sure that I at least appear to keep them perfectly thus creating an artificial face that I show to the collective that does not reflect what I know to be true.  In practice the two concepts become very similar.

Why is pointing out this similarity of ethos important?  Because when one finally sees the US military as a true honor culture and not just an honorable extension of the American culture, then some of the circumstances facing the military and its members past and present finally have a context and (at least partial) cause.

Having established that the values of bushido and the Army are essentially identical the question naturally arises:  "What other similarities do the two cultures have?"

Positive similarities include mental discipline, physical and emotional resilience, fraternity, martial prowess, and of course bravery.  But when both honor systems are tested by the rigors of war, we see negative similarities as well:  high suicide rates, increased anxiety, depression, buried emotional states, lack of self-reporting for psychological and physical injuries, a lack of internalized guilt over wrong doing so long as the culture approves, outbursts of unwarranted violence, and increased instances of intentional fratricide.  There are environmental and biological causes for some of these issues of course (and I am unfortunately having to paint with a very broad brush for the sake of brevity), but the thrust of the point that I am developing is that the culture is at least a contributing factor and likely to be a supporting cause.

From what I have seen, this possibility does not seem to be on anyone's radar either inside or outside of the military.  Most of the focus for addressing issues facing returning combat veterans is threefold:

1.  Clinical (psychological diagnosis, emotional resiliency training, and post-crisis treatment)
2.  Familial (family reintegration and life counseling)
3.  Environmental (retraining individuals for the peace-time environment by getting them to unlearn their war habits and skills)

...but never are any issues approached with the military culture itself as a cause or contributing factor.  In fact, it is often the case that bushido-like concepts like the "Army Values" are used to motivate individuals to participate in the threefold training, thus showing that the military is attempting to use the rules of the honor culture to address the issues that the honor culture itself might have helped to exacerbate.

Just like the throttle in an engine increases performance while it also magnifies heat and friction, the very culture mechanism in the military that causes it to out-perform expectations in a combat environment may be pushing individuals into emotional circumstances that they (and those tasked with their welfare) do not fully understand or appreciate.

I would like to reapproach two of the boxes from the honor culture chart in the previous post:

Internal versus external conflict arises in two of the boxes.  This is when the individual and his external group do not see things the same way.  This is why members of honor-based cultures will do anything that they can to keep all situations in the right two boxes and why things go so badly when it shifts to the lower left box.  Of course I should point out that "guilt" here is a subjective thing which is determined by culture.  It may not be a crime per se... it could be something a simple as being guilty of "being weak" or being guilty of "being crazy".  The culture and the individual defines what constitutes guilt in this case.

Culturally speaking, the upper right and lower left corners have "release valves" in a guilt-based culture that help to correct the dissonance between individual and his external collective.  These correctives do not really exist or function in the honor-based culture and that has some very distinct results that are not often seen in guilt-based cultures.

When Others think I'm not guilty, but I believe that I am.
In a guilt-based culture, the resolution is simple:  The individual should feel guilty and either cease the activity or confess his guilt to the collective (thus moving him to the more harmonious boxes in the the upper left or lower right.)

In a honor-based culture, there is no resolution.  So long as the situation remains the same, the disagreement is allowed to continue with no artificial or natural consequences on the individual.  In fact, a kind of hole is often dug either by the emboldened individual who feels free to engage in increasingly detrimental behavior or by the paranoid individual who feels compelled to keep his shameful secret at all costs.  Rather than feeling culturally pushed to the more harmonious boxes, the unavoidable construction of the honor-based culture causes the individual to feel trapped and compelled to maintain the status quo which cannot always remain intact forever.

This is an unidentified contributor to the strong social stigma against getting mental health treatment that exists in the military (which is far worse than the stigma in the civilian public).  This is why self-medication, personal secrecy, and a superficially healthy "public face" are so prevalent in individuals who start to experience significant problems and circumstances.  In many cases, individuals would rather die than fail in the eyes of their honor culture.  Unfortunately this is often proven to be the actual case as most honor cultures have higher than average suicide rates.  This is also why troubled individuals in the military are so difficult to diagnose and treat.  They do not ask for help because they are culturally impeded from leaving the upper right box.  This is not because of something simple and artificial like peer pressure or poor command climate, but is a natural consequence of a deeply ingrained culture that values public perception (real or imagined) over the material realities of any given situation.

In the case of military personel, the mere risk of cultural shame is enough to cause individuals to endure all kinds of personal toment (at levels that would be considered unneccesary outside of the context of an honor culture) or even watch themeselves emotionally deteriorate while presenting a brave front for their honor culture.  In small measures and while situations are less drastic, this result is essential to military success, but when the threshod is crossed and an individual is operating far behind his capacity to maintain the situation, the artificial construct of the honor culture now creates a largely undetectable time bomb in the individual which ticks silently and looks normal right up to the point where the individual's rational grip on the situation snaps.

When Others think I'm guilty, but I believe that I am not guilty.
In a guilt-based culture there is objective value in a person's self perception.  While false accusations of guilt are never a positive experience, individuals can seek solace in their own identification of their innocence and fight to prove their culture wrong through constructive means.  The culturally accepted value in self-realized innocence is, in itself, a cathartic experience for the individual which helps to reduce the internal stress of the situation.  As a result, the individual behaves more calmly than he would in an honor-based culture because, while he has lost his reputation, not everything has been taken from him by the group's perception.

In an honor-based culture, this self perception is not really of any value because self worth is largely determined by one's public face.  When that is damaged, there is little consolation in the material facts of the situation because the culture places no abstract value in personal belief.  Because this problem cuts so deeply by effectively taking everything of worth from the person in question, unfortunate individuals who are caught in this circumstance rarely give themselves the opportunity to resolve the issue constructively and peacefully.  While, in a guilt-based culture, damaging a reputuation is perceived as an attack on one's reputation, this is not true of an honor-based culture.  Attacking a person's reputation in that cultural context is effectively an attack on the whole person (and in some honor cultures an attack on his family, clan, or nation) and is very serious.  Many a bloody samurai film is based on this premise.

The results are often drastic and violent (and alarmingly rational given their cultural context).  There is no need to detail the possibilities here.  It is simply sufficient to say that people in this situation tend to focus more on revenge-based reactions to perceived slights instead of rhetorical defenses of their point of view.  They naturally fall back on the ancient rituals of honor-based warrior cultures:  trial by combat, over-the-top proofs of bravery competency and/or strength, eleminate those in the group that are causing the shame, etc.

The point has been beaten to death... now what?
Outlining this cultural reality is an important foundation piece to this entire series.  I will be referring back to aspects of it as I address the various topics.  In the next post I will seek to illustrate how this honor culture breaks down when individuals cannot live up to its expectations and what the church can do to help service members who find themselves in these situations.

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