A Challenge Facing Veterans, Active-duty Military, their Families, and the Rest of Us
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has become a familiar (and perhaps somewhat over-used) term as societies attempt to cope with the difficulties faced by women and men who have been engaged in military conflicts during the past 14 years, and their families. As we reflect on their experiences, we become aware that PTSD is not just a phenomenon of the 21st century. It has affected persons engaged in previous wars, going back through centuries and perhaps as long as the human species. Descriptions of what we now call PTSD can be found in the epics of ancient Greece.
But now the concept of “moral injury” has been introduced to describe a kind of experience with which some military personnel must deal, whether they are still in service or have returned to civilian life. The distinction between moral injury and PTSD is not always clear, partly because they are “two different hidden wounds of war” that are closely related.
Because of PTSD, one veteran observes, the “world was no longer a safe place.” Now, he goes on, “I always prefer to sit with my back to the wall, … to see what’s going on around me. I like to be in clear sight of all the exits. And I always identify places that could provide cover and concealment from possible attacks.”
While PTSD represents a breach of trust with the world, moral injury is described as a “violation of a moral agreement … with his own internal world, his moral identity.” The soldier struggling with PTSD also is dealing with a psychological problem that goes to the roots of who he thinks he is and what he believes human beings can and should do. He fought a war “that he deemed to be illegal and immoral. He allowed prisoners of war to be tortured, and he killed unarmed civilians.” [Quotations from Soul Repair, by Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini, Boston, Beacon Press, 2012, p. 87]
Lynn and Steve Newsom will lead a workshop on “moral injury” at the Richmond Friends Meeting on Saturday, October 24. Lynn and Steve are directors of Quaker House, which is located near Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, NC. For 40 years, Quaker House has helped military personnel deal with their difficult experiences, and has advocated non-violent ways of dealing with difficult global affairs among nations and militant organizations. It is a major participant in the GI Hotline, a service that provides telephone advice to troubled military personnel and offers references to organizations that can provide advice and assistance with issues like conscientious objection. It handles thousands of calls per year.
In the past few years, Quaker House has expanded its mission to recognize the ways in which the experiences of military personnel returning from combat can affect their spouses, children, and neighbors. Alienation, pre-occupation with personal actions, feelings of guilt, and even domestic violence – all are issues to which Quaker House now gives priority. The response from counselors, chaplains, and other care-givers at Fort Bragg has been very positive.
The Moral Injury workshop will be held on Saturday, October 24, from 10:00 AM until noon, at Richmond Friends Meeting (4500 Kensington Ave.). There is no charge to attend, but please email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com if you plan to come. Space is limited. Find directions here: www.richmondfriendsmeeting.org.
This event is sponsored by Richmond Friends Meeting together with Richmond Peace Education Center & Alliance for Unitive Justice.