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.