"War's lingering phantoms haunt every society."
As two hellish, costly and needless wars struggle toward collapse, this is the time -- now, right this minute, before the next false alarm goes off -- for us to look honestly at the cost and quality of national security based on militarism. It's time to squeeze the romance out of war and get it through our heads that war is not inevitable.
War is just another form of mass murder. Its core principle is dehumanization -- of all participants, the enemy and the good guys. This is because you can't hate, dehumanize and train to kill "the other" without dehumanizing yourself and damaging your soul.
"Kill! Kill! Kill, without mercy, Sergeant! . . . Blood! Blood! Bright red blood, Sergeant!"
The dehumanization happens at an individual level, to soldiers and vets who, in basic training, go through an intense process of overriding their humanity and establishing "muscle memory" that allows them to kill on command; and who then participate in the killing of the enemy -- often enough, in our current wars, the killing of civilians, including children -- in battle situations.
And the dehumanization also happens, less perceptibly, perhaps, at a collective level, to whole societies that pump themselves into a war mentality and think they're protecting themselves and their values, only to see the suffering they inflict come home and the values go permanently on hold.
A new term for this brokenness, this deep loss of one's humanity, has emerged: moral injury.
The quotes are from "Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War" (
"Soul Repair" is an assault on the mythology and public relations of war, on the default setting of nationhood, that: "We sleep comfortably in our beds at night because violent men do violence on our behalf." No matter how many lies are at the foundation of a given war, no matter how disastrously unnecessary and destructive it turns out to be in retrospect -- oops -- the myth of war is ever-unsullied: This time the danger is really there. This time it's crucial that we carpet bomb civilians, then send in our boys and girls to clean out the enemy insurgents. This time it's really for democracy and the American Dream and a good night's sleep.
Just as soldiers are on the front line of the fight, they are also on the front line of its aftermath, bearing their wounds -- physical and spiritual -- by themselves. Even if they fought in a "good" war, popular, celebrated and appreciated, they are alone with what they witnessed and participated in. When a war is deeply criticized at home, bearing what one has done in it often becomes impossible.
"Self-harm is now the leading cause of death for members of the
This question, it seems to me, strikes at the heart of who we are as a society. Like the other vets who tell their stories in "Soul Repair," he had to rebuild his life and reclaim his humanity by reaching for something beyond what could ever be gained by war. For Casteel, this meant traveling with
Boudreau spoke stunningly about his reclamation of humanity: "Digging in has always been, for me, about killing or keeping myself from being killed. In war, soldiers score the earth with their shovels, some of them essentially digging their own graves. The first time I pressed the heel of my boot at home on a garden spade I felt the shift inside me like tectonic plates beneath the surface."
Personal stories such as these are the core of "Soul Repair," but the authors push beyond the personal as well. War and its aftermath -- "war's lingering phantoms" -- belong to all of us, they write. Let's at least acknowledge those phantoms and let them unsettle us. This is the prelude to rebuilding.
- Visions: America after Hegemony
- The Honorable Absurdity of a Soldier's Role
- America's Big Fat Advantage
- Immigration Reform and Entitlement Reform Go Together
- Baby Gets Cruel Lesson in Life Early
- Iraq: Bush's War, 10 Years Later
- Iraq a Convenient Scapegoat
- Abu Ghraib Revisited
- He Says His Battle Almost Over
- Iraq: Soul Poison
- Americans Fear Iran, But There is Much to Learn From Cuba
- Onion 'Edgy': Tasteless and Sickening
- From Affirmative Action to Diversity
- A Ruling on Racial Progress
- High Court Ponders: Is Racism Over?
- Death and Life in Maryland
- Detroit's Decline
- Signs that the NRA is Losing
- Who would follow our example on Keystone Pipeline?
- Pentagon Keyboard Jockeys Can Now Out-Decorate Combat Heroes
- The Minimum Wage and The Meaning of a Decent Society
- United States and Israel Push The Boundaries of International Law
- War's Lingering Phantoms
- An Incubator For Peace
- Lasting Peace
- Controlling Lucifer
- United States Hiding Behind Tortured Definitions
- Covert Sexism in Espionage
- Gun Nuts' Fantasies vs Real World Tragedies
- United States to Join Global Race for Talent -- Big Time
- CIA Nominee Defends United States Drone Policy
- U.S. Policy as Global Security Provider Built on Plymouth Rock
- I Am Because You Are
- On Flaky Professors and Nutty Ideas
- Continuing a Foreign Policy Pivot
- War On Pot Has Gone Up in Smoke
- Second Amendment Vigilantes
- The Empowerment Project
- Unarmed Empowerment
- The War Between the Amendments
- Conversation on Gun Violence Excludes a Key Perspective
- NRA Shoots Down Its Own Ideas
- Obama Goes Big on Gun Control, But Can He Deliver?
- Appropriate Job for Big NRA Backer
- Good Sense and Gun Control
- NRA's Choice: Be Part of Solution or Continue to Make Problem Worse
- Spy Secrets of 'Zero Dark Thirty'
- Does Torture Work?
- Border Fears Riddled with Holes
- The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power
- United States Heads Toward Gun Control Debate
- Freedom to Live in Fear
- Plotting an Uncivil War
- The Social Context of Mass Murder
- Video Games Not to Blame for Mass Shootings
- Hollywood Film Brings Torture Back Into The Light
- The Other Cliffs
- A Holiday Letter from America
- Take Care of the Children
(c) 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc