US Catholic Faith in Real Life

"Moral injury": The walking wounded of the war on terror

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

After more than 10 years of the "war on terror," we've become familiar with the new collection of wounds of returning women and men in uniform: lost limbs, brain injuries due to powerful blasts, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression, to name a few. Those who work with veterans are now are exploring a new dimension to the suffering of returning veterans, which they call moral injury.

Scholar Rita Nakashima Brock, in today's New York Times, describes the unique moral dilemmas soldiers have faced in this war of counterinsurgency: "If you’re looking at a kid on the side of the road with something in his hand, if it’s a grenade and he throws it and kills someone in your unit, you’ve failed your comrade. But if it’s a rock, you’ve just shot a kid with a rock." One person studying at Brite Divinity School's Soul Repair Center, Michael Yandell, a veteran of Iraq, put's the damage in sharp relief: "Most deeply, it’s a loss of confidence in one’s own ability to make a moral judgment with any certainty. It’s not that you lose your ability to tell right from wrong, but things don’t seem so clear any more. For me, it’s whether or not what I did, did any good."

Nakashima Brock's work is specifically raising the issue of the church's responsibility to returning veterans, especially after a war in which civilians without relatives in the military were asked to sacrifice nothing. Some Catholic parishes are beginning to respond, but with more than 1 million veterans of over a decade of war, it's going to take a lot of effort to divert some of the suffering experienced, for example, by Vietnam vets. One hopes this generation of soldiers will not also end up, like so many veterans before them, forgotten on the streets.

Related: "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen," November 2012

"Guilt by disassociation" 

DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Bendet, U.S. Air Force, cc via Flickr