The quiet epidemic of soldiers haunted by what they did during wartime
May 8, 2015 9:23 AM   Subscribe

 
Moral injury is not unique to veterans. But as psychologists and advocates come to understand it better, they are discovering that the problem is widespread in that community.

I am just ...baffled that folks are only just coming to this realization. It's a new realization that terrible things are done in war and that this has a significant emotion impact on many troops? Really? Really?

Maybe we should invest in getting them a fucking library card.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:39 AM on May 8, 2015 [21 favorites]


I'm troubled by this piece.

On one hand I have sympathy for the enlisted men who had little say over what they did and how they were told to do it. On the other hand we have 400,000 dead in an unjust, immoral and illegal war in Iraq.

It's not a zero sum game and I can feel sympathy and empathy for both. But I still can't shake the feeling that it's a little strange to put the focus so squarely on the detrimental effects on the perpetrators of all the ghastly things that they did.
posted by dmt at 9:42 AM on May 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's a little strange to put the focus so squarely on the detrimental effects on the perpetrators of all the ghastly things that they did.

That's certainly true, although a lot of these people are in the military because they don't have other good options for a career/education. As it is, the military doesn't pay well.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:47 AM on May 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


But I still can't shake the feeling that it's a little strange to put the focus so squarely on the detrimental effects on the perpetrators of all the ghastly things that they did.

I think the point is that War puts people in situations of intolerable moral stress, where it can be incredibly difficult to discern what is the correct action, and where there are very compelling pressures to act in ways that would be morally indefensible in most other circumstances.

I strongly suspect that drawing a hard line between perpetrators and victims in a warzone is much more difficult that you might think. It's an easy and false comfort to think that you could draw it, particularly from the comfort of your armchair. War is hell for most everyone involved on the front lines.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:49 AM on May 8, 2015 [22 favorites]


It's a little strange to put the focus so squarely on the detrimental effects on the perpetrators of all the ghastly things that they did.

The perpetrators are "us". It's easier to focus on "us" than "them". Also, if the research helps "us" stop deciding that "they" need to be bombed, attacked, or otherwise invaded by "us", then that would be a step in right direction, yeah?
posted by kokaku at 9:49 AM on May 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am just ...baffled that folks are only just coming to this realization.

Yeah, this article read as almost wilfully naive.

Anyway, a better figure to consider in the context of this issue, and who might be a more empathetic one for some is Romeo Dallaire.

He's been one of the key figures in pounding the table on this issue in Canada, particularly on how staggeringly incompetent the military's handling of PTSD has been. He's been doing that for years now, and he's certainly not the only one.

So, in my opinion, a way better exploration of this topic is given in this talk he gave to the USC School of Social Work entitled "The invisible veterans."

"In my release after 36 years, there was only one line written on the medical form. And it said 'this officer cannot command troops in operations.'"

And that was it. "PTSD? See ya later" after 36 years of service.

Part 2 and part 3 of that talk here.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:52 AM on May 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


I am just ...baffled that folks are only just coming to this realization. It's a new realization that terrible things are done in war and that this has a significant emotion impact on many troops? Really? Really?

Well, that's the argument the inventor of the term 'moral injury', Jonathan Shay, makes in the book mentioned in the article, 'Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character'.

Slight derail but there was an interesting discussion on AskHistorians on that topic recently, see here (heads up, reddit link). It's a difficult one, there are questions of how appropriate the diagnosis is on soldiers in pre-modern societies. Lady Percy's speech (not reddit) is also cited as a possible depiction of PTSD.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 9:55 AM on May 8, 2015 [3 favorites]



I am just ...baffled that folks are only just coming to this realization. It's a new realization that terrible things are done in war and that this has a significant emotion impact on many troops? Really? Really?


Because people do not know what anything means unless they went through it themselves. I am always perpetually floored by the lack of basic human empathy. It is not just soldiers fighting: it is people who go through other traumas such as abuse, illness and injuries are isolated from society who chooses not to see it.

But this blindness is particularly heinous: people want peace, but they want someone else to do it, and then they want them to go back to normal and never mention their traumas again.

War is cruel and it leaves intangible scars. It is a topic I explore in both my fiction and nonfiction for many reasons, but I have seen what it does to people -- and then how no one else seems to care.

Thank you for the post.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 10:15 AM on May 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


So, full disclosure, I do know Alex Horton, but I don't think this impacts my opinion on the piece:

Why this matters so much and why it's important is because the theory of moral injury is an alternate theory of why PTSD happens and what makes it difficult to fix. There are two schools: the first, that traumatic experiences with moral injury are difficult to eradicate without addressing the moral injury itself, and the second school, that denies moral injury and thinks it's purely the trauma alone that causes the damage. I think in part the second school is based off not wanting to think that moral injuries were done to soldiers by placing them in those situations in the first place.

But you need to accept the real problem to treat it. Great post.
posted by corb at 10:18 AM on May 8, 2015 [18 favorites]


"Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It's too much. No matter what you do, you're forsaking one vow or the other."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:22 AM on May 8, 2015 [17 favorites]


It's a little strange to put the focus so squarely on the detrimental effects on the perpetrators of all the ghastly things that they did.


My great-uncle was a scout attached to the First Canadian Armoured Brigade in WWII. He saw action all the way up through Italy, and then in Belgium and the Netherlands. By anyone's definition, he was one of the "good guys", fighting the Nazis.

He never spoke about his experiences in the war, up until about six months before he died, when he told one of my uncles about some of the things he did. Among these was shooting prisoners, because the Canadians were advancing too quickly, and they had no way of securing them. I can't imagine what it must be like to walk around with that burden all your life. I think for many people of his generation, the only option was simply not to speak of it. Ever.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:47 AM on May 8, 2015 [17 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: "That's certainly true, although a lot of these people are in the military because they don't have other good options for a career/education."

Right, so they chose to join a volunteer army and occupy other people's countries and do terrible things to them. That they chose this basically for the money involved doesn't really exempt them of responsibility.
posted by signal at 11:51 AM on May 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


Right, so they chose to join a volunteer army and occupy other people's countries and do terrible things to them.

Yeah, fuck Alex Horton for holding his hand up when the Army asked "Should we invade Iraq?", and double-fuck him for making that other vehicle run over an IED just so he could shoot some guy running at him a couple of times.
posted by Etrigan at 12:03 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Right, so they chose to join a volunteer army and occupy other people's countries and do terrible things to them. That they chose this basically for the money involved doesn't really exempt them of responsibility.

You're missing the fact that "they" were intensely propagandized their entire life to worship the military, that money probably wasn't the only reason "they" enlisted.

And the fact that "they" were most likely quite young when they enlisted, and therefore pretty ignorant and without a mature worldview.

Also, as I've more than ham-handedly hinted, you're Other-izing vets. I don't know for sure but would guess you dislike it when the military Other-izes opponents as well as regular citizens of foreign lands where they operate. Vets are human beings, not Other; they deserve empathy and compassion just like anyone else.

As far as responsibility, where does the buck stop? I don't think vets should be absolved of their piece of that responsibility, but to place the entire responsibility on vets' backs unfairly absolves military leadership, politicians, the businesses whose interests are supported by military actions, and ultimately the citizenry as a whole, who all own a piece of that responsibility IMHO.
posted by Lyme Drop at 12:22 PM on May 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


The military is not a job training program, nor an anti poverty program, nor an education program; it is a fuck shit up and kill people program, and always has been. If you understand that and still choose to enlist, then any moral injury you may receive is not entirely someone else's fault.
posted by Chrischris at 12:26 PM on May 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I live in military city, I am a military brat, the military can now lure juniors in high school, on campus for purposes of enlistment in the guard or military. It is job training, it is free college, and when our leaders obey the needs of the oil and defense industries, rather than the security of American citizens then they pay. Then we don't properly rehabilitate, it is our practice. The Viet Nam vets are still out on the streets, old men now.

We need our troops home, healthy, respected, beloved, healed. When I read propaganda like Obama's indeciveness in the Middle East has made it where Saudi and Turkey have to fight for their own security, I am saying hell yes, Obama, he recognises the mess for what it is, and our people are much more safe. I want the military out of our high schools, and I want them to fix what the government caused them to break.
posted by Oyéah at 12:38 PM on May 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


The military is not a job training program, nor an anti poverty program, nor an education program; it is a fuck shit up and kill people program, and always has been. If you understand that and still choose to enlist, then any moral injury you may receive is not entirely someone else's fault.

I don't necessarily disagree with that sentiment.

The problem is that not everybody in the military is going out there on the the fuck shit up program. A worthwhile read is Fred Doucette's Empty Casing: A Soldier's Memoir of Sarajevo Under Siege

He was an unarmed military observer (UNMO in UN parlance) in Sarajevo in 1995.

But I guess also, even from an enlightened self-interest perspective, do you really want to live in a society where the military-industrial complex is parachuting people back into it after having put them in a situation where it's a dead certainty that many more people with wounded minds than bodies will be coming back?

To the extent they can't get treatment and help for their wounded minds isn't their fault, I'd argue, irrespective of the voluntary assumption of risk that one might argue is inherent in signing up for an all-volunteer military

So yeah, this:

As far as responsibility, where does the buck stop? I don't think vets should be absolved of their piece of that responsibility, but to place the entire responsibility on vets' backs unfairly absolves military leadership, politicians, the businesses whose interests are supported by military actions, and ultimately the citizenry as a whole, who all own a piece of that responsibility IMHO.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:58 PM on May 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lyme Drop: "And the fact that "they" were most likely quite young when they enlisted, and therefore pretty ignorant and without a mature worldview. "

So they're not responsible for choosing to join an occupying army? Please specify: at what age or income bracket do people start being responsible for their own actions?

Also, as I've more than ham-handedly hinted, you're Other-izing vets.

I'm not othering them or patronizing them, I'm treating them as independent, thinking, moral humans. Truism #1: We're all responsible for our actions, and we all make decisions within the context of our lives. Truism #2: There has never been a human being alive who did not have a context or influence on every single decision they made. Yet we still hold people responsible for their actions, or we simply give up on any concept of personal responsibility at all.

Given their specific set of circumstances, the ex-soldiers in the article chose to join an army that was involved in the occupation of a foreign land and the death of hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants. Other people, in the same or worse situation, did not join the army, did not travel to a foreign land and did not kill its people. If the veterans in question did so out of ignorance rather than greed, bravado or boredom, I don't really see that this absolves them of their actions.
posted by signal at 1:11 PM on May 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


The notion that those who serve chose to and therefore what they got goes with the choice ignores a reality, ie, many go into the military because in America there is little hope these days for a decent life...after all, many soldiers could not afford college, many were not qualified for it, and most would not find jobs that have mostly been shipped out of the country.
In a more peaceful era, say between the end of WWII and later conflicts, the regular army was made up mostly of guys from the South. Little or no jobs for them that offered what one got in the military: housing, clothing, health coverage, food, pension, promotions and raises, etc.
posted by Postroad at 1:15 PM on May 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


Given their specific set of circumstances, the ex-soldiers in the article chose to join an army that was involved in the occupation of a foreign land and the death of hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants. Other people, in the same or worse situation, did not join the army, did not travel to a foreign land and did not kill its people.

Oh, for fuck's sake. No one joins to be part of an 'occupying army.' They join to defend America and defend American interests.

And I'm really sick of sanctimonious shits talking about how they're so morally superior to the soldiers who went over to the war they passively endorsed. Did you pay your taxes for the last ten years? Then you paid for bullets and bombs. Your money killed children. Your money shot women up with white phosphorus. You are equally as guilty, whether or not you want to play Pontius Pilate.
posted by corb at 1:22 PM on May 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


corb: " No one joins to be part of an 'occupying army.'They join to defend America and defend American interests. "

So you're saying the occupation of Iraq was kept secret from them until they enlisted?

corb: " Did you pay your taxes for the last ten years? Then you paid for bullets and bombs. Your money killed children. Your money shot women up with white phosphorus. You are equally as guilty, whether or not you want to play Pontius Pilate."

Nope. I did pay my taxes, but my country isn't currently involved in killing any children or women wholesale. I did choose to return from the US to my country 14 years ago in part because I didn't want my tax money to finance said activities, so I'll give you that. Thanks for "sanctimonious shits", though.
posted by signal at 1:27 PM on May 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


So you're saying the occupation of Iraq is kept secret from them until they enlist?

I know this may come as a shocker, but some of us, like myself and I think possibly Alex, joined before the war started.
posted by corb at 1:28 PM on May 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well, all I'll say is this: it was your choice to be a soldier, just like it was some folks' choice to be a nail tech. Why should I give a shit about the implications of your choice? Take your pension and your veterans benefits and whatever else you got from your employment contract and stop trying to extort further deference and respect from us who chose different. We payed you already.
posted by Chrischris at 1:43 PM on May 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


corb: "I know this may come as a shocker, but some of us, like myself and I think possibly Alex, joined before the war started."

What's under discussion is whether or not US soldiers 'pain' at having done horrible things to foreign brown people is somehow more worthy of empathy, interest or attention than that of the hundreds of thousands who died as a consequence of their actions.

The assertion that I and some others are arguing against is that because some veterans were poor, young and/or misinformed, it somehow excuses their behavior and therefore the narrative should focus on their feels. I don't agree with this, I think it should focus on their actions.

You signed up before the war? Congratulations, here's a cookie.
posted by signal at 1:52 PM on May 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Take your pension and your veterans benefits and whatever else you got from your employment contract and stop trying to extort further deference and respect from us who chose different. We payed you already.

Please, point out in this conversation where anyone is trying to extort deference or respect. And while you're at it, educate us on how PTSD and Moral Injury are "benefits", because that's the legacy that we're talking about here.
posted by Etrigan at 1:57 PM on May 8, 2015 [14 favorites]


What's under discussion is whether or not US soldiers 'pain' at having done horrible things to foreign brown people is somehow more worthy of empathy, interest or attention than that of the hundreds of thousands who died as a consequence of their actions.

It is that because you insist on it being that. No one seems to be arguing that part against you, either.
posted by Etrigan at 1:58 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


[Everybody please cool it a little.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:01 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry corb but taxpayers are not equally guilty. We are effectively conscripted to pay, soldiers are not conscripted to serve. Don't pick up a gun and tell me the person who paid their taxes made you shoot someone in the face. Money and guns don't kill people. People kill people.
posted by aydeejones at 2:11 PM on May 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Military personnel, by and large, go where they are ordered. Signed up and don't want to go to Iraq? Good luck with that. Much more blame lies with the politicians and intelligence staff that were spoiling for a war and got what they wanted. The rank and file were just doing their jobs that were set by the men at higher pay grades.
posted by theorique at 2:17 PM on May 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean seriously during all of this "support the troops" madness for the past 14 years my thought was that they are not defending my freedom or country but sowing the seeds of enormous blowback. No thanks troops. Would rather you didn't volunteer and let us instate the draft if we need to rally behind a "just war." My parents both volunteered during the Reagan and Carter era. If they had killed anyone unjustly because they didn't have a better opportunity than joining the military I would not consider myself morally superior but I certainly wouldn't elevate them either. I realize the elevation happens before the war, and then we toss them aside. That sucks and reflects how soldiers who suffer most often form an underclass that we try to make up for with "thank you for your service" platitudes.
posted by aydeejones at 2:19 PM on May 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


And while you're at it, educate us on how PTSD and Moral Injury are "benefits", because that's the legacy that we're talking about here.
posted by Etrigan

They are not benefits but consequences. And while I (an insufferable shit whose choice not to join somehow makes me worthy of contempt) support the effort to get these vets help to deal with their trauma, I will most assuredly not absolve or forget about the things they did to acquire that guilt in the first place.
posted by Chrischris at 2:46 PM on May 8, 2015


I think in a lot of ways some of the reasons people have problems with the concept of 'moral injury', at least as evidenced here in the thread, is that it suits their conscience to think of soldiers as monsters, killers, people who are just Wrong somehow, and separate them from themselves, who are righteous, good, and would never do that. To admit that soldiers are fundamentally good people who are sometimes deeply conflicted about their split second choices would be to force more introspection on why, precisely, they are clinging so hard to that moustache-twirling vision of military members.

And I think a lot of that is because they are, indeed, just as guilty as soldiers of prosecuting the war. It is their elected officials, utilizing their tax dollars, who give the orders to the soldier on the ground. It is they who have failed to prioritize ending the war. And that's why they seem to hold the incomprehensible belief that it is Joe Shmuckatelli at the checkpoint who made the decision to invade and who should be held responsible for actions there, rather than the men who gave the orders to Joe at the checkpoint. Because if the responsibility is placed on the men who gave the orders, they might be morally culpable, and that's just un-possible.
posted by corb at 2:56 PM on May 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


And while you're at it, educate us on how PTSD and Moral Injury are "benefits", because that's the legacy that we're talking about here.
posted by Etrigan
They are not benefits but consequences.


Consequences that the person I was quoting apparently does not believe in, because that person thinks that society's debt to servicemembers is paid in full once they get out with their pensions (which only about one in five gets).

And while I (an insufferable shit whose choice not to join somehow makes me worthy of contempt)

I have never said anything remotely like that, nor has anyone else in this thread. The closest anyone has come is saying that the American public shares some level of responsibility for the actions of the nation. Want to disagree with that? Fine, but stop making yourself out to be the real victim in a discussion of people who are suffering a diagnosed traumatic disorder.

support the effort to get these vets help to deal with their trauma, I will most assuredly not absolve or forget about the things they did to acquire that guilt in the first place.

Oh my god, no one is asking you to do that. Please stop beating that straw man. He is dead.
posted by Etrigan at 3:02 PM on May 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


fundamentally good people

A category error.

I know this may come as a shocker, but some of us, like myself and I think possibly Alex, joined before the war started.

And some of us joined after the wars started.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:03 PM on May 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


And some of us joined after the wars started.

Yeah, sorry, I didn't mean to play into what I was responding to. Soldiers are not less subject to moral injury or PTSD just because they joined after the war started - my dander was just up.
posted by corb at 3:06 PM on May 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Let's also not forget that many American civilians enthusiastically (some might say jubilantly) supported not only the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq in 2003. As someone who protested against those wars, I have distinct memories of being surrounded by police while exercising my first amendment rights, and receiving denigration from many different sourced, both in the media and in the street.

It is a rare occasion that I agree with corb, but if we, as a democratic society, are going to send people to do terrible things in our name, we need to be prepared to address the effect it has on them, along with the consequences of the terrible things we send them to do.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:26 PM on May 8, 2015 [14 favorites]


This discussion is disturbing.

There's this blank writing off of soldiers that does nothing to fix the problem, and seems to partially fall into the same just-world fallacy described in the scenario. The military and government leaders should be held accountable for the training, involvement, and situations that cause so much death. There is also the whole non-education to prospective recruits about what soldiers actually go through, and how the US has failed to provide care afterwards. Soldiers and veterans went into the army for their own reasons, and their decisions are theirs to grapple with. We should not be abandoning them to PTSD and other resulting injuries as a punishment.

I have empathy for those who have had close and visceral reactions to the military. But I hope we can always attempt to understand others and their actions, and request treatment for those in need, even if we don't condone them. I was a kid when the war started, but I am guilty of not thereafter teaching myself more about the hard truths and spoken lies as I could have.

Thank you for posting. I wasn't really aware how much more prevalent moral injury was compared to triggering experiences and senses.
posted by halifix at 3:35 PM on May 8, 2015 [16 favorites]


...it is a fuck shit up and kill people program, and always has been. If you understand that and still choose to enlist...

The DoD spends nearly half a billion dollars a year on advertising. Are you really willing to bet that they're advertising that they're a fuck shit up and kill people program? Do you really think people know that?
posted by Evilspork at 3:42 PM on May 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


War is hell for most everyone involved on the front lines.

Something else to not look forward to: PTSD is coming big time to drone operators who never were on the same continent as the front lines.
posted by bukvich at 3:52 PM on May 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm not really sure what's going on with this strong hatred of enlisted troops.

Do you think the United States should have a standing army and a operating navy? If not, then we just don't have any common ground.

But if you do, then you have to recognize that we necessarily need enlisted men, and that the role of the enlisted man is not to voice his opinion. His role is to do his job as asked of him. He places his trust in his officers and politicians for giving him orders in accordance with the defense of the country. Is it morally wrong to want to protect one's country?

Are you asking the enlisted man to be insubordinate? Because if so, you're just as liable for your own participation in this government by paying taxes and participating in the economy. If the enlisted man has to risk insubordination, why aren't you refusing to pay taxes? Why aren't you going out into the wild to not participate in this capitalist government and all the sins involved with participation in it? You have the choice. But you just willfully go along with it all the same.
posted by Dalby at 4:06 PM on May 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


Maybe we should invest in getting them a fucking library card.

My first thought, as well. Have the authors of this article never heard of the Iliad, never read Shakespeare? They are just now finding out that guilt and shame are the great corroders of lives?

I'm not really sure what's going on with this strong hatred of enlisted troops.

Perhaps you should ask some Iraqis.

(Why is the letter v, which shows up on preview fine, reading as k when the comment is posted?)
posted by jokeefe at 4:25 PM on May 8, 2015


Perhaps you should ask some Iraqis.

My question still stands. What is it you expect of the enlisted man? Is he suppose to refuse orders to go to Iraq and desert? And if so, what does this say about all you in this thread?
posted by Dalby at 4:31 PM on May 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I suggest that people look at the advertisements for the US Army. Just look at them. I had the unfortunate pleasure of going through them for various Positions in the US Army and it played up that someone is important and part of a team and gets to build skills and come out a better stronger person. And the benefits. All the benefits.

Also, I do want to remind people that a huge part of military training is infact removing individuality and choices. It erodes at the barriers that people have about actually hurting others...And that is the point. Not their mortality per-say but their ability to make on the fly decisions about harming others. The point is to make muscle memory so that soldiers react before their minds tell them to hesitate due to moral implications.

It is systemic violence, and no one should burden the blame by themselves and suffer their entire lifetimes for protecting a country's interests.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:22 PM on May 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


AlexiaSky: "It is systemic violence, and no one should burden the blame by themselves and suffer their entire lifetimes for protecting a country's interests."

Yeah, if a foreigner kicks down your door and shoots your father to protect his country's interests, that's cool, it's the systemic violence, and he should just be allowed to get on with his life, no biggie. Plus, offshoring jobs and lack of access to a college degree or something.
posted by signal at 5:36 PM on May 8, 2015


Not everyone who enlists and serves in the US military is a US citizen. Some enlist as a means to citizenship. Some enlist for technical training such as meteorology, avionics, IT and communications equipment skills etc. The army will pay for medical school in return for a commitment to serve as a doctor for a specific number of years. I know a woman who has done that. Some enlist for GI Bill education benefits. I met two US military veterans who returned to their home islands in the Federated States of Micronesia after obtaining their degrees. One had earned a degree in Political Science and went home to Weno, FSM to help his people. Yes, some of them served in combat and will have to contend with whatever nightmares they may carry. Like any other vets they're entitled to physical and mental health care through the VA.
posted by X4ster at 5:41 PM on May 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


Unfortunately war doesn't have time for tea and background checks. That's one of the reasons moral injury is so terrible... That soldiers think it is just evil bad guys and then they find out the connections and the humanization of the other side. The army tries really hard to use rhetoric to erase the humanity of the otherside and it is a internal struggle.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:41 PM on May 8, 2015


[One comment deleted. Please cool it down in here, and let's not get into what "all Mefites" think -- it's a big website, there's a limited number of individuals commenting in here. I know it's a close subject for some people so if you're feeling like you can't talk about this with people here, it's fine to take a break from the discussion for a while.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:00 PM on May 8, 2015


I think it's also worth mentioning that someone with a moral injury is questioning their own actions in a way that is destroying them. Such a person is not someone who killed someone and said "Well, whatever."

My grandfather, for example.

He was a sniper in the Winter War, on the Finnish side, at 18 years of age.

His job was individually shooting Russian soldiers and then fucking off on his skis.

He told me his story in bits and pieces when I was a kid. As I got older, I learned more about that war. I also learned about his heavy drinking and the physical violence he inflicted on my father, aunt, uncle and grandmother.

To his dying day, he professed a "hate" for Russians. But I think he would have been a better man for never having had to shoot any of those people in the first place.

The other option was Stalin steam rolling the country.

On the other hand, the people he was shooting were forced conscripts. None of them wanted to be there, marching across a frozen lake in shitty boots while my grandfather sighted them and picked them off.

That's an echoing history of abuse that says to me people coming back from war need to be treated with care and compassion. He carried that with him all through his life without the ability or resources to process it.

I hate war, I don't like militarism. But goddammit, people are people.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:12 PM on May 8, 2015 [30 favorites]


As much as we'd all like to believe that we are the captains of our respective ships, I believe we all have to swim in the historical currents that surround us. We live in camps, among those whose values most resemble ours, buffeted on all sides with the conflicting notions of other tribes. But never mind that.

I appreciate Taub's sensitivity in noticing the difference between aspects of PTSD that involve the moral dilemma and the trauma that sets many soldiers spinning. I used to call that "moral injury" the oops factor. Shit happens. Ooops. This, I believe, set me aside from the asshole who just wants to kill anything that moves. The oops factors provides entertaining grist for the midnight sheet-soaking sweat sessions that I enjoyed for many years. I worked my way through that by reading up on the difference between just wars and justly fought wars. I compared the thoughts of actual thinkers with entries in my journals and came out the other side with a better point of view. A person is allowed to learn, is how that worked for me. The oops factor stands aside from the other kills, but, if you want to take my word for it, you'll get around to thinking about them. Eventually. Even when you understand that self defense was a primary motivation, it's a heavy, heavy thing, to take a life.

It takes a certain blindness to not appreciate the heart and mind of a soldier, but civilians who have not been trained to this sort of life have to actually contemplate the subtlety of it in order to understand it. It won't do to simply dress your thoughts up in what if's. Your notions of valor will need to be tweaked a bit if you want to make sense out of it.

One problem a soldier faces is what they like to call making an adjustment back to civilian life. You know, like the way you would adjust to the warmth of a room after coming in from the snow--what you do, see, is take off your parka, and everything will settle down. Oh, well some call it decompressing. This is an example of how your metaphors break down. It doesn't help to have to account for those precious civilians who never would under any circumstance take a life. Bless you. May your tribe increase. After I got out of the army I went to school, and figured out that the Vietnam War was riddled with issues. Books have been written that detail certain tactical, strategic and moral failures....I agree with much of the criticism. It was wrong, and collectively, we did wrong. Good hindsight in this case makes for heavy moments at the Memorials, when you touch the name of some dumb shit that got between you and a muzzle flash, the off handed shot fired toward an incoming helicopter. Thanks, Lloyd, even though you didn't plan it to end that way. Really. Thanks.

Still. One thing Traub's article brought to mind was an issue I had with the stupidity of certain civilians. Some asshole would get in my face, and I would get really pissed off because he was putting me in the position of doing some serious damage to him. What an asshole he was. Well, you get the idea. It takes a while to figure it out. For a while all you guys looked the same to me, but I finally got a grip. I know that it's not just you guys, it's me, too. We're all circling the drain together.

But about the "moral damage." About 8 weeks into my basic training we went to the football field on post (at Fort Ord) where we spent two weeks in close combat drills, learning the ins and outs of the knife and bayonet. You put the bayonet on the end of the M-14 and see how far you can stick it through a tire. Or learn the other pleasantries: vertical and horizontal butt strokes, butt smash. It's wasn't as sexy as you might think. But the central theme was what they called "the spirit of the bayonet." We were asked this many times during each session of instruction: "What's the spirit of the bayonet?" The answer is always simple, always the same: "To Kill!" Our live fire exercises were similar, but with hidden targets and real bullets. The way it works is that first you train to act like a soldier, but it takes a while before, actually, you become one. One morning it comes to you that the guy next to you may live if you do your job right, probably won't live if you fuck up. If you just quit, then some other dumb shit will have come and do your job for you. The guy on the other side of you is gross, and you sure wouldn't let him come near your family, but you have put your life in his hands several times already, and you know for a fact he'll stand next to you and fight even if everything goes south.

I agree completely with the comments up-thread remarking that military organizations exist to kill people. That's true. Tooth or tail, it's all the same animal. And you civilians are the zookeepers for this critter. I haven't heard any arguments in favor of abolishing our military forces, just the occasional wistful thought along the lines of how it would be nice if nobody ever showed up for the war. My step-brother was a Marine when I was in the Army. Once a Marine, always a Marine, they say. The army doesn't put it that way, of course, but I noticed that once you get that way you tend to stay that way.

I still trade commo with some of my old soldier buddies. Some of them are stupid-red and gun happy. Most of them would rather not send their kids off to kill anybody. Anyway, by the time you get pissed off at the soldiers the damage has already been done. Maybe sorting it out somewhere upstream would be more useful.
posted by mule98J at 6:26 PM on May 8, 2015 [23 favorites]


I'm always so happy to be part of Metafilter, and think of it as the one place on the internet where it's cool to read the comments...right up until something pops up about veterans' issues.

The contempt and disregard I've seen for vets from some commenters on this site has always driven me nuts, but I've never seen it so effectively framed as it has been on this thread. It really is a matter of "othering" vets. And that's a damn insightful thing to think about, given how much effort militaries often put into "othering" the enemy.

But the folks saying that vets are bad and don't deserve any special attention or consideration for their traumas are so much better than those vets for never having signed up or bought into the system, right? I mean, it's not like they ever engage in the sort of de-humanizing behavior that we see in military orgs.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:04 PM on May 8, 2015 [13 favorites]


There's a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It's when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to it's absolute peak and maximum. Can't take anymore input. The nervous system has either (click) snapped or is about to snap.

In the First World War, that condition was called "shell shock." Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves.

That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the Second World War came along and very same combat condition was called "battle fatigue." Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue.

Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison Avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called "operational exhaustion." Hey, we're up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It's totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car.

Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it's no surprise that the very same condition was called "post-traumatic stress disorder." Still eight syllables, but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder.

I'll bet you if we'd of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I'll betcha. I'll betcha.
-- George Carlin
posted by kirkaracha at 7:29 PM on May 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Yeah, kind of shocked at the heat leveled towards the veterans here. The way I see it, and I marched against the war in Iraq, all U.S.citizens are culpable for what our military has done and what has happened to our troops. Unless we are a little less like loud arm-chair citizens.

I thought this was a great article. There is PTSD, and then there is being in the moment of being sent somewhere that you had no say in, and you and your fellow soldiers are immanently in danger of being killed. You make a split second decision, when it is not the line-up-on-the-field-of battle type of warfare. When it could be anyone on the street who is trying to kill you. Moral ambiguity. Maybe some soldiers are guilty of nativity for signing up. But they have been through so much, by signing a contract to serve us.
posted by branravenraven at 8:26 PM on May 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


[One comment deleted. signal, you've made your point several times in here, please leave it alone at this point for people who want to engage with the article. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:34 PM on May 8, 2015


I think it is fair to be pretty exasperated by the hero worship that veterans get in every context. Last night I was at Home Depot and they had special parking for wounded veterans. Veterans do deserve my sympathy (and in fact I have gone out of my way to volunteer serving veterans on several occasions), but there are a lot of other people who deserve my sympathy too (including, you know, Iraqis) and they don't get the same degree of rabid hero worship.
posted by miyabo at 7:43 AM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I protested against the war. I protested at Army Recruiting Stations and handed out leaflets telling recruits that this EXACT THING was down the road for them.

I can have anger about the war, and compassion about the millions who were killed in my country's name. I can have anger at my government for pushing it, and can wish the CEOs and contractors horrible regrets in their dying years. I can wish for karma to be real.

I can also have compassion for people who went to war and have come back with visible and invisible wounds. I can demand that a county that would pay for the war will pay for the consequences. My country. I did all I could to stop the war. But I can still have compassion for the soldiers who fought it. I will never thank a soldier for his service. But I will put an arm around him or her and ask what I can do to help.
posted by RedEmma at 7:53 AM on May 9, 2015 [14 favorites]


P.S. None of us are exempt from making life choices that are morally problematic. Just because I can't see the deathly consequences of my actions doesn't mean I haven't committed them. I am not a better person than any soldier.
posted by RedEmma at 9:35 AM on May 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Miyabo: This sort of thing offends me to the core, and I am a veteran. I am deeply suspicious of people who try to celebrate my service -- a co-worker once wished me a 'happy veterans' day!', as if there ever could be such a thing.

I believe we all want to defend our homes, culture and what not, but not gallivanting through oth folks' homes, cultures, &c would be nice too. The problem here is that with a standing military, some goober in charge will eventually want to use it because playing army is fun, or because securing another country's resources is a kickback for having been elected... And then the poor dogfaces who come back broken are tossed aside, where civilians can deny them sympathy since they chose to join up.

There isn't any real solution here other than to put yourself in the shoes of another and try to understand how probably good people could end up in such horrible situations.
posted by drfu at 1:30 PM on May 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think it is fair to be pretty exasperated by the hero worship that veterans get in every context. Last night I was at Home Depot and they had special parking for wounded veterans.

That must be one hell of a parking lot, if that's how you define "hero worship."
posted by Etrigan at 2:01 PM on May 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it's no surprise that the very same condition was called "post-traumatic stress disorder." Still eight syllables, but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder.

I love Carlin, but the reason the name changed is because mental health research discovered that PTSD is due to trauma, including emotional, sexual, physical, or even witnessing violence. PTSD is actually a concise and descriptive term, because it's not limited to the trauma experienced during combat. "Shell shock" is far too limiting in its scope, though it sounds evocative.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:10 PM on May 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


There isn't any real solution here other than to put yourself in the shoes of another and try to understand how probably good people could end up in such horrible situations.

I just came across this, and I think it's germane to this discussion. Kevin Vickers, who was the Sergeant-at-Arms who shot the gunman who stormed the Centre Block of Canada's Parliament last year, says that the next day, he "woke up about 5:30 in the morning and I was crying. It was the loneliest moment of my life."

There was much public chest-thumping in the House of Commons about his actions, about how he was a "hero," etc. His private reaction seems to be completely different, and his moral conflict about what he did.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:43 PM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


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