An article titled Moral injury — the quiet epidemic of soldiers haunted by what they did during wartime caught my attention the other day, in my efforts to educate men on the dangers they face I consistently tell them; Do not, under any circumstances, join the United States military, or any military institution for that matter. There is the issue of course, of impoverished men not having much of an option, given our societies increasing tendency to discriminate against men in the workplace, it is a foregone conclusion that some men will have no other employment prospects other than becoming a weapon of war for the state. But i would advise those seeking to serve in the military to read this article. It interviews a soldier named Alex Horton, part of his experience in afghanistan is given as follows:
On March 24, 2007, in a city just north of Baghdad, US Army infantryman Alex Horton shot a man twice in the abdomen. He saw the man stumble, then fall behind a building, out of sight. That’s all Horton knows, and all he will ever know, about what happened. He’ll never know if he was right to conclude, in that crucial split second, that the man was a threat to him and his fellow soldiers. But he thinks he was probably wrong. And that knowledge causes him lasting pain.
This type of “Moral injury” as they put it, is extremely taxing on ones ability to lead a guilt free life. In taking another life on a battlefield, I’d imagine that these soldiers will always be plagued with the nagging question…Could i have avoided snuffing out a human life? did I erase a living breathing consciousness unnecessarily? Such questions must weigh very heavily on the mind indeed. The worst part about it all is the open endedness of the entire thing:
On March 24, 2007, in a city just north of Baghdad, US Army infantryman Alex Horton shot a man twice in the abdomen. He saw the man stumble, then fall behind a building, out of sight.
out of sight….
OUT OF SIGHT.
That would torture me the most, imagine this soldiers inner monologue he must inevitably engage in from time to time.
<Did he die?…don’t kid yourself he had to have died, but maybe. . . maybe he didn’t suffer. Fuck, who am I kidding I shot him twice in the gut, how could he not suffer. I wonder what he was thinking in his last moments, I, just, am I going to have to keep thinking about him for my entire life? will i think about him in my last moments?>
Thats how I imagine it must go for him, the questions, they would torture me. That’s the burden of taking a human life that you must live with once you do. I doubt that’s a burden that most men would want to carry around for 30 or 40 years.
I don’t judge Horton, since, as the article says he was under attack:
Horton’s unit was on its 10th day in Baqubah, the capital of Iraq’s Diyala province, tasked with rooting out Sunni insurgents. They were out on patrol when a US Army Stryker traveling a few minutes ahead of Horton’s ran over an IED. The explosion was so powerful that it knocked the vehicle on its side. Everyone in the Stryker was injured. One soldier’s leg was destroyed, shattered by the force of the blast.
But I do not envy his position either:
Horton knows why he made the decision to shoot: he was in the middle of a firefight, with wounded comrades to protect. The man he shot appeared unarmed, but he was acting in a way that seemed strange and, in context, threatening. At the time, in that split second, with less than a moment to decide, pulling the trigger seemed like the only option.
But in hindsight, Horton now believes his decision was wrong. By that point in the war, Horton told me, the insurgents fighting in Diyala were hardened professionals who wouldn’t have been dumb enough to run across a street that way.
“When you Monday-morning quarterback it,” Horton said when we spoke in April, “it doesn’t make any sense for someone who has ill intent to move like that.” He now worries that the man he shot was a civilian, and posed no threat to him at all.
“That’s not how good people act. But I did it, because I had to.”
That belief has caused Horton a great deal of psychological pain since that day in Baqubah. His is a sort of battlefield injury that is increasingly recognized by psychological experts as being common among veterans. Though it can lead to symptoms severe enough to meet the definition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it is its own distinct type of trauma. This is psychological trauma that results when someone violates his or her own moral code, or experiences a severe violation by a trusted figure, such as a commanding officer.
Psychologists call what Horton suffers from “moral injury,” which they describe as an experience that violates core ethical and moral beliefs, thus leading to trauma. It’s not the trauma of a physical threat to life or limb, but of damage to the “deeply held beliefs that undergird a service member’s humanity,” according to researchers at the National Center for PTSD.
That is the crux of it , that the human being is not designed to deal with the psychological ramifications of killing other human beings. The fight or flight response equips us with the ability to kill other human beings, but it does not equip us for the years and years of psychological torment these soldiers will inflict upon themselves as penance for their sins. It’s no surprise that soldiers have such a disproportionate rate of suicide in comparison to the rest of the population. Instead of going on a long winded analysis of the type of psychological damage that going to war can inflict, I’ve decided instead to use images. The following pics are from a an article titled The agonizing face of war: Soldiers with PTSD make disturbing masks to express their feelings of horror and frustration. The masks give a glimpse into the tortured mind of a PTSD diagnosed soldier.
These plaster of paris manifestations of a PTSd riddled soldiers consciousness, this guilt personified should be more than enough to discourage your average man from joining the military, next time you see some military recruitment ad on the television, think back to these creepy masks and you should have all the motivation you need to never join the military.