In Part One and Part Two of this article, I asked the reader to utilize her ability to think and offered a theoretical analysis of what I termed “moral casualties.” I argued that as soldiers experience the horror and cruelty of war, especially guerrilla/counterinsurgency war such as was the case in Vietnam and now in Iraq, the moral gravity of their actions – displacing, torturing, injuring, and killing other human being – becomes apparent and problematic. As a consequence, soldiers suffer not only the effects of trauma, but from debilitating remorse, guilt, shame, disorientation, and alienation from the remainder of the moral community – moral injuries. In this installment, in the hope of providing a more complete picture of the psychological, emotional, and moral impact of war, I will offer, not theoretical analysis, but personal observations regarding the aftermath of war. In doing so, I will ask the reader not to think so much as to feel.
All who are touched by war are tainted. I have labored, over the years, to follow the advice of well-meaning, though “war-naïve” clinicians, family members, and friends to put the war behind me and go on with my life. I have failed miserably, I think, and have watched the tragedy of others failing as well. As a veteran suffering the effects of war and a philosopher studying war and morality, I have looked at the phenomenon and its human toll from both perspectives, experientially and theoretically – from the inside and from without. I have concluded that the psychological, emotional, and moral injures of war cannot be cured, that war never “goes away.” That for far too many, such war injuries are and have been terminal. For others, such as for me, they are chronic, demanding that we struggle each day through anger, perhaps even rage, guilt, shame, remorse, grave despair, and depression to come to grips with the experience, with “what I have done and what I have become.” With luck, and with love and support, the best that can be achieved, I think, is a benign acceptance, understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation.
In part one and two of this study, I spoke to you analytically as a philosopher. Now you will hear poetically from the veteran, the victimizer and victim of man’s inhumanity to man.
Throughout my adult life,
I have thought my self a free spirit,
a philosopher mendicant,
seeking an alternative, more substantive, lifestyle.
So many others, however,
see my unorthodoxy, my “spiritual seeking,”
as abnormal and a clear indication of my insanity.
Perhaps I need to pause and to reevaluate my life.
After all, being insane is not something one readily admits.
I guess it’s part of being crazy to cling to a facade of sanity,
to think oneself normal and everyone else insane.
One thing I am certain of, however,
I haven’t always been crazy.
Wasn’t born crazy.
I think insanity crept up on me,
happened in Vietnam, in the war.
War does that you know, drives people crazy.
Shell shock, battle fatigue, soldier’s heart, PTSD,
all that killing and dying can make anyone crazy.
Some survive war quite well, they tell me.
Many even benefit from its virtues.
War’s effects, however, are not always apparent.
No one escapes war unscathed, in body and in mind.
All war, any war, every war, ain’t no virtue in war.
I think, of those not driven crazy by war,
many were crazy already.
Their insanity, however, was of a different kind,
a hard kind, and an uncaring kind.
I knew people like that.
While I did not like them much,
I thought them fortunate,
as killing and dying meant nothing.
In fact, in a perverse way, they enjoyed it,
enjoyed the jazz, the excitement, the power.
They became avenging angels,
even god herself,
making decisions of life and death,
but mostly death.
Those crazies hated to see the war end.
For me, the war never ends.
Sometimes things work out for the best, though,
as my unorthodoxy, my being crazy,
probably saved my life.
You see, sane people can’t live like this,
in a war that never ends.
Not all crazy people can either.
Guess I was lucky.
Sometimes being crazy helps you cope.
Sometimes, I wish I were crazier than I am.
Serious introspection has made clear
the foundations of my unorthodoxy,
the nature of my insanity.
It is a cruel wisdom allowing,
no better, compelling a clarity of vision.
I have seen the horror of war,
the futility and the waste.
I have endured the hypocrisy and the arrogance
of the influential and the wealthy,
have tolerated the ignorance and narrow mindedness
of the compliant and the easily led.
War’s malevolent benefactors,
who pretend and profess their patriotism
with bumper-sticker bravado,
with word but not deed,
intoxicated by war’s hysteria,
from a safe distance.
Appreciative of our sacrifices they claim
as they applaud the impending slaughter,
sanctioning by word, or action, or non-action,
sending other men and women
to be killed, and maimed, and driven crazy by war.
And when they benefit from the carnage no longer,
their yellow ribbon patriotism and shallow concern
fade quickly to apathy and indifference.
The living refuse of war that returns
are heroes no longer,
but outcasts and derelicts, and burdens on the economy.
The dead, they mythologize with memorials and speeches
of past and future suffering and loss.
Inspiring and prophetic words
by those who sanction the slaughter
to those who know nothing of sacrifice.
I used to try to explain war
to help them understand
and to know its horror,
naively believing that war was a deficiency,
of information, understanding, discernment, and vision.
Being crazy has liberated me, however,
allowing me to see
that war is not a deficiency at all,
but an excess,
of greed, ambition, intolerance, and lust for power.
And we are its instruments, the cannon fodder,
expendable commodities in the ruthless pursuit
of wealth, power, hegemony, and empire.
Now, I accept and celebrate my unorthodoxy, my insanity,
as an indictment of the hypocrites and the arrogant,
of the ignorant and the narrow-minded
for a collective responsibility and guilt
for murder and mayhem, and crimes against humanity.
And I offer my insanity
as a presage of their future accountability,
to humankind in the courts of history,
and to the god they invoke so often
to sanction and make credible their sacrilege of war.