Some of my fellow Soldiers have questioned whether I should be addressing this issue--the need to talk about the moral justification of killing and its possible linkage to PTSD/PITS--in such a public forum. There's a concern that this is our 'dirty laundry' that we shouldn't air out for everyone to see.
It’s true, after all, that some anti-war groups have used some of my words (usually out of context) to further their agendas.
So, here's some thoughts on why I think we as Soldiers should talk publicly about this issue:
Public discussion on killing will be good for the Army and its relationship with the people its serves because civilian readers will likely be pleasantly surprised-to-shocked to realize that: the Army actually educates and trains Airborne-Ranger types who care deeply about morality in war; that officers study morality and war; that West Point teaches it as part of a required class; that the Army encourages and rewards critical thinkers; that its leaders care about the long-term well being of America’s sons and daughters; to list just a few largely unrecognized truths.
With less than 10% of recent generations serving in the military, many of our fellow citizens do not personally know a Soldier or Marine. This blog is a way to communicate directly with the American people, at a more personal level. Who I am as a military professional may have a greater impact than what I say. In each and every of the many situations in which I have talked to civilians about the morality of killing in war, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. People stand in line to thank me…although what really connects with them is that they experience what they want desperately to believe—that their nation’s Army, the world’s most powerful army, is genuinely concerned about doing the right thing.
The fact is, our military is much more morally aware than
In another sense, this blog and other efforts on this issue will be good for the Army because the Army is Soldiers, and our efforts will raise awareness on an issue that will help Soldiers. External awareness of an internal issue is a good thing, when change is needed. The Army is a bureaucracy, and like all bureaucracies it reinforces the status quo. It’s amazing how a great idea, said at a staff meeting, gets nods but no action, yet the same idea reported in the civilian media gets immediate action. It doesn’t have to be a critical news report; in fact, bureaucracies retrench and resist change in the face of criticism. But bureaucracies respond well to external validation of an issue that they recognize as valid as long as it is communicated in a positive way. That is what I try to do.
A captain who commanded an infantry company in OIF-1 sent me a note after reading the New Yorker article: “Moreover, infantrymen have to kill at a personal level, and in many ways physically experience the death of both enemy soldiers and non-combatants. I think that overall, soldiers will be better prepared for combat and recover from the experience more completely if the Army educates them it moral acceptability…I did not observe any immediate negative psychological impact, however, at the time none of us had the distance necessary to really contemplate the events… The real question is what occurs once soldiers are safe and think fully about their actions.”
The problem of PTSD will not go away. The only right thing to do is to take action that might be able to prevent or relieve it for thousands of Soldiers. The smart PR action is to show the people we serve that we are concerned about the problem (which is already all over the news) and we are working to address it.
Think about it. We are the first Army in centuries to recognize and address this problem. We take care of our people, and in doing so we will reinforce right conduct in battle. That’s a story the American public should hear.
This is not a risk-free endeavor. But nothing worthwhile is ever risk free. As military professionals, we must do what’s right by our Soldiers,