Disposable Veterans and Moral Injury

Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan

America’s military veterans suffer from suicide, drug dependence, homelessness at higher rates than the rest of the population. Why is that? Ostensibly these men and women are initially selected because they possess better than average mental and physical toughness, ambition, aptitude, teamwork skills. Even enjoy a supposedly elevated social status relative to their non-serving peers. What happens during an often brief 4 year enlistment period that changes them?

Journalist Christopher Moraff is embedded in the front lines of the drug war. Specifically Philadelphia’s low income neighborhood of Kensington, the epicenter of Philly’s opioid crisis. Like every journalist, he deploys with the standard issue pen, notebook, and camera in place of a side arm. Christopher however takes his journalistic battle kit to the next level. He doubles up on mini-grenade like vials of overdose reversing Narcan and enough drug test strips to fill a bandolier. His most powerful weapon is his empathy and willingness listen to anyone. Especially the most vulnerable, ostracized, battle damaged victims of this decades long drug war which currently has transitioned into an increasingly deadly fentanyl phase of destruction. He wins his battles by telling their stories, documenting their soul crushing plights.

Hoping to bring attention and understanding to one of these seemingly disposable veterans. Christopher documented one encounter with a recently thrice-incarcerated, drug-dependent, home-less, car-less, money-less, job-less, hope-less, American military veteran. It certainly caught my attention:

https://twitter.com/cmoraff/status/976868485795115014

It is hard to comprehend the magnitude of dehumanizing suffering involved in this brief twitter thread but what Christopher described in the last tweet is what viscerally shook me.

“Thank you for your service.”

There is so much behind that peculiar momentary reaction the veteran displayed after receiving this platitude. This uncomfortable appearing response is not uncommon. If what these men did was so honorable and heroic, why this reaction? Christopher didn’t know why the veteran reacted strangely.

I knew.

What this disposable veteran exhibited was moral injury. What is moral injury? I’ll let Iraq War Marine veteran Tyler Boudreau tell you:

“Moral injury is about the damage done to our moral fiber when transgressions occur by our hands, through our orders, or with our connivance. When we accept these transgressions, however pragmatically (for survival, for instance), we sacrifice a piece of our moral integrity. That’s what moral injury is all about. Moral injury does not replace post-traumatic stress. It works alongside it.”

Packing Inferno – The Unmaking of a Marine

We are all well aware our prosecution of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been oppressive, excessively wanton, resulting in the infliction of suffering and death on undeserving populations numbering in the millions, Whatever you think about the initial justifications, the results are ultimately manifestly unjust. By ‘serving’ in the Iraq war, Afghan war, any other innumerable unjust endeavors, you damage yourself by participating in the immoral perpetration of violence against others.

How do I know this? I experienced this same moral injury here at home in the war on drugs as a cop. Some of what I did even though perfectly legal, expected of me, and done with my own good intentions, was in fact immoral. Many of our laws are in fact immoral. Legal does not equal moral. Not only did I inflict unjust and unnecessary harm on others enforcing such laws, I suffered internally because of this as well. For a long time I couldn’t quite understand why. I had injured my own moral fiber, my very being. Many former cops and veterans have confided in me feeling this same uneasiness when thanked for their service by a well meaning public. This is difficult to admit.

When you commit an unjust act, you are an unjust person. There are unavoidable spiritual consequences for this.

Individuals suffer moral injury and emotional trauma when they harm or help perpetrate unjust harms against others. Even if you incorrectly assumed your actions were right at the time, the fact remains another human being suffered unjustly at your hand. There will be an accounting. Orders, government laws. badges, uniforms, good intentions will not shield you from the consequences of this fundamental moral principal.

Wrongly kill another man, his spirit survives. With that same act however, you self-inflict a mortal wound to your very spirituality that only true repentance, undeserved forgiveness and God can heal. You actually suffer more than the man you kill. And shamefully by your own hand at that.

This is an inescapable fact of humanity. You don’t have to kill anyone. Any violations of another man’s right, however slight inflicts enormous spiritual damage.  Even the lowest supply clerk who never fired a shot shares culpability for they chose to participate and assist in the infliction of harm.

No doubt this veteran suffered permanent physical harm when he was injured, emotional trauma futilely trying to save his gruesomely burned brother in arms, and personality altering distress by merely existing for extended periods under the constant threat of violence and death. Each is damaging enough. Yes, complex socioeconomic factors and personal choices also play a part in this man’s current predicament.

Again, this does not completely explain why he stiffened up though.

All of that suffering, all of that trauma, is made more unbearable, completely soul destroying. Because deep down in his gut he knows it was unnecessary, not heroic, worse in furtherance of an unjust purpose.

If you ask him about this, he may deny it. I wouldn’t be surprised. Self-inflicted moral injury is difficult to comprehend and accept. We have all been fed a bunch of patriotic propaganda to disguise it. Many soldiers, and cops, don’t understand it. You don’t want to understand it. To do so is to utterly destroy your own ego. So, they just…hurt.

Understand there are malevolent individuals: politicians, financiers, academics, crony-corporatists, who cloak themselves in respectability in an attempt to control this world by getting others to do their bidding. Such as invading and occupying foreign counties and oppressing our own citizens. Unlike you, they have a very good understanding of how morality and culpability is distributed. Now they have no problem speaking clever deceptions, but notice how they never get their own hands bloody? They don’t want that liability. They get you to do that for them. They manipulate you with fear, media, officious documents and proclamations, traumatic events. But ultimately by you choosing to carry out their orders that ‘choice’ puts much of the culpability on you.

These ‘leaders’ need you. They enjoy mocking you and feed off your suffering. They know you are strong and formidable men. They can’t let you entertain the idea you don’t need them. You would quickly overpower them. You don’t even have to turn against them. Simply  walking away would ensure their defeat.

How do leaders deceive us? They distort the meaning of words like honor and service and obedience, spread fear, indoctrinate the masses, and put you safely on their payroll. Proud soldiers get upset hearing this, angrily retort “Don’t blame me, blame the politicians. I had good intentions and was just following orders!” No, you chose to follow those orders and by doing so assumed the underlying malevolent intent.

You also allow yourself to be deceived. There is a certain comfort to letting others make decisions for you. And it’s fun wielding power, smashing stuff, blowing things up, driving fast, kicking in doors, shooting guns. These guys give you permission when no one else will. No, your recruiter doesn’t tell you: “We want you to compromise your morality and rip people’s flesh apart for evil’s sake.” It is twisted into the familiar trope: “We want you to do the tough job only the strongest men can do. You know, for FREEDOM.”

Then, like this veteran, once his usefulness as an enforcer in their Military Industrial Complex is complete, they throw him away, a broken man. Now only useful as fodder in their Prison Industrial Complex.

Our Afghanistan conflict where this veteran violently subjugated others in order to ‘protect us’ is the longest war in U.S. history. Thousands of American military of men have rotated through over the years.

 
Fools Errand

Under American occupation Afghanistan miraculously produces 90%+ of the world’s opium. That opium somehow makes it to our shores infesting every single neighborhood from Kensington Philadelphia to Kensington San Diego. Reaping huge profits for those in on the scheme but destroying our very society one OD at a time. ‘Law Enforcers’ at home destroy even more lives in order to ‘protect us.’ Think that is some conspiracy theory? Let historical facts remove the scales from your eyes. Start with the Opium Wars and Iran-Contra cocaine. You think this doesn’t continue today?

At least the Afghanistan conflict had some initial basis in legitimacy. The Iraq war had nothing. Its casus belli was destruction for destruction sake.

George Orwell wrote in 1984:

“The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labor. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”

This is intentional. Directed and manipulated by a few for their own evil, profit and control purposes. And they use you to do it.

All military members who put their boots on the ground in furtherance of these wars bear the scars of the resulting moral injustice This is why you have such high rates of PTSD among military and is so difficult to treat. A great portion of the PTSD in these men is self-inflicted moral injury from harming others wrongly, unnecessarily.

US Veteran’s Affairs does not explicitly address moral injury. They at least admit it exists in the short article on their website, “Moral Injury in the Context of War.” While helpful and partially truthful, there is an intentional bend, obfuscation, and definite minimization to their explanation.

The magnitude of the immorality and injustice inflicted on others by our government and military can never be admitted and therefore never properly treated. To do so would be to admit the laws, orders, missions, entire wars, were for unjust purposes and therefore completely immoral.

These soldiers can never heal unless we first recognize the entirety of the injustice we asked them inflict. No, it was not heroic. Yes, it was in fact wrong. Each and every man bears some individual culpability.

This may seem harsh. But excusing the injustice, falsely claiming it was heroic or honorable, denying these men have personal responsibility, prevents their own healing and redemption process.

What do we do about this? We help this man, and the thousands of others like him heal. More or less drugs / legal or illegal is not the answer. While it needs to be addressed, that only treats the symptoms.

For the love of God stop making more morally damaged men.

Stop “serving” in unjust wars. Stop “just following orders.” Your own humanity depends on this.

Stop letting some politician or malevolent elitist do your thinking for you.

Use your God given Free Will and choose right from wrong for yourself.

Best way to treat moral injury is to NOT inflict it upon yourself in the first place.

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan

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