Prof. Klaus-Jürgen Bruder: “Without medicine, psychiatry and psychology, war cannot be carried out”

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The cooperation between the Bundeswehr and psychotherapists has been continuously expanded for several years. Since the Bundeswehr’s deployment in Yugoslavia, psychologists have been in increasing demand among the troops. In addition to psychotherapy for soldiers injured in the war, psychologists advise on the leadership of the troops and conduct research into reducing fear and controlling emotions.

By Felicitas Rabe

Summary of Gunther Sosna’s interview with Prof. Klaus-Jürgen Bruder and the psychoanalyst Dr. Almuth Brother-Bezzel:

A cooperation event between the Berlin Chamber of Psychotherapists and the Bundeswehr took place on Tuesday under the title “Soldiers – service, deployment and stress”. The New Society for Psychology (NGfP) had previously criticized this organized cooperation between the institution of psychotherapists and the German military. This would violate the principle of neutrality and the democratic claim of the Chamber of Physicians, it said in the protest note of January 30th.

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The NGfP chairman Prof. Dr. Klaus-Jürgen Bruder and the psychoanalyst Dr. Almuth Bruder-Bezzel explained their criticism in a detailed interview conducted by the journalist Gunther Sosna, which was published on the specialist magazine’s online portal new debate has been published.

According to the article, the military is not only constantly looking for means to damage or destroy an alleged or actual enemy if necessary, it is also constantly looking for ways to reduce the fear of its own soldiers of injury and death , to control the horrors of war and the screams of the victims. Psychology would be needed to prepare people – be they soldiers or civilians – for a war in such a way that they could accept the state of total violence without emotion. It is also about learning to accept fear as normal.

Basically, living through fears, unbridled acting out of aggression, injuries and the expectation of violence as well as actual experiences of violence always have an effect on the psyche, explained Bruder-Bezzel. In military psychiatry and psychology, the tasks for psychiatrists and psychologists during a war operation are divided into three steps: prevention, implementation of the operation and follow-up – psychologists are active on all these levels. In addition, in the military, psychological preparation, such as swearing in on the enemy through war propaganda, is part of the field of psychology.

Whether experiences lead to a trauma, a so-called post-traumatic stress, depends on various factors. The post-traumatic stress disorder – the interviewer Sosna called it “mad through war” – is even a recognized occupational disease among soldiers.

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During the conversation, Bruder once again pointed out that being a soldier in Germany is not always as voluntary as many assume. In an emergency, you would be drafted. Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chairwoman of the Defense Committee of the German Bundestag, recently emphasized this: “Basically, the end of compulsory military service only applies in times of peace,” the psychology professor quoted the FDP politician as saying.

In addition, there are indirect predicaments, for example due to professional hopelessness. With manipulative advertising one would recruit for the Bundeswehr. The Bundeswehr “expressly does not work with dramatizing images”.

The Bundeswehr works “with the promise of adventure and heroic masculinity as well as the feeling of taking responsibility for freedom, democracy and justice”.

So these “volunteers” didn’t really know what to expect. Brother doubted that the applicants would get involved in becoming soldiers if they actually knew the tasks and without these manipulations: “They certainly assume that things won’t be that bad.”

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The cooperation event between the Bundeswehr and the Chamber of Psychotherapists is recognized as official further training for psychologists. Participating psychologists are therefore entitled to the continuing education points necessary for practicing their profession. Sosna wanted to know from the psychologists why the NGfP fundamentally rejected a cooperation event between the Bundeswehr and the Berlin Chamber of Psychotherapists.

The cooperation between the Bundeswehr and the Chamber of Psychotherapists has existed for about 10 years, says Bruder. On September 16, 2013, an agreement between the Federal Ministry of Defense and the Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists came into force, according to which civilian psychotherapists could treat soldiers in private practices under the supervision of the Bundeswehr. Already at their annual meeting in 2014, the NGfP took a stand against this cooperation.

According to Prof. Bruder, the event on February 7 in Berlin was a “promotional event” intended to familiarize psychologists and psychotherapists with the tasks, organization and special features of the Bundeswehr: “operational situations in current operational areas”, with tasks of the “troop psychologists on duty”, “with soldiers on patrol, on guard, in the field camp”. After all, it would be about the conditions and prerequisites for the use of psychotherapists in general. The speakers are exclusively members of the Bundeswehr, from the colonel or lieutenant commander to the brigadier general, and some with a degree in psychology.

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Bruder-Bezzel added that when the Bundeswehr was founded in 1955, a “psychological service of the Bundeswehr” had been set up as a successor to the so-called military psychological service of the Nazi era. Over time, this service has been expanded and new tasks have been entrusted to it.

According to Bruder-Bezzel, there was a particular boost in the psychological service in connection with the Yugoslav war. This was the first time members of the Bundeswehr had taken part in acts of war again. Then the mission in Afghanistan would certainly have led to the expansion of tasks. The tasks of the now 280 employees of the psychological service in well-paid civil servant positions included management advice, preparation and follow-up of foreign assignments, personnel selection as well as lessons and training courses on psychological topics.

Without medicine, psychiatry and psychology, war could not be carried out, Bruder stated. “As socially critical psychologists, we fundamentally criticize this cooperation because it supports the Bundeswehr.” The cooperation indirectly promotes the war

“which contributes to the militarization of both psychology and civil society. And that cannot be in the interests of a society shaped by the experience of two world wars.”

In the opinion of Bruder-Bezzel, there was no unanimous objection from all psychologists and psychotherapists to the cooperation between the Bundeswehr and the psychotherapist organization because such cooperation strengthens the field of psychology, emphasizes its importance and offers economic security. There are research funds and fields of activity for therapists in free practice.

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Of course, traumatized soldiers need psychotherapeutic treatment, stressed Brother-Bezzel, but this treatment must remain independent. According to the psychoanalyst, neither the Federal Ministry of Defense nor the troops are allowed to specify the treatment method and goals.

“After all, it can’t be the job of psychologists to treat soldiers’ reactions to acts of war – such as horror, disgust and fear of experiencing it again and so on – in order to get them fit for the next mission.”

The therapist must also ensure, and this is part of his duty, that third parties with other interests cannot influence the therapy. Therefore, the NGfP rejects psychotherapeutic treatments directed by the Bundeswehr, as well as training courses organized by the troops.

At this point, Bruder pointed out that psychotherapy for soldiers currently has to be approved by Bundeswehr doctors. It would be fatal if the treatment of soldiers in the interest of the military became the norm in civilian psychotherapy. This would destroy critical and emancipatory approaches in psychology.

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