What Vets Are Not Talking About When They’re Not Talking About Their War Experiences

In her June 28 piece Mad, Bad, Sad: What’s Really Happened to America’s Soldiers at Tom Dispatch, Nan Levinson writes about “moral injury.”

It’s a concept in progress, defined as the result of taking part in or witnessing something of consequence that you find wrong, something which violates your deeply held beliefs about yourself and your role in the world. For a moment, at least, you become what you never wanted to be. While the symptoms and causes may overlap with PTSD, moral injury arises from what you did or failed to do, rather than from what was done to you.

Agreed: I’ve long thought that when veterans of World War II and subsequent wars that the United States has prosecuted or participated in refrain from speaking about their experiences, it’s not because of what was inflicted on them. It’s because of what they they did and wished they didn’t, or didn’t and wish they did. The second category covers everything from acts of physical cowardice to failure to object to or report atrocities committed by their fellow soldiers.

In fact, as Levinson so astutely writes:

In trying to heal from a moral injury, people struggle to restore a sense of themselves as decent human beings, but the stumbling block for many veterans of recent US wars is that their judgment about the immorality of their actions may well be correct.