Tuesday, January 22, 2013


The words, MORAL INJURY, just the words, the title of an article in Newsweek, hit me hard. This photograph was spread across two pages. The lead-in words by senior reporter, Tony Dokoupill, hit me even harder.

"Soldiers are supposed to be tough, cool, and ethically confident. But what happens when they have seen and done things that haunt their consciences? New studies suggest that the pain of guilt may be a key factor in the rise of PTSD."

Reading, I wended my way through what the Department of Veteran Affairs said about PTSD, what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently told Congress about ailing veterans, what distinguished psychiatrists, clinicians, and researchers have reported, and how the idea evolved -- that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the result of Moral Injury.

What is moral injury?

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, as well as other former soldiers and high-level officers have shuttled between two worlds -- ours, where thou shalt not kill is part of everyday life -- another world where you kill, or you will be killed.

Put yourself in that photo -- feel it, see it, be there with those who have been there, fighting -- killing -- so that they they themselves, or their buddies, won't be killed.

Yes, oh yes indeed, the article logically reminded the reader that moral injury is as old as war -- it's in the "Iliad," the "Odyssey," and in the oldest surviving play of Sophocles, "Ajax." Also, I know from books I've read that have brought tears to my eyes, it's in the private thoughts of soldiers -- their journals and what they're managed to write and get published.

It's said in different ways -- killing violates your soul, killing is a sin against yourself, killing is profoundly, deeply wrong.

Words, words, words ... I'm not a solider, never have been, never had to fight for my country. I haven't had to punch, kick, slam, tangle, or wrestle with another human, or choke, stab, shoot, or do anything violent to another human being, in order survive.

Okay, when I was very young I saw my sister kill a cat -- bang it on the head with a shovel. She never told me why she did it. Later I experienced schoolmates turning against me -- they beat me up, calling me "Christ killer." I have never recovered from that. When Hitler was defeated, and people wanted him punished -- tortured to death -- I rejected the idea. When Saddam Hussein was on his way to the gallows, for me it was unbearably wrong, the way he was treated before he was hanged.

What I think about this seems -- even to me -- not trivial, but not as horrifying, as WRONG, as having to kill when you're fighting a war.

The fact is, more than 30 percent of the 834,463 Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans, (247, 243 ), who have been treated at V.A. hospitals and clinics, have been diagnosed with PTSD.

Currently every month close to 1,000 vets attempt to take their own lives. That’s about three attempts every 90 minutes.

“It’s an epidemic,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told congress this summer. “Something is wrong.”

I put these words on this page so that if there's a way we can help the men and women suffering post traumatic stress, you and I will help them.

Yes, yes, yes -- for me, no matter what was threatened, I could not kill someone.

Could you?


alien said...

Dearest Em,making war to bring about peace is a foolish human undertaking,not once in the history of man has the desired result ensued.As a teacher I respectfully ask you to read an excellent letter on the source of all wars,written by James the half brother of Jesus. The New Testament,in the book of James chapter 4.KJV.

Peggy Bechko said...

I am not surprised at the PTSD statistic. My father fought hand to hand in the Philippines in WWII after being jerked out of high school, handed a diploma and a gun & shipped out. He was 17. He was terribly messed up the remainder of his life - alcoholic. After 25 years my parents broke up - no surprise there either. War destroys - everyone involved - end of story. And to have these wars going on for well over 10 years - again I say, sadly, I'm not surprised

Carola said...

I really appreciate that term "moral injury." I can see it in so many situations, but especially in soldiers who experience a conflict between their duty and their morality.

Poet_Carl_Watts said...

Let the pyschs get involved in ANYTHING and it goes to hell. Soldiers are never cool and calm and rarely confident. In the main, they have no idea what ethics is.

Being jumpy from fear is now given a psychiatric label and the drugging begins.

They are fighting a war with NO PURPOSE and only victims. They know this is wrong on some level. Of course when anyone is committing harm with no degree of good resulting you go slightly crazy. Look at congress!

Solution is to stop killing people for no reason beyond profits!

If a man comes into my home with intent to harm, I will take what ever degree of action needed to stop him. Hopefully he survives and doesn't sue me :-)

RCToyPalace said...

Em, you did a good write up. I have never encountered a situation requiring a life, for payment. I think there is a line there, and once crossed over, life will never be as it was, before. Even those that are justified for the action, will deal with it, again, if only in search of 'why, or how, did it come to this'.

Anonymous said...

Very important blog Emily. It is frightening to see the rise of PTSD in our soldiers coming home from the war. We need to make sure they get the help they need to survive back home. I could never kill anyone or an animal either. When my dog died 3 yrs ago, it was so tramatic to have him put to sleep. I feel sorry for our soldiers who are protecting us from harm. kam

Linda Phillips said...

I abhor violence in any form. I don't understand what makes a person volunteer to be in the military in the first place. Even reading what your sister did to that cat is terribly upsetting to me and I fully understand that it would have stayed with you all of your life.

Unknown said...

I read the comments which the last one was very touching and brought tears to my eyes. I could not harm or hurt a person or animal. I have just started writing a blog about My Dog Hank. I get emotional as I write it due to my own disability as I struggle with learning. I have struggled with this all my life.
I sit here at 1:55 today with tears streaming down my face. What a blessing this has been to me today.

Unknown said...

Yes these boys suffer from not a small amount of it fear. Why wouldn’t they be scared? My son was an Australian soldier in Afghanistan who was in the task force that were sent to train the Afghanis so that they could learn to effectively defend themselves. The day my son landed there a soldier who was on patrol was shot by an Afghani who had lived among them, who they trusted…who they were training. He turned on them. An act that he’d been planning and this is not an unusual occurrence. There’s no way of telling who they can trust and who they can’t. Not everyone is over there to kill, a lot hope they are making a difference. My son is home now and I don’t think he’s the same but he’s trying and he isn’t on any kind of drugs. I do know though that he is most comfortable when he’s with his kids. Probably because they don’t understand where he was or what he was doing while he was away. They only know he was at work. I think the best way you can help a soldier is to not ask them a thousand questions or ask them to justify what they’ve done. You can pretty well bet they didn’t do it for their own enjoyment. Very thoughtful post Em :)

Anonymous said...

Nice write up Em.

War is an ugly thing,unfortunate and I have seen the scars of war while on a peacekeeping mission,for nearly a year, after the Bosnia Herzegovina War ended.

I have seen buildings shot to hell-riddled with bullet holes and pock marks the size of golf balls and saw up close what land mines can do.

Even after the war was over people were blowing up buildings when told they had to vacate the place for someone else to move in.

War is ugly and been around almost since the beginning of time. Some will never find peace even after the war is over and as a society and individuals we should always strive to learn, understand and even reach out to those in need.

Julian Speed