Shepherd Bliss writes at Counterpunch:
“My God, what have we done?” combat soldiers sometimes gasp as they see those they or comrades just killed, especially when they include innocent children, women, and other civilians.
“We knew that we killed them/…the terrified mother/ clutching terrified child,” writes former Lieutenant Michael Parmeley in his poem “Meditation on Being a Baby Killer.” In l968, Lt. Parmeley led a combat platoon in the American War on Vietnam. He receives benefits for what is clinically described as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“My gunner…started to cry,” Parmeley writes. “There’s a myth of recovery,/ that you put it behind you/…but memories aren’t like that/…I know that we killed them.”
Parmeley and I have participated in the Veterans’ Writing Group for twenty years. We attend regular meetings, break silences, tell our stories in a healing context, and listen without judgment. His poem appears in our book “Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace,” (www.vowvop.org) edited by our writing teacher, award-winning author, and former University of California Berkeley professor Maxine Hong Kingston.
Would the best description of what Parmeley has be a “disorder?” Or might other words be more accurate?
“Moral injury” is a relatively new term to refer to what veterans and others experience, especially those who saw combat or violence. Other words that have been used include hidden war wounds, shell shock, battle fatigue, and soldier’s heart.
“Moral injury” places the cause on war itself. A disorder implies that something is permanently wrong, whereas the word “injury” suggests that healing is possible. It also indicates that the problem was created by an outside force, rather than a mental illness or weakness from within.
“Every generation gives war trauma a different name,” explained Korean vet Jiwon Chung at our last vets’ meeting. “Moral injury, the latest term, de-pathologizes the condition. If you go to war, come back, and are not the same, troubled, or suffering, it is not because you are psychicallyweak, but because you are morallystrong. What you witnessed or did went against your deepest moral convictions, violating our humanity to the core.”
Chung later added, “That we vets suffer moral injury, despite the tremendous suffering and anguish it brings, is actually a validation of our humanity. War is the reason for moral injury, not any individual shortcoming. Peace, justice, and reparation are the cures for moral injury.”
The ruthless, recent murder of elementary students and teachers in Connecticut re-stimulates my grief about the deaths of children in wars. I have cried for hours about the loss of life in Newtown and what it says about us as Americans. The weapons used by the Connecticut killer were military weapons. His killing is connected to the ongoing murders by Americans in Afghanistan.
Parmeley concludes his poem as follows; “A Mother and child,/ alone in a bunker,/ a war passing over,/ right now as I speak.” Those words, which were written decades ago, remain true today—“a war passing over”–this time in Afghanistan.
What are we teaching our children? As the old sayings go, what goes around comes around, you reap what you sow, and the chickens come home to roost. The wars that we have trained people for may be coming home to the United States in more deadly ways.
Read more here.