The Dark, Confusing World of Moral Injury

You’re a gunner, riding atop the rear vehicle in an Army convoy snaking through Kabul. Ahead, you see a boy who can be no older than 10, running toward the forward vehicle. He’s holding something in his hand, his arm raised to throw. Here, in a split-second decision that weighs deeply important factors like life, risk, probabilities, force, morality, loyalty, and God, lies an encapsulation of the modern wounds of war. There is no good decision to be made here. If the thing in the boy’s hand is a grenade and you do nothing, your friends and fellow soldiers could die because of your failure to act. On the other hand, you may fire your weapon only to discover that the boy was only throwing rocks, as 10 year old boys do. 

This scenario is one that Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock uses in describing something called moral injury, an unseen wound as old as war itself, but whose place is growing like a cancer in the psyche of American military personnel now 17 years into the war on terror. 

Brock, now an author and senior vice president at Volunteers of America, is the founder of the Soul Repair Center, a pastoral training department at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth and the epicenter of research and discussion about moral injury.