The Moral Wounds of War, Good and Evil

Chaplain (Cmdr) Gordon Ritchie addresses an infrequently discussed but increasingly important subject in today’s military:  the moral wounds of war.

In a time in which suicides are on the rise and the military is seeking moral leadership, something that often gets left out is the “moral injury” to those who must wage war at the call of their country.

The character of man recognizes, even if unconsciously, the incongruity of the value of life and the necessity of death in war.  Solace is found in knowing that one’s actions are justified and “right.”  Stephen Mansfield recounted an example of this in Faith of the American Soldier.

[Marine Lance Corporal James] Gault is no coward.  Nor is he the kind of easily shaken, sensitive soul who cannot endure the horrors of war. He has killed, and he will kill again.  In fact, he believes “the bad guys have to die.”  To kill in a righteous cause is what Gault has come to Iraq to do, and he does not shrink from the charge…

He knows he is a follower of Jesus, and he knows that he is called to be a Marine, but the violence he unleashed leaves him needing assurance that he has killed in a righteous cause, that his country is doing the will of God in Iraq.

Tormented, Gault talks to his chaplain, a naval officer he knows to be a good man.  “Tell me that our enemies are the enemies of God” Gault pleads.  “Explain to me how this is a war between good and evil.”

The chaplain is startled by the request.  “I cannot tell you that the other side is evil,” the chaplain says calmly.  “Our government is officially nonreligious, and so are our armed forces.  We do not fight holy wars.  We do not view our enemies in religious terms.  I can tell you that you fight for a great nation, though, and that God is with you if you turn your heart to Him.”

As reported at the Baptist Press, a pastor near Fort Hood, Texas, was one step more explicit:

Jerry Jewell, a pastor near Fort Hood, suggested that the increase in suicides is a result of a generation of soldiers raised in a society without the truth of the Scriptures.

“They don’t know Jesus, yet they’re trained to go and kill,” Jewell, pastor of Living Hope: The Church in the Field…said. “In the military we train people to kill without giving them any true moral standards to go by.”

(This “moral injury” has been noted even from a psychological, not religious, perspective.)

A nation that fights a war without foundation in morality will fail even if it vanquishes its enemy.  Telling one man he can kill another simply because he is told to do so — regardless of right or wrong, justice or injustice — confuses only his own moral character, but also that of the country he serves.


  • I would have to disagree with Jerry Jewell. According to the European Journal of Epidemiology, the French Military (mostly atheist) has a lower suicide rate than the general population. I don’t think that the “truth of the Scriptures” has any beneficial impact on suicide rate in soldiers. Some could even argue that the reliance on oneself that comes from atheism makes you less suicide prone.

    I would actually like to see a study done on the religious preference of service members that committed suicide. I am not so brazen to guess what religion has the highest suicide rate, but I do think it would be an interesting study.

  • BJL – French + Military + Atheism…not a good thing to compare to, most will chuckle at this one.

    The US government does tell the soldier, sailor, airman or marine what they are fighting for and they aren’t required to do so; our Moral Standard is “Uncle Knows What’s Best”. EVERYTHING they [we] believe [hint: nonreligious] is checked at the door and we follow orders…period. Harsh I know, but it is the truth no matter how much anyone wants to sugar-coat it. Fanatical Islamic Terrorists flew airplanes into the WTC and Saddam had invisible weapons stashed in Iraq…or is it the OIL interests we have…or a combination of all of these (or GWB had an axe to grind). No one knows for sure, but we went to war (undeclared) anyway…without question (morally or otherwise).

    Its way past time for the wishy-washy BS the psycho-bablist spew…they need to get over themselves — War is hell, most manage to get thru although scared for life, others not so good, and some commit suicide. Our Military [members] kill because their country told them to kill and if those powers-that-be did so order the killing, and it was wrong, then they alone bare the burden; not the soldier, sailor, airman or marine who pulled the trigger (this be in the bible too).

    BTW — I was in Desert Storm One, we had seventeen Contentious Objectors in our wing from the time the advon team deployed to the time we got back…seven of these were Pilots or WSO’s (one or the other feared for the others life for 4 of them, religion was the other 3).

    So lets continue to startle the chaplains and tell the troops the cold-hard-facts…war is hell and if you signed up; buckle up, suck it up and pack it up…or stay home!

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