MORAL INJURY: EXAMPLE AND DESCRIPTION 3/31/20
I have been saying that moral injury is damaging to soul/self care.
An assumption here is that societies, and countries, can experience collective moral injury as surely as individuals can experience it.
Rita Nakashima Brock has been a pioneer of naming and researching moral injury. With co-author Gabriella Lettini she published SOUL REPAIR: Recovering from Moral Injury after War, in 2012. I will quote from her book to give an example and description of moral injury.
“Women can also be used in sexist ways for torture. In one case, Alyssa Peterson served with C Company in Military Intelligence in Iraq as an Arabic-speaking interrogator at the prison at Tal Afar airbase. A twenty-seven-year-old devout Mormon, she was put in “the cage,” where “enhanced interrogation” techniques included “walling, cigarette burning, punching and being blindfolded naked.” The blind-folded captives were humiliated when their blindfolds were removed to show women were present. After two days, Peterson refused to continue with the interrogations. She believed the torture demeaned her to the point that she did not want to live with what she did in the name of serving her country. She shot herself on September 15, 2003. No public media source reported her suicide.
Any person with a conscience feels occasional guilt or shame for something she or he did, but war can require extreme actions that violate the very basis of moral identity. The life or death urgency of war forces untenable actions that can elicit profound gilt or shame. When we feel that what we did was wrong or unforgivable and that our lives and our meaning system no longer make sense our reason for living is in tatters. The shattering of the soul challenges what holds life together, and the anguish of moral injury begins.” SOUL REPAIR, p. 52.
Our country, the USA, sent Alyssa Peterson to Iraq, and we paid her to do what she did. We, that is, you and I with our taxes. For doing that we suffer some moral injury. My plea today is that we begin to think about what that means. And to begin to reflect on that, not as narrowly as possible, but as expansively as possible, so that we might find ways to look toward healing and away from national suicide.
John K. Stoner
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