Morally Inconsistent

I knew I would not keep a consistent posting schedule, so perhaps I should not be too hard on myself for keeping to my consistent inconsistency.

There’s been a creeping bug in my head about the increasing discussions about moral injury. Well, technically not a creeping bug if I wrote my masters thesis about it. More specifically, I am bugged by the way in which it is being talked about popularly.

Astute observers will notice that the Huffington and Washington Posts both wrote really captivating articles about moral injury, complete with pictures (I like pictures). But keen sleuths will also notice that for expertise on “moral” injury, they turned toward the mental health profession. Why not to moral philosophers and theologians, who have been writing about this stuff for at least 1600 years? To think of combat stress in terms of the mind is quite new, for it historically has been considered a condition of the heart.

Augustine, in responding to generals Boniface and Marcellinus, relied on his notion of animi dolori, what Catholic theologian Bill Portier translates as “heartfelt grief,” to settle the sorrows of the high ranking Christian soldiers. During the crusades, a horror sanguinis, a fear of blood, animated moral considerations of war and its effect on human beings engaged in its conduct. In the midst of the American Civil War, Union doctor Jacob Mendes Da Costa proposed that war somehow enlarged the four valves of the human heart, requiring it to beat harder. The metaphorical implications of this suggestion are profound.

But it is not a concern for historical cohesion that causes my hesitation to embrace a mental focus in contemporary settings. It is how such assumptions locate and dislocate the loci of responsibility. In fact, in this sense, associating combat stress with the mind is in alignment with prior discussions of the heart. When we speak of mental health, or the internal trappings of the human heart, we suppose that the center of agency and affect of war are contained within the individual soldier. We suggest that responsibility therefore does not seep out beyond their individual epidermal pores.

The soldier has a problem and must seek counseling and rehabilitation. Society is just fine, thank you very much.

Confining the discussion of combat stress and trauma to the individual fighter safely confines responsibility to those we want to think pull the triggers. When Ivan Lopez went on a rampage at Ft. Hood, a headline in USA Today safely reassured its readers he “had mental problems.” Phew! I though America had a violence problem.

Quick, let’s round up some mental health experts to discuss his issue.

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