Psychosocial trauma and militarization, an invitation

With interest, in Ken Pope’s listserv, which notifies subscribers of all sorts of articles he thinks might somehow matter to psychologists and related persons, I came across the announcement of a new article on psycho-social traumatization getting published now in the APA journal, American Psychologist, vol. 71, no.3. I will reproduce Pope’s notice, in full (as he requests this always be done), below my message here.

Not being an APA member anymore, having quit a decade ago over the enhanced interrogation illegal detention ethical and intellectual arrest of the organization, I do not have a subscription, so I wrote to Dr. Blanco at the address indicated in Pope’s notice, and quickly received a full copy of the article, as formatted for publication in the journal.

I was unfamiliar with Martin-Baro’s work, which constitutes the basis and underpinning of its arguments, even while it cites numerous other studies, data and ideas to develop its arguments. Clearly, this martyred visionary has much to share about how militarism develops within a society and a culture and with its effects, seen by himself primarily through an embedded practice of service in his adopted country of El Salvador. He was committed to a bottom-up practice of psychotherapeutic research and development, from the oppressed rather than for the oppressed, as well as research based in knowing the people of his culture. He was committed to working for a de-ideologicalized reality and psychology, rather than an individually-based and supposedly neutral, objective science. In this article, he is identified with the idea that militarization of a culture can set the conditions for psychosocial trauma to unfold, can result from the fraying and destruction of the social order due to psychosocial trauma, and can become embedded in everyday life as well as social structures and lead to “a progressive militarization of the mind,” a terrifying if fascinating concept. As you might suppose, he was killed, along with his teenage daughter, his housekeeper, and five other Jesuits, by a Salvadoran death squad one night in 1969.

I gather that the primary means to read his work in English may be a 1996 anthology of his writings from Harvard, described at The Madrid-based authors of the paper published now by the APA journal will have utilized his writings in Spanish.

I sought to read this paper partly in order to test out in my own apprehension an immediate supposition that the APA’s seduction into collusion with the Department of Defense in torture and illegal detention of foreign citizens may have been partly predicated on its membership’s and leadership’s processing of the collective violent social trauma within the USA of the 9/11 attacks, precipitating as they did not just trauma, depression, and fear, but also high levels of emotional reactivity, bias, negative stereotyping, militarized mentality, mistrust, and division within US cultures and society. These of course led not only to anxiety about further terrorist attacks “at home” but to our launching first one and then another dubious but allegedly necessary war of prevailment in oil-rich nations of the Middle East. (Both Bushes and Obama have announced that “prevailing” is the goal of our incursions in the Middle East. Don’t ask me what they mean by that.)

Although the authors do not make this point, they do remark more than once on the 9/11 attacks as a powerful incidence in one nation of the sorts of “interpersonal and collective intentional violence” they are referring to as generative of complex social disorder (as well as re-ordering, which they note often includes a strengthening of in-group bonds that is coordinated with an empowering and enforcement of out-group demonization).

As a useful support on considering how and why militarization develops within a culture and developing our own applications of such knowledge and theoretical understandings, I recommend reading this article,
which you too can readily acquire by writing to the primary author or through the American Psychologist itself.

– – – –

full quotation of list serve post by Ken Pope, in better days, well before 9/11, chief of the APA’s ethics office:

Ken Pope

Apr 9 (1 day ago)

to Ken

The new issue of *American Psychologist* includes an article: “Social (dis)order and psychosocial trauma: Look earlier, look outside, and look beyond the persons.”

PLEASE NOTE: As usual, I’ll include both the author’s email address (for requesting electronic reprints) and a link to the complete article at the end below.

The authors are Amalio Blanco, Ruben Blanco, & Dario Diaz.

Here’s how it opens: “A recent paper reported the earliest evidence of injuries to human skulls (cranial depression traumas in frontal region) in the Middle Pleistocene (between 700,000 and 130,000 years ago) due to an act of interpersonal violence clearly intended to kill (Sala et al., 2015, p. 8). No wonder, then, that the outstanding political scientist, Hannah Arendt, underlined the ‘enormous role’ violence has always played in human affairs and in social and political undertakings (Arendt, 1969). These acts of extreme interpersonal violence become collective when they are intentionally driven by hostility against people in terms of a salient group or categorical boundary (e.g., Gould, 1999; Tilly, 2003) in which, by identifying themselves as members of a group, individuals fight against each other in order to achieve political, economic, or social objectives (World Health Organization [WHO], 2002, p. 215). These authors, and many others, agree that the collective expression of violence is much more rooted in the macro (even international) or micro social atmospheres (social order) in which the intergroup relationships take place than in personal traits. Civil war in El Salvador, for instance, was the result of a social (dis)order based on extreme poverty, political repression, social polarization, and institutionalized lying, shaping the “enabling context” of violence. This context used to be ideologically grounded in a framework of cultural values, beliefs, and formal and informal norms that rely on violence as a preferential means to deal with interpersonal and intergroup conflicts (Martin-Baro, 2003, pp 87-93) and to justify the system and his supporting sociocultural power structure (see Jost, Banaji & Nosek, 2004, for a review).”

Here’s the abstract: “The most common and extreme suffering humankind has ever experienced comes from interpersonal and collective intentional violence. In dealing with traumatic outcomes psychology must overcome the mutually constitutive interaction between the (dis)order of a given macro or microsocial context and the mental health of the persons living in it. Social psychologist Ignacio Martin-Baro addressed in a preferential way the study of civil war in El Salvador in terms of intergroup hostility and polarization. He also approached the aftereffects of war by means of a theoretical core assumption: that traumatic experience rooted in collective violence (a human-made stressor) should be understood bearing in mind its social roots (pretraumatic situation), its personal and collective harm (collective injury), and the destruction of the social fabric. These are the arguments for his conceptualization of psychosocial trauma. Twenty-six years after the violent murder of Martin-Baro, along with 5 Jesuit priests, a housekeeper, and his teenage daughter, the current authors have adopted his general framework. Based on new theoretical insights and supporting data, the authors propose an expanded 4-dimension theoretical argument on psychosocial trauma: (a) pretrauma conditions based on social distress, (b) shared network of fear leading to breakdown of core social assumptions, (c) the outgroup as a target of negative emotions, and (d) destruction of family ties and community networks.”

Here’s how it concludes: “The theoretical argument of psychosocial trauma goes back to a core psychological assumption that has a Lewinian taste: As any human action, collective violence can only be rightly understood by taking into account the surrounding social (dis)order. As such, collective violence is a distressing shared experience that besides its widely documented personal impact has also a psychosocial side damaging the primary support and protective networks of victims, their social and cultural identity, their cognitive and emotional patterns of interpersonal and intergroup relationships, and so on. Martin-Baro, a socially engaged social psychologist, suggested a close relationship between the socially “ordered disorder” leading to collective violence (pretrauma conditions), the aftermath of collective suffering, and the wrecking of the social fabric. Nowadays, the psychosocial trauma argument has gained enough empirical and theoretical support in the four dimensions previously described. However, when dealing with trauma, it is still too obvious that the DSM-5 dispenses with the more structural roots of violence, and therefore of trauma when (a) putting together, for instance, motor vehicle accidents and terrorism (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 276) or low intelligence and ethnic status (p. 277); (b) reducing the social distress in the definition of mental disorder to social activities (person’s behavior; p. 20); (c) narrowly conceiving gender differences (a group boundary) as the mere result of biological sex and individual self-presentation (p. 16), and thus neglecting the power structure, the ideologically rooted differences, and the cultural role played by men and women; (d) neglecting the group boundaries (religious and political affiliation, for instance) as a pretraumatic risk and prognostic factor; and (e) avoiding any reference to social suffering or human rights and providing a very sparse one to the breakdown of the primary support networks. Therefore, DSM-5 does not purport to understand that some intense and severe traumatic experiences are normal reactions to abnormal contexts or circumstances and for theoretically unresolved reasons seems to throw into oblivion the vast majority of victims. In our view, it is imperative to change this state of affairs if psychology really aims to ameliorate the suffering all human beings, regardless of their gender, race, religion, socioeconomic status, nationality, or birthplace. This will be one of its coming challenges.”

REPRINTS: Amalio Blanco, Department of Social Psychology and Methodology, Faculty of Psychology, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, C/Ivan Paulov, 6, 28049 Madrid, Spain. E-mail: [email protected]

The article is online at:

Ken Pope

Professional ethics protect the public against abuse of professional power, expertise, and practice, and hold members accountable to values beyond self-interest. Guild ethics place members’ interests above public interest, edge away from accountability, and tend to masquerade as professional ethics. A decade later, in 2002, APA revised the code again, reflecting an even more extreme commitment to guild ethics. It has disseminated, taught, and enforced that code of guild ethics for the last quarter of a century.

“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.”
–C. Wright Mills (1916-1962)

Posted in Uncategorized