A Moral Life After War

"A Moral Life After War ? "
Rev. Peter E. Bauer

After fourteen years of unending war in both Afghanistan and Iraq, many Americans have been affected by this ongoing conflict through witnessing spouses, parents ,children and other family members and friends go through one, two, three, four and beyond deployments to a hostile violent combat environment. We have been living with an all-volunteer military for quite some time now. Recent numbers have described the following regarding those who has served:
As of 2014, the VA estimates there were 22 million military veterans in the U.S. population. If you add their figures on veterans to the active personnel numbers mentioned above, 7.3 percent of all living Americans have served in the military at some point in their lives.
But since only 2 million veterans and about 200,000 current personnel are women, that overall percentage varies a lot by gender -- 1.4 percent of all female Americans have ever served in the armed services, compared to 13.4 percent of all male Americans. What Percentage Of Americans Have Served In The Military ...fivethirtyeight.com/.../what-percentage-of-americans-hav...Mar 19 2015
Regarding members of congress who have served in the military, the numbers are as follows:
The 114th Congress will be made up of 70 current members and 11 incoming members of the U.S. House of Representatives who have served or are serving in the U.S. military. Three of the incoming members are Democrats; the other seven are Republicans. There are currently only 13 members of the Senate who served in the military. By the numbers: Veterans in Congress | PBS NewsHourwww.pbs.org/newshour/.../by-the-numbers-veterans-in-congress/ Nov 11,2014.
We still are asking a small percentage of our citizens to defend our country and to fight our wars. Those military personnel who return from war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq are continuing to suffer from mental health conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression and increasingly service members are suffering from Moral Injury.
War can generate unseen wounds of the psyche including spiritual wounds. I have known people who return from deployment and say things like " it was hard to be on a convoy and drive down crowded streets in Afghanistan and Iraq and have our vehicles run over civilians and children. There was never any time to stop. They just had to drive on. "
Moral Injury has been defined as committing actions that knowingly violate one's religious, ethical and philosophical foundation. If one has been raised with the belief " thou shalt not kill " then killing other people in combat is likely to cause internal conflict for a service member.
So how can someone who suffers from Moral Injury receive help ? The Church has not been a great resource for military personnel and families suffering from soul loss. Quite the contrary, the Church has really sat out the past fourteen plus years, uncomfortable and vague with regard to any substantial response and support to those who suffer from combat trauma.
This has been true even for those who are fighting in as combat environment receiving spiritual support. Robert Emmett Meagher in his book "Killing From The Inside Out: Moral Injury And Just War describes one Soldier's struggle
" I went and talked with the Chaplains, and told them about the spiritual basis for my conflict of conscience. They came back with all of these cliché' statements and even Bible verses taken out of context, justifying war and saying God is favoring us, and that I should just trust in his plan. Just surfacey, watered-down statements that didn't answer anything that I was really feeling.
I was reading the Bible and finding a lot of scriptures that were showing me a different side of Christianity, primarily about being peacemakers. The verses about love your neighbor as thyself, those who live by the sword die by the sword. I was going to Bible Study for a while, but I stopped going because I didn't feel like I fit in, it wasn't comfortable. The Chaplain was praying before missions that we would be God's hand of justice and all the guys around me were bowing their heads and praying for this when forty minutes before they were watching porno on their computers and laughing about shooting animals. " ( Meagher 2015 )
Helping those who suffer from Moral Injury is going to take a lot of effort and commitment for those who wish to offer assistance i.e. be they clergy, chaplains, church or veterans organizations. The first important thing that people need to do with regard to morally injured veterans, service and family members is to simply listen without judgment or prejudice. Church-sponsored peer support groups and other socialization opportunities would also be effective interventions.
As a nation, we need to revisit this concept of an all-volunteer military service. Too few people are asked to sacrifice too much while many people are buffeted and protected from any requirements to support the defense of the country. We might be better served by instituting some kind of national service program i.e. either in the military, the Peace Corps, Americorps etc.
I agree with Robert Meagher when he observes:
" Peacemakers, like war makers, must be prepared to give up their lives, at least several years of their lives-to the daunting but not impossible challenge of creating a moral alternative to war. "
May this be realized for us and for our world.
May it be so.