There’s already a soul-repair role here for friends and family, a big one. Karl Marlantes went to Vietnam, won the kind of medals that get him free drinks, and came home haunted by some of the lives he took. In his 2011 memoir, What It Is Like to Go to War, he argued for the end our chirpy, parade approach to veterans, which he compared to clapping for a surgeon who has just amputated a leg.
“This ain’t a football game,” he explained by phone. “We’re talking about killing people here.”
He wants “a solemn parade,” a recognition of the moral damage we all suffer when we send our fellow citizens into battle, and a willingness to talk about it—good, bad, and ugly. But instead most of us offer wan thanks, pushing veterans away from us and inside themselves, until their world narrows into a binary choice: go to war and maybe die, or stay at home and feel dead already. It’s no choice at all.
A few weeks ago, I posted about the need for a “sacrament of confession” (here) for the communities surrounding returning veterans. A few people around the Internets pointed me in the direction of some articles on Moral Injury, or what might have been called in different times a “shadow on the soul”. This article in the Daily Beast I think is fantastic, especially in the section about the Hero Summit recently held in Washington D.C. It seems as though the veterans who seem to be coping are the ones who have been allowed – encouraged – to confess to their communities.