Wounding Warriors: Their Own Wounds That Time Can’t Heal (2)

This is the second of a series of four posts under the same title.

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A news-piece appeared in the “Science News” section of The New York Times for July 7, 2016, under the byline of Jane E. Brody, and was entitled “War Wounds That Time Can’t Heal.” Beneath that title came this one-sentence blurb: “Moral injury resembles post-traumatic stress disorder, with an added burden of guilt.”

In the article Brody writes that it “is the fate of an untold number of servicemen and servicewomen who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and other wars” to suffer under just such a burden, the burden of “war wounds that time can’t heal.” But the wounds in question arise from the what Brody, following the contemporary clinicians she discusses, calls “moral injury”—that is the injury, the wound, that come from the memory of acts of atrocity that the servicemen and servicewomen (though I suspect there are far fewer of the latter than of the former) at issue themselves committed during their time of service. It is from just such wounds of “moral injury,” writes Brody, that many United States military veterans suffer—the wounds that came from the fact that they “participated in, witnessed or were unable to help in the face of atrocities, from failing to aid an injured person to killing a child”. However, Brody then goes on in effect to wash out, knowingly or not, some of the very moral weight of the categories of atrocity she mentions, by immediately adding, after “killing a child”: “in accident or in self-defense.”

Well, as I wrote in a note to myself about that sentence, what that leaves altogether unmentioned are all those cases such as that of the murders of women and children that were authorized by such United States military veterans as Bob Kerrey. It leaves out all the murders, that is, that were fully intentional, not any “accident” at all, and that were hardly done in “self-defense” (at least unless the killers themselves were suffering from paranoid delusions of the most virulent sort).

A bit later, Brody writes that “the therapeutic community is only now becoming aware of the dimensions of [such] moral injury [such injury as she has been so describing—or perhaps mis-describing] and how it can be treated.” One of the “challenges” to such treatment, the author writes, is the need to “reassure” the onetime atrocity perpetrators who suffer from such a condition “that they will not be judged and are deserving of forgiveness.” Later yet, she quotes Dr. Brett Litz, whom she identifies as “a mental health specialist with the V. A. Boston Healthcare System and a leading expert on moral injury”:

“Disclosing, sharing, confessing is fundamental to repair,” Dr. Litz said. “In doing so, the vets learn that what happened to them can be tolerated, and they’re not rejected.” They are also encouraged to “engage in the world in a way that is repairing—for example, by helping children or writing letters.” The goal is to find forgiveness within themselves or from others.

When I first read those remarks, what I personally felt—as I myself now feel bound to disclose, share, and confess—did not happen to be forgiveness, which I do not think I have any right or standing to offer those who suffer from such “moral injury” anyway. Rather, what I felt was anger.

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To be continued.