As discussed in yesterday’s posting, President Obama gave a speech at the White House on September 10th laying out the case for American intervention in Syria. If you have read the speech, it’s a well-reasoned moral argument in favor of taking some kind of action against the Syrian regime that gassed its own people on August 21st as evidently proven by our satellite photography and imagery. In President Obama’s remarks, he referred directly to the images that have apparently been shown to him by our intelligence services: “The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits -- a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war.”
That evidence in the satellite images is a key piece of any diplomatic argument, especially one with such critical moral implications. And there are certainly profound moral implications as the President alluded to the use of gas weapons by many nations during World War I with horrifying results and the use of gas to enable the holocaust by the Nazi regime during World War II. Because of the shocking, malevolent, barbaric, and evil spectacle of these weapons in World War I, most nations easily agreed to a complete ban on the use of these weapons during “normal” military operations. The evil Nazi holocaust of World War II, largely made possible by the use of toxins to poison millions of Jews in the death camps, gave the world yet a second reminder of the horror of chemical weapons. As the President noted in the 10 September speech, “Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them. And in 1997, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved an international agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, now joined by 189 governments that represent 98 percent of humanity.”
In addition, the evidence that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian regime on August 21st is overwhelming and irrefutable. As President Obama noted, “No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The world saw thousands of videos, cell phone pictures, and social media accounts from the attack, and humanitarian organizations told stories of hospitals packed with people who had symptoms of poison gas.” Furthermore, we know the culprit without a shadow of a doubt: “[W]e know the Assad regime was responsible. In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gasmasks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces. Shortly after those rockets landed, the gas spread, and hospitals filled with the dying and the wounded. We know senior figures in Assad’s military machine reviewed the results of the attack, and the regime increased their shelling of the same neighborhoods in the days that followed. We’ve also studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site that tested positive for sarin.”
Of course, even when we have proof of a “crime against humanity” and know who the perpetrator is, we would still need moral justification to act, a rational “chain of responsibility” that connects the act to some cogent obligation that we have or role that we must fulfill. National leaders must carefully weigh their options, and, once they have decided to act, must present their people with a compelling, rational, and moral explanation for the need to use military force in these circumstances since no military action can be successful without the force of the political will of the majority of the population.
Already the political pundits, diplomatic and strategic experts, and “talking heads” are lining up either for or against this possible intervention in Syria. Many who seem to be grounded in a secular, naturalistic, atheistic, liberal, progressive, or socialistic world view have automatically staked out their position that the moral obligation or right to act can only come from the consensus of the global community. This is not to say that all in that camp have consensus on the issue, but for the sake of argument, based on the overwhelming percentage of articles that I am pulling up in research on my college’s ProQuest (and other databases), suffice it to say that most of those who self-identify as the political or social left are not too happy with what they quickly broad brush in their straw-man articles as hegemony or colonial adventures.
Everyone’s got a right to their own opinion. It’s a free country as they say. But if we had let this idea of “community consensus” be the unbending, irrefutable, guiding principle for moral action in the past two hundred years of our country’s history, then many of our countless global efforts on behalf of the suffering and the downtrodden would never have taken place. Such efforts would have died quickly in infancy, choked off by the unresponsive, unwieldy bureaucratic processes and maneuvers that typically occur at the international level. Moreover, the Lord only knows how many such atrocities and humanitarian disasters throughout history went by without question or comment while other groups or nations stood by apathetically watching, perhaps thinking it was someone else’s responsibility or even asking the sarcastically defiant question of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9).
What are our moral obligations as a nation? More on this tomorrow. May you have a peaceful, blessed day
A debate has been raging in the media over the concept of American Exceptionalism. On September 10th, President Obama gave a speech outlining the evidence that exposed Syria’s use of chemical weapons on their own people. In that speech, he laid out the moral argument for American intervention in preparation for possible action if all the political cards line up and there seems to be a political will or general consensus for us to act. In the last three paragraphs of his speech, he appealed to America’s moral leadership in the world in the past. By quoting from FDR, who led our nation against the very powerful and very evil Nazi regime, Obama was suggesting by rhetorical connection that we have a moral obligation in the modern world to also oppose evil if it is within our power to do so. In President Obama’s closing three paragraphs, he said:
“Indeed, I’d ask every member of Congress, and those of you watching at home tonight, to view those videos of the attack, and then ask: What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas, and we choose to look the other way?”
“Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.” Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used.”
“America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”
It was this last paragraph, mentioning American exceptionalism, that garnered the most attention, starting with Vladimir Putin’s unprecedented op ed piece in the New York Times the following day. Mr. Putin, in reference to the idea of American exceptionalism, wrote, “And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
More on this tomorrow. May God bless your evening and your rest and worship on Sunday.
I have spent most of the week comforting, corresponding with, and encouraging in my own humble way a few people that were broken or suffering tremendously from many troubles brought into their lives. In helping bear their burdens, I feel so completely, emotionally spent, but I don’t regret any minute of doing the Master’s work. Yet, my strength in these spiritual and emotional battles has been so completely sapped that I don’t feel like I have anything left to give. That’s okay. I know that, in my weakest moment, His strength is made perfect within me, always giving me the power to go on when I don’t think I can do any more. I have tried in my own humble way to help, “giving a cup of cold water” perhaps that would soothe the aching hearts of these suffering people. I truly do not know what I’m doing in helping them. But God always gives me the right words to write and guides me to the right action to take which will help these people.
He knows them far better than I could ever know these newly found friends, brothers, and sisters. Only He knows what these suffering people need. I listen patiently and intently for His still small voice. Then I follow in the path that He has laid out for me, always a path of humble, loving service. He is so tremendously faithful and so boundlessly wise. And I am just a poor instrument in His masterful hands, but when He uses me, the Master can do such miraculous things in touching people’s hearts and lives. Moreover, He can make the brokenness, flaws, and jagged edges of my life into beautiful music, perfectly played, that touches just the right note at just the right time in perfect rhythm. He plays His song of love through my life, making an unworthy instrument produce such beautiful works that touch many lives. I am always in awe at what the Master can do with such flawed instruments, with such common, average people as me.
I’ve written previously about the Civil Rights movement and the importance of the 1963 Birmingham Campaign since it was one of the defining events that led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Not every community was as bad as Birmingham, though. As I told my students this week when I was discussing the topic of civil rights, race relations could be seen distributed along a spectrum throughout the south. Some places were very racist and others were not racist at all or had very few racist people in the community. I think that Atlanta and the suburbs of Atlanta were generally more “progressive” in this respect. And that probably had a ripple effect throughout the state since Atlanta was the capitol and considered one of the jewels of the south. Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta in the 60’s and 70’s, I didn’t see too much of racism, and I have never thought anything less of others because of the color of their skin. God has always blessed me with the ability to look on all people through His eyes of love. Moreover, since I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior at the age of eight, He has been at work in me ever since, building up His Spirit of Love continually.
My parents generally seemed to teach and live values of equality of all people, but I’m sure that they probably grew up in an environment where some racism was considered acceptable. I know that I heard racist jokes from one of my grandfathers a few times when we visited his home, but I don’t think I ever repeated those jokes. Also, growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I was always around people of color as I would see them at the school I attended, as customers in the places where I worked as a teenager, and around the community. They always seemed to receive the same respect and the same service as white customers. So, I can honestly say that I never saw very much of racism growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta when I was a boy. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there, but if it was prevalent or widespread, most likely I would have seen evidence of it at one time or another.
In fact, I remember that Atlanta elected their first black mayor in 1974, the first large southern city to do so. I think in those days that the population of Atlanta was about evenly split between the number of black residents and the number of white. So, for Jackson to be elected, there would have necessarily been many white citizens that voted for him. Additionally, his victory in 1974 was over the incumbent, Atlanta’s first Jewish mayor, Sam Massell, whose election was also a sign that Atlanta was a progressive city. Jackson had first entered politics in 1968, motivated by the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. His first political race was for a United States Senate seat, and he was running against a very powerful and popular politician, Herman Talmadge. So, his loss was far less about racial politics and more about the widespread name recognition and political clout of his opponent against a little known challenger who was new to politics. Moreover, even though Jackson lost that race, he received about 200,000 votes statewide, roughly a third of the vote, and he carried the city of Atlanta by a wide margin, signifying that he had garnered a fair amount of white votes.
One of the surprising things about Jackson’s run for the Senate seat was that he received support from many white farmers throughout the state by making a populist appeal to the common folk. But the mere fact that he received so many white votes throughout the state was a good indicator that racial attitudes were changing in the “New South.” Also, “he described his campaign as successful because he wanted to energize Georgia's African American electorate to take advantage of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965.” After that election, seeing how well he had done in getting the vote of Atlanta citizens, he decided to run for vice-mayor in 1969, a race which He won by getting a third of the white vote and 99 percent of the black vote. On January 5, 1970, he was sworn in as Atlanta’s first black vice mayor. Then, three years later, he would launch his campaign for mayor, defeating Massell and becoming, at the age of 35, the first black mayor of a major southern city. This victory was groundbreaking and gave other blacks around the south courage and motivation to run for political offices throughout the South.
Have a great day. I pray that God blesses you with a strong sense of His loving presence throughout this day.
I thought that, since I have been writing about military subjects for over a week, perhaps it is time for a change.
Over many decades of attending Bible study and church worship, I would often encounter one of those questions about the nature of God or how He works that would seem mysterious to me at the time. I’m sure we all have questions that we would want to ask our Lord when we see Him. Thankfully, we often do not have to wait until we die or until we go to heaven. Many times, we only need to ask God. He promises in his Word to share His wisdom liberally if we only ask (1 John 1:5). Over the years, He has continuously revealed His wisdom to me by: teaching me during prayer time, by sending someone to me that had wisdom that I needed (or me to them), by letting me see or hear something that expanded my wisdom or changed my perception, by leading me through a difficult experience that matured me or revealed wisdom to me, or by leading me to wisdom in His Word.
One of the earliest and most crucial lessons I learned was the importance of obedience. We are taught in 1 Samuel 15:22, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” God desires our obedience much more than our sacrifices, to include our adherence to a list of legalistic rules that we have chosen. Newer Christians typically succumb to the desire to be perfect in their behavior to please Him. Of course, it is important to set ourselves apart and to avoid the things of the world or the activities of the world that tend toward greed, selfishness, hatred, violence, materialism, lasciviousness, etc. We do want to be holy for Him. But if we simply resist these things and seek Him on a regular basis, then He will change us over time, building up His spirit in His sanctification of us. Nonetheless, we also want to avoid slipping into legalism where we are trying to please Him with adherence to certain rules on the surface while we are not giving Him our hearts such as what the scribes and Pharisees were doing and for which Jesus constantly rebuked them.
In Matthew 23:27, Jesus described them this way: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” In seeking adherence to a rather limited set of rules that we might cobble together in our spiritual ignorance, we often flatter ourselves that we are doing better than we really are, just as the Pharisees were doing. This often leads to pride, and pride quickly separates us from God. God desires to work in a humble heart. We are taught in Isaiah 57:15 that God dwells with the humble: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit...” Also, we learn in Psalm 51:17 that, in addition to obedience (1 Samuel 15:22), God wants the sacrifice of our humbled hearts and spirits: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart…”
I pray that you will be filled with His wisdom and that you will walk in holiness, obedience, and humility with Him every day.
The exhausting pace of work, the constant state of danger, specific combat incidents, or encounters of the horrible aftermath of combat are all possible sources for the moral injury that Dr. Shay wrote about. And those moral injuries can develop into PTSD. Another source of the moral injury, as I found in my own experience, was leadership responsibility. I discussed this topic with another combat veteran, a close friend of mine, when I was working as a Army civilian in Alexandria, Virginia, after I retired from the Army. I thought I was alone in feeling this particular pain, but it was comforting to hear that someone else struggled with it. The pain I’m speaking of is the great guilt that a leader feels in combat when people that he or she is responsible for, or in command of, are wounded or dying. Ironically, the people who were dying and whose deaths were so deeply affecting me were not directly under my responsibility. All of the people that I was directly responsible for came home at least physically sound, thanks be to God who answered my many prayers lifted up for my people before we deployed and while we were deployed.
I cannot imagine how much greater my pain might have been if I had lost any of the people on my team: people that I personally knew, people whom I worked with daily, people I led, mentored, counseled, evaluated, and taught, people who, in the turmoil of combat duty, had become as close as family. I could be thankful at least that all of my team members would return without injury. Regardless, even though I only personally knew a couple of the soldiers who died during our combat deployment, somehow I felt responsible for and felt grief over each of the many deaths in our command. To this day, I cannot fully explain why I felt such strong guilt or a sense of responsibility for those people. Perhaps it is because I have always been a “people person,” oriented on others rather than on self. Some might say that I led with my heart. Perhaps this personality trait of mine made me more susceptible. Also, perhaps my moral reasoning was not very sound in the pressure of combat operations, a situation in which “the stakes were high,” as Dr. Shay would describe it.
I think perhaps I felt this way because I was a high level leader in our organization. I was a lieutenant colonel with over 20 years of military service, working directly for our deputy commander, a very senior full bird colonel who was working in a general officer’s slot. I was also working for our commanding general (a one-star working in a two-star slot) who was my boss’s immediate boss. Having a high position in this organization, especially an organization that was so large, much larger than a typical division while we were deployed, I had a fair amount of power and influence. So, I think that part of my guilt stemmed from knowing that, although I had power and influence, I was absolutely powerless to affect the dangerous situations that our soldiers were going through in every corner of Iraq on a daily basis. I’ve often wondered what the leaders above me and around me were going through during this time with the rapidly escalating insurgency throughout 2005 that took so many of our troops from the road-side bombs (IEDs), the suicide bombers, and vehicle borne IEDs (VBIEDs), not to mention the persistent rocket and mortar attacks on all of our bases.
I pray that you will walk in the light of His Limitless Love on this day that He has created.
This was the worst attack we had in terms of potential threat to the troops. I think there was one round during our deployment that landed close enough to slightly injure one soldier, and there was one attack that managed to hit some of our aircraft on the airfield, but the damage was not severe. But there were many close calls. One time we were flying from Balad to Qayyarah Airfield West, about 30 miles south of Mosul, which was a former Iraqi Air Force base in the Nineveh Governorate of Iraq which our troops generally called Q–West. We were flying in for a high-level meeting between our organization’s general staff (me and my peers) and our brigade and group commanders. The aircraft that my chalk (passenger group on single a military aircraft) was in had just lifted off the airfield in our departure from Balad when we heard the base’s attack warning siren go off. We later learned that a round had landed somewhere on the airfield in the few seconds prior to our lift-off. God was certainly watching over us that day. Since we were already in the air, we continued on to our destination to Q-West. The rest of the chalks that were in the other aircraft (we were all flying in Sherpas) were 45 minutes to an hour behind us since they all had to scramble for cover and wait for the all-clear siren before they could re-board their aircraft and take off.
There was another time when I was with a group that had a close call on or near the airfield. I was on a Air Force C-130 flying back in from Kuwait to our base in Balad, Iraq, after my mid-tour R&R had ended. About five minutes before we touched down at our base’s airfield, I heard what must have been the flares being fired from the sides of the C-130. These flares would be fired whenever the aircraft was under fire or simply when the radar systems detected that an enemy radar or weapon system was trying to lock in the aircraft for a target. In either case, the flares would automatically fire, giving off a heat signature that would attract any missiles that might be subsequently fired at the aircraft, thereby avoiding a disastrous hit. After the flares fired, the pilot then started doing some crazy maneuvers, which I assumed were standard procedure evasive movements that would make them a harder target to hit, but we landed shortly afterwards. As soon as we landed, the crew scrambled us all off the back of he aircraft’s lowered cargo ramp and into a bunker by the airfield. We didn’t hear any more rounds and never heard the story from the crew about what exactly happened up in the air, but the all-clear siren came after about 45 minutes. We then continued on to the bus that would transport us back to the reception station where we would be debriefed, would be arrived into the automated personnel tracking systems, would recover our duffle bags that had been on pallets on the C-130, and would then return to our units to get back to work and finish out our deployment tour.
So with the exhausting work pace and the constant stress and danger, we were continually exhausted with very little respite. The commanding general did gradually pull back our resources on Sundays and allowed our headquarters troops to keep a lightly manned presence in the operations cell, and he dispensed with the all-hands twice a day briefings on Sunday which were required for every other day. He only required that we would update our briefing slides on Sunday morning which contained our various reports on our areas of responsibility as they applied to combat operations, and he would then be given a paper copy of the slides early on Sunday morning so that he still had an up-to-date picture of the combat situation, which included: the combat intelligence and weather report; any incidents by any of our units spread throughout Iraq in the past 24 hours; any combat operations of the two brigade combat teams that were assigned to us; the logistics situation for supplies of our units; our logistic support of units we were responsible for throughout Iraq; and the status of our units’ people (to include unit manning numbers, new casualties, the medical progress or medical evacuation of the previous day’s casualties, awards numbers, and the progress of our R&R program which gave troops a chance to return home for a 15-day rest in the middle of their tour). In any case, that brief rest on Sundays was very welcome and became increasingly important as our combat tour progressed.
I pray that your Sunday would be peaceful and restful, refreshing your spirit.
With such exhausting days and with so little sleep at night, we often dragged ourselves wearily through the day wondering how we would get through. Caffeine and energy drinks gave us just enough edge to get through many times, but it’s not healthy for one’s body to put so many of these substances into your system. One of our troops actually passed out during our operations briefing one night. It turned out that he was dehydrated and that he had put too many of these over-the-counter supplements (energy drinks and “diet pills”) into his body to keep him going. But all of us were going through this exhausting pace and trying to find methods to keep going through this stress. The stakes were just too high to let up. Every one of us had a tremendous amount of responsibility with a piece of the overall puzzle that made the ongoing operations possible. In addition to this great amount of stress and responsibility, we also faced the constant mortar and rocket attacks, which would send everyone on base scrambling for their helmets and flak vests (if they were not already wearing them).
These attacks would come at any time of the day or night. And when they came in the middle of the night, we were supposed to leave our sleeping quarters and go into one of the many hardened concrete bunkers spread liberally around the base. However, we often did not even bother to do this. After so many such attacks during the night, we got to where we really did not even care whether we might be hit. The weariness of the days and the dire necessity of what little sleep we did get became more important than the vague chance that we might get hit by a round in our sleeping quarters. So, when we heard the ear-splitting attack warning siren go off in the middle of the night, most of us would just roll over and go back to sleep. Most of the time, there was no real danger of being hit by these rounds anyway since they were just lobbed blindly up in the air by the insurgents somewhere just outside the wire (the barbed wire topped fence that surrounded the entire perimeter of the base).
There was, however, one time when we were attacked quite expertly by what we think was probably one of the former Iraqi soldiers. He had obviously had training and had a couple of dozen rounds to work with. We weren’t sure whether he had any real intelligence over the location of our buildings on base, and we doubted whether he had an observer on base reporting where the rounds were landing (such information would have allowed him to gradually shift his fire closer and closer to the whatever target he might be intending to hit). But he did walk several rounds in a very precise line starting just outside one soldier housing area, landing a few rounds within the housing area (miraculously not hitting any buildings), then going beyond the housing area, working his way up toward our headquarters building, where he hit the front wall of our operations center. Thankfully, the hit on our headquarters only knocked a hole in the brick outer wall a few feet wide, and the shrapnel did not even get through an inner wood wall that formed the front wall of our operations cell in which a few dozen people were working that night.
I pray that His perfect peace will comfort you, your family, and your friends on this day that He has made.
It was this moral injury which initiated my rapid downward spiral into the PTSD symptoms which I started experiencing mere months into my deployment to Iraq. But I was already predisposed to PTSD from some childhood trauma, family problems which I do not want to divulge here to avoid embarrassment to anyone in my family (to protect the innocent as well as the guilty). According to one study I found during my research, that childhood trauma made me four times more likely to develop PTSD from my combat experiences. I was already emotionally wounded with the wounds lying just below the surface, barely covered over by various coping mechanisms I had adopted over the years, some good and some very dysfunctional. I know that I probably put my poor wife through a lot of grief over the years as I was trying to grapple with these issues that, at the time, were beyond my understanding or power to resolve. In the early days of our marriage, I did not deal very well with those times when I felt emotionally wounded by her actions, real or imagined (negatively interpreted in my ignorance). In those days, I had absolutely no notion of how two people in a relationship were supposed to work through such emotions. I guess we are all a little naïve in the early days of our marital or deep romantic relationships. There is so much to learn in life.
I really did not desire to hurt my wife, but the emotional wounds that I had deep inside made me so vulnerable that it was almost impossible for me to trust enough to share my feelings or thoughts with her. Furthermore, at those times of emotional wounding, I was plunged into a dark world of despair each time, thinking that no one in the world cared for me. Most likely Satan was egging on those thoughts because He is quite good at leading our thoughts astray and an expert at making us miserable. The good thing is that God has been at work in me ever since I was saved at the age of eight. And every time that I went into these emotional whirlwinds, I would eventually turn to Him in desperation and ask for His help. I would confess to Him that I was hurting but that I really did not want to hang onto that emotional pain. However, I just didn’t know how to let go of it or how to cope with the seemingly overwhelming pain, so I needed Him to change me and take away the pain so that I could simply forgive my wife for whatever real or imagined injury that I believed she had caused me at the time. Praise God that He is supremely faithful. He did answer my cry for help every single time. And over the course of so many years, He has replaced my pain with the strength of His spirit and replaced my wounds with His peace that passes understanding. He has also matured me well beyond the power of that pain and the fears. His perfect love truly does "cast out fear" (1 John 4:18) and emotional pain as well. Unfortunately, in order to heal me, He had to allow me to be completely broken, to be plunged back into complete emotional turmoil from my combat experiences. He had to reopen the wound completely to begin healing me from the current wounds from those experiences in Iraq and to heal the deeper, older wounds that fed into and were the genesis for my PTSD.
I have written previously about one of the sources of my moral injury while in Iraq: the constant reporting of the combat deaths from our soldiers and the enormous pain I felt at delving into the lives of each one as well as the tremendous guilt I felt from being alive while these brave men and women died, bringing unspeakable pain to their families. Another source of the moral injury was from the completely harrowing experience of living in and working in a combat zone. I was away from my family and I missed them so desperately. I hurt even more about the separation because I needed their presence and their comfort to help me cope with all that I was going through in Iraq, but they could not be there. And being in a combat zone is hard on almost everyone. There is, of course, the constant danger. Moreover, there are the long, exhausting days with little or no rest. Most of us worked ridiculously long days, often beginning work at 5 or 6 AM and, with short breaks for meals (which I often skipped in order to keep working at whatever critical problem my boss had laid upon me), we continued working until 10, 11, or even 12 at night. At most we would get a few hours of sleep at night, and if you were in a leadership position like I was, you didn’t sleep well because of all the worries about the various problems on the job and worries about your people. Additionally, leaders such as myself were frequently woken up during the few hours of sleep we had and required to return to the operations cell in the bleak hours of the morning to deal with some critical problem that seemed to be above the capability of our teams to resolve.
I pray that God's comforting presence will be with you, strengthening you and encouraging you throughout your day.
Dr. Shay discovered that, among his Vietnam Veteran psychiatric patients, the greatest part of their emotional and mental suffering came from the term he coined as “moral injury.” You won’t find this term in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the standard manual for diagnosis of emotional and psychological disease. But it is a term that is gaining clout among many professionals that have been treating PTSD in veterans for decades through several wars. It is this “moral injury,” this egregious violation of “all that is right” and good that seems to be at the heart of the persistence of the emotional and mental wounds for so many years after the end of battle. I know that the first time I read Shay’s Achilles in Vietnam, the truth of this concept hit me so hard that my PTSD symptoms went off the charts for several days. I felt like I was just returning from my deployment and was plunged back into that world of despair, grief, shame, bewilderment, and overwhelming emotional pain that completely consumed me for the first two years. With the reading of that book, I felt like someone finally understood me, and someone could finally explain what was happening in my mind, my heart, and my seemingly shattered life.
From www.onbeing.org, this March 14, 2013, article “Beyond PTSD to ‘Moral Injury’” centers on Dr. Shay and his studies. They explain, “PTSD in service members is often tied to being the target of an attack — or being close in relationship or proximity to that target. Moral injury, Dr. Shay says, can happen when “there is a betrayal of what’s right by someone who holds legitimate authority in a high-stakes situation.” That person who’s betraying “what’s right” could be a superior — or that person could be you. Maybe it’s that you killed somebody or were ordered to kill. Or maybe it was something tragic that you could have stopped, but didn’t. Guilt and shame are at the center of moral injury. And, as Dr. Shay describes it, so is a shrinking of what he calls “the moral and social horizon.” When a person’s moral horizon shrinks, he says, so do a person’s ideals and attachments and ambitions.It is this moral violation of the highest order that causes a complete shattering of the protective world view that we all construct to make sense of the world. Our world view is comprised of all our values, beliefs, experiences, and explanations that make it possible for us to get through the day and to interact with and trust others. When someone does something that is so horrible, so egregious, such a violation of their moral obligations, then the victim, the perpetrator, and even the observers of this horrific act can all be deeply wounded by the violation, resulting in the shattered world view. At that point, nothing makes sense anymore, and there are no words that can explain what happened. There is nothing left but pain, grief, shame, and guilt. And the wounds can be so deep that the victim may never completely recover.
Of course, this has ramifications not just for combat veterans. Such moral injury can occur to almost anyone anywhere. For instance, the child abuse victim experiences moral violation of the highest order, because the violation of the innocent, the weak, and the helpless is one of the greatest evils that we know in our human experience. Moreover, the moral violation is even worse when it comes from a parent or someone else who is charged with the responsibility to care for the child. Good turns to evil, when, instead of caring for the child, they take advantage of their position of authority to harm the unsuspecting, defenseless child. It is a complete reversal or a complete shattering of the most sacred obligation, the most sacred trust, between parent and child. This is just one example. There are many other situations in which people may experience moral injury. I’m sure that holocaust survivors and prisoners of war, for instance, also experience this deep emotional and mental wound from the moral injury.
If any of you have experienced moral injury from someone or from some experience in your past, I pray for God’s peace that passes all understanding and His comfort that knows no limits to heal you, to give you hope and a future.