Recently I completed two very valuable books, required reading, for those of us engaged in more than a casual concern for veterans facing various moral and spiritual injuries resulting from warfare. The first was recommended to me by a close friend, Col. Robert Buran (USMC, Ret.), of the University of Pennsylvania, Just War Reconsidered: Strategy, Ethics, and Theory, by Gen. James M. Dubik, USA (Ret.). The second is, After War: Healing the Moral Wounds of our Soldiers, by Dr. Nancy Sherman, University Professor at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., who also served as the Inaugural Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the United States Naval Academy.
Of particular interest to me is the following paragraph from Gen. Dubik in the “Foreword” of Dr. Sherman’s book, Afterwar:
“War changes lives: War is the realm of the paradoxical: the morally repugnant is the morally permissible, and even the morally necessary. Killing, even enemy combatants; destroying even legitimate wartime targets; and razing or (sic.) properties and lands, even when using proportional force – all involve taking away the most sacred and essential element of a human being – his or her life, his or her livelihood. War justifies – more importantly, demands - what in peacetime, would be unjustifiable: the destruction of lives and happiness of others. Those who fight live this paradox day in and day out. In a very real way, war is the abnormal turned normal. Such a life begs the important questions, questions that often don’t arise until years after a war: “What kind of person am I to have done this?” “How do I square my sense of self with what I had to do?” “How can I lead a good life, given what I did – even if what I did was justified?” Reconciling war’s paradoxes, without dismissing the humanity of those whose lives were taken or whose livelihood destroyed, involves dealing with moral injury” (p. xiv).
The paragraph continues: “Significantly, Afterwar highlights the role of the community in moral healing. ‘Thank you for your service’ simply does not meet the community’s obligation to those it sent to fight on its behalf.Members of the community and the community as a whole: both are obliged to learn more of what those who fought have gone through on their behalf, to understand them, to engage them, and to help them live well. It’s not a matter of gratitude; it’s a matter of reciprocity” (p. xvi).
What a powerful statement from Gen. Dubik. This should be a wake-up call to every individual who is concerned for the holistic welfare, spiritual, physical, and psychological, of our most valuable men and women who have served our nation and given us the freedoms and lifestyles we enjoy today.
I never cease to appreciate those of you reading this article and who have chosen to partner with GWFW in your prayers, encouragement and financial support, as we reach out to meet the moral and spiritual needs of our veterans in deep gratitude for what they have accomplished and continue to accomplish on our behalf as fellow-citizens of this great nation. – Tom Seals