Psychosocial Effects of Compulsory Military Service

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Workshop given by Rosella Baronti, Chilean psychologist

Ten people attended this workshop, which analysed and reflected upon the effects of obligatory military service on both the individual and on the society in which they live.

One of the main issues to be highlighted was the role that military instruction has in either reaffirming or building upon forms of social indoctrination already started by other institutions. Military training imposes conditions on the articulation and organisation of the "psychological system" of the individual. It turns the individual into an object, conditions towards mechanical learning, into accepting without arguing, and emphasises standard rather than multiple responses. This is all added to a mix which includes discipline, denial of the individual, ritualisation and other actions designed to encourage submission to power.

We also described the kind of clinical and pathological effects of this kind of education and training.

From the discussion that followed, it was evident that awareness of the military's role is a function of an individual's personal historical experience, in particular the relationship between civilians and "their" military. Some people from the ex-Yugoslav countries had a different perspective -- not expressed openly but otherwise evident -- which understated the characteristics and consequences of military training. This is probably because of the recent experience of war: their armies are frequently conceived of as as an ally which defends them from external aggressions.

It seems basic to stress the need for serious and deep study of the characteristics of armed institutions (training, norms, adherence to ideological doctrines, etc.).

Themes such as "Peace Armies", "Actions for Continental Integration", "Consolidation of Military-Civil Relationships", etc. have recently been introduced into the public debate in many countries. This often makes it difficult for us to reframe the debate around the more fundamental question of why armies exist in the first place.

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