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Silencing Our Veterans: A Bridge Too Far

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It is also worth noting that VFP has challenged the agenda of military operational psychologists before. At the APA convention last year, these psychologists brought forward an unsuccessful resolution that sought to overturn hard-fought APA reforms and allow military psychologists to return to Guantanamo. VFP issued this statement in advance of the vote:

Veterans For Peace strongly encourages the American Psychological Association's Council of Representatives to stay true to its commitment to culture change, transparency, and a much-needed focus on human rights. We hope that our opposition to these proposed resolutions gives military psychologists pause. Many of us have been in the position of losing our humanity in "service" to the interests of the U.S. government. We understand how military culture, coupled with the horrors of making war, can overpower benign intentions and diminish empathy for others, bringing people to follow unlawful orders and ultimately to commit various atrocities--all in the belief that they are doing the right thing. We wonder what will happen when the ethical and/or moral integrity of a military psychologist is challenged by the various toxicities in military culture? Such a policy not only puts the people in care at risk of psychological injury, it puts military psychologists at risk of committing morally injurious acts.

Fortunately, in recent years this phenomenon of "moral injury" has received increasing attention from healthcare professionals. These experts recognize that "current wars may be creating an additional risk for exposure to morally questionable or ethically ambiguous situations" and that "perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations may be deleterious in the long-term, emotionally, psychologically, behaviorally, spiritually, and socially." The consequences of moral injury are profound, ranging from shame, guilt, and anger to alienation, depression, and suicidality. So it is worth asking who actually benefits--and who is harmed--if the inner struggles that moral injury engenders are hidden from public awareness, or if such violations of conscience are discounted as the rarest of exceptions to a soldier's routine combat experience.

In sum, it is distressing that these military operational psychologists now want to deny a public platform to veterans whose disturbing firsthand accounts may be heresy to their self-protecting dogma. But even more, their censorship demands undermine the open discussion and debate that are hallmarks of both scientific inquiry and democracy. We must not succumb to this bullying. If we do, it will further encourage a destructive culture of surveillance, one that can chill public discourse and imperil whistleblowers with critical knowledge to share. These dire prospects become all the more sobering in a military context, where it has long been known that truth is the first casualty of war.

Note: This essay first appeared at Counterpunch.

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Roy Eidelson is a psychologist who studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. He is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, a member of (more...)

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