Global Ethics Corner: Can Moral Injury Be a Wound of War?

Oct 22, 2010

Moral injury is a new concept to describe the harm done to combatants traumatized by war. Is this concept confined to combatants alone, or is moral injury to soldiers simply a more extreme extension of the moral issues faced by everyone?

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind on, there is a new idea about the damages of war: moral injury.

Moral issues usually focused on rationales to fight, just-war for instance, or on victims, and victims are found on all sides.

Victims are the maimed, the dead, the ensnared civilians, and the crumbling of civilized behavior.

Soldiers were survivors, heroes, or perpetrators, but rarely victims. Recently, with the recognition of mental damage suffered by combatants, of "post traumatic stress syndrome," surviving soldiers became potential victims.

Now, Walker reports that, "A group of mental health experts is giving a name to the guilt and remorse troops feel when they see or do bad things during war: moral injury."

The issue is: how deeply does combat wound the minds of combatants?

Many actions are morally ambiguous, and people also act against their values. Most have been haunted by a pledge unfilled, by a promised deed undone, by a failure to live up to their values. Everyone copes with moral injury.

Religions sanctify life, command "do not kill," and then sanction crusades or jihads.

Combat, approved by legitimate authority, becomes morally defensible. Still, combat is distinctive, violent, intense, and, under clearly defined conditions, soldiers are given "licenses to kill."

What do you think? Are combatant's experiences potentially more traumatic because of the horrors they face and the legitimacy they receive? Or, is moral injury to soldiers simply a more extreme extension of the moral issues faced by everyone?

By William Vocke

For more information see:

Mark Walker, "Military: 'Moral injury' as a wound of war," May 8, 2010.

Litz BT, Stein N, Delaney E, Lebowitz L, Nash WP, Silva C, & Maguen S, "Moral injury and moral repair in war veterans: a preliminary model and intervention strategy." Clinical Psychology Review, 2009 Dec;29(8):695-706. (from the National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System, United States)

Photo Credits in order of Appearance

Steve Rhodes
Tierney Nowland/ U.S. Army
Pierre Gazzola
U.S. Army
Chad J. McNeeley/ Department of Defense
Brendan Young/ U.S. Army
U.S. Army Africa
U.S. Army
U.S. Army
Bill McChesney
Jason Minto
U.S. Army
Alfred Johnson/ U.S. Army

Reegone

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