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Moral Injury

I just learned that another young veteran has taken his own life.  A recent report indicates that 30% of our post-9/11 troops have contemplated suicide.  The VA informs us that 22 veterans per day decide to end it all.  Something is horribly wrong, and most Americans are not concerned enough to address this epidemic.

Why are the mental, emotional, and spiritual struggles of our defenders driving them to stop the pain, once and for all?  Answers I have found include guilt, grief, personal and family issues, substance abuse, and isolation brought on by the belief that no one cares nor understands.

I would suggest an even deeper reason: a dark chasm in the “heart,” the innermost part of our being.  War leaves a blot, a “death imprint,” a mark of evil that is so embedded in our psyche that no light can enter.  Some have called it a “loss of Ich” or loss of Self. This soul wound (or soul obliteration) derives from the programming (brainwashing?) that our warriors receive and then implement on the battlefield.  We are trained to dehumanize the enemy, to regard him as something other than human.  It’s always been this way…in every war from the beginning of time.  Knowing that it is difficult to kill when we see our target as fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, and wives, our leaders have conditioned us to view the adversary as Japs, Nips, Krauts, Gooks, Ragheads, etc.  The “other”  becomes less that homo sapiens, and we can then destroy him.

This makes it convenient, of course.  But the truth that no one has really faced honestly is this: you cannot dehumanize anyone without dehumanizing yourself.  And so our warriors lose themselves in the wars we send them to fight.  And when they return, we have a hard time understanding why they can’t “just get over it” and go back to normal living.  We need to remember that there needs to be a long process of affirmation, validation, and restoration before our military men and women can find themselves again and rejoin our society. We have a moral…and sacred…obligation to help them.

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