The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. James Madison, “Political Observations”, April 20, 1795
(via absurdlakefront)

That air power was inherently offensive and uniquely efficacious in winning cheap victories was a conclusion that found a receptive audience in Great Britain and the United States. In England, Hugh Trenchard, founding father of the Royal Air Force (RAF), embraced strategic bombing as the most direct way to degrade the enemy’s will; he boldly asserted that ‘the moral effect of bombing stands undoubtedly to the material effect in a proportion of twenty to one.’

William Astore, Predatory Dreams

In other words, terrorism.

Video of Marines Urinating on Afghan Corpses Was One of 12 Made That Day

A year ago, the video of US Marines urinating on Afghan corpses surfaced on the internet and shocked most viewers. This week, in the trial proceedings for the Marines’ court-martial, it was revealed that the viral video was one of 12 such videos investigators found filmed that day depicting US Marines “behaving inappropriately.”

The judge in the case was presented with a DVD containing all of the videos. It is 20-minutes long.

This shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone that has managed to divorce themselves from the sterilized depiction of war and its warriors that is constantly propagandized in America. At the time the video became viral, McClatchy reported that Afghans aren’t surprised by the fact that US Marines were urinating on dead Afghans.

“I know a lot of horrible things happen in the south and nobody but the locals know about it,” Jamal Karimi, 32, told McClatchy. “Such things happen all the time, and people talk about it but media hardly report them.”

No matter how many times such dehumanizing behavior on the part of US troops is revealed to the public, the mantra that they are rare exceptions is hardly penetrated. At the time of the release of the urination video, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Kendra N. Hardesty said in a statement, “The actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps.”

But as I wrote at the time:

When disgusting photographs of smiling U.S. soldiers proudly standing next to dead Abu Ghraib detainees were released, Americans were basically told to hide their eyes, buy their yellow ribbon bumper stickers and rest assured the incident would be investigated. When news broke of Manadel al-Jamadi, the Abu Ghraib prisoner who in 2003 was hung from his arms twisted behind his back, beaten, and tortured to death at the hands of U.S. interrogators, Americans were told this was the exception and that the war is still just. When the 5th Stryker Brigade in Kandahar – aka “Kill Team” – slaughtered Afghan children for the fun of it, took celebratory pictures next to their corpses, and mutilated their bodies for evidence of their trophy kill, again Americans were expected to buy into the “bad apple” excuse and forge ahead with the support our troops mantra. When American troops forced Afghan civilians to march ahead of them on roads believed to have been filled with bombs and landmines planted by insurgents, Americans were told it would be investigated and promptly looked away.

The point is not that every single U.S. soldier is the type to urinate on the faces of the dead or hunt Afghan children for sport. Rather, the point is that war invades and contaminates the humanity of individuals. And the context of war abroad while Americans sit safely at home pressures people to ignore its brutality in favor of “patriotism.”

All that said, perhaps the most despicable aspect of the war in Afghanistan is not that soldiers to ugly things; it’s that the soldiers shouldn’t be there to begin with.

(Source: jayaprada)

IRIN: 10 Most Neglected Refugee Crises in the World

nickturse:

1. Sudanese refugees in Chad: Nearly a decade of conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region displaced some 1.8 million Sudanese. Of these, more than 264,000 fled into neighbouring Chad, where they continue to live in 12 camps along the country’s eastern border with Sudan. Chad is one of the world’s poorest countries and, according to UNHCR, the working environment is “extremely challenging” due to the region’s lack of infrastructure and natural resources. Women in the camps report they sometimes have to walk all day to find firewood, and lack of access to arable land has made the refugees almost entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs. Several peace accords between the rebels in Darfur and the Sudanese government have failed to calm the region’s volatility, leaving the refugees reluctant to return home. Meanwhile, humanitarian workers say the long-running nature of the crisis has led to donor fatigue.

2.Eritrean refugees in eastern Sudan: Eritreans have been crossing into eastern Sudan since their country started to agitate for independence from Ethiopia in the 1960s and, more recently, to escape Eritrea’s policy of indefinite military conscription. Currently, about 66,000 Eritreans are living in refugee camps in Gedaref, Kassala and Red Sea states, which are among the poorest parts of Sudan, and a further 1,600 cross the border every month. Many of the newer arrivals view Sudan as a transit country, continuing north with the goal of reaching Europe or Israel. This has made them a target for abuse by smugglers and human traffickers. Those who remain in Sudan cannot legally own land or property and struggle to find jobs in the formal sector. In 2002, refugee status was revoked for those who had fled the independence war and subsequent conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, but repatriation was halted in 2004 after widespread international criticism of Eritrea’s human rights record.

3. Sudanese refugees in South Sudan: Over the past 18 months, an estimated 170,000 people have fled conflict between Sudanese government forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North in Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, pouring into South Sudan’s Upper Nile and Unity states. Humanitarian agencies are bracing for a further influx once the rainy season comes to an end and impassable roads reopen. Aid workers fear that swelling refugee numbers, flooding and disease outbreaks could aggravate the crisis, and UNHCR is urgently appealing for an additional US$20 million to manage basic needs in the camps. Poor infrastructure in South Sudan has made delivering emergency assistance both expensive and difficult.

4. IDPs in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Defections from the Congolese army, which gave rise to the M23 armed group, have led to a resumption of violence in the DRC’s North Kivu Province in the last six months. More than 260,000 people have been displaced so far, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. A further 68,000 have fled to neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda. The IDPs are living in dozens of makeshift camps across the province, where aid agencies are providing shelter, protection, food and health services, despite a severe funding shortfall and recurrent attacks on aid workers. The new wave of IDPs adds to the 1.7 million already internally displaced in the country, according to UNHCR.

5. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh: Muslims from Myanmar’s western Rakhine State - commonly referred to as the Rohingya - are an ethnic minority that has endured systemic discrimination and abuse over the past five decades, including being stripped of their citizenship under a 1982 law. Over the past 50 years, thousands have fled the country, the vast majority to Bangladesh. UNHCR has not been permitted to register new arrivals since mid-1992, but it estimates that there are more than 200,000 Rohingya in the country’s southeast. Only about 30,000 of the refugees are documented and living in one of two government-run camps in Cox’s Bazar District, where they are assisted by UNHCR. International agencies, including UNHCR, have been barred by the Bangladeshi government from providing assistance to the undocumented refugees, many of whom live on the periphery of the official camps. Unofficially, several international NGOs are providing services to these refugees, but it remains unclear how long they will be allowed to do so.

6. Tamil refugees in India: More than three years after the end of Sri Lanka’s protracted civil war, there are more than 100,000 ethnic Tamil Sri Lankans in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, including 68,000 in 112 government-run camps. The largest wave of refugees arrived in the camps between 1983 and 1987, with many staying on and having children. It is estimated that more than half of the current refugee population was born in India and knows little of life back in Sri Lanka. Although UNHCR does not have access to the camps, four NGOs are delivering services to the refugees. Since the war ended, just 5,000 have officially repatriated to Sri Lanka with UNHCR assistance. The vast majority remain reluctant to return, citing ongoing reports of human rights abuses and lack of job opportunities.

7.Afghan refugees in Iran: Afghanistan is the source of one of the world’s largest and most protracted refugee crises, with waves of refugees fleeing the country after the 1979 Soviet invasion, then during Taliban rule in the 1990s, and finally during the last decade of conflict between US-led forces and Taliban insurgents. While much has been written about the 2.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the presence of some 900,000 registered refugees and 1.4 million unregistered Afghans in neighboring Iran has received less attention. Most of them live in urban areas where, under the current regime, intolerance of the refugees has grown and their children are excluded from mainstream education. Promises to naturalize some of the unregistered refugees have not materialized, and they are often subject to mass deportations. Experts warn that forced mass return of refugees to Afghanistan would further destabilize the country, which has a limited capacity to provide jobs, basic services and security to returnees.

8. Horn of Africa refugees in Yemen: Yemen has long been a transit country for migrants trying to reach Saudi Arabia in search of work, but since 2006 it has also become home to increasing numbers of refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Despite conflict, poverty and a sometimes xenophobic environment in Yemen, a record 103,000 refugees and migrants arrived in 2011, bringing the total number of registered refugees to 230,000, in addition to an estimated 500,000 migrants. Their presence has been largely overshadowed by last year’s uprising and political crisis, which displaced hundreds of thousands of Yemenis and contributed to rising poverty in a country that was already the region’s poorest. Refugees living in mostly urban areas are forced to compete with locals for scarce jobs and resources, a situation that has aggravated tensions and increased the vulnerability of many refugees. A funding shortfall of about $30 million has forced UNHCR to limit its assistance.

9. Malian IDPs and refugees in neighbouring countries: During and after the April takeover of northern Mali by Tuareg rebels, who were quickly supplanted by Islamist groups, some 34,977 Malians escaped to Burkina Faso, 108,942 fled to Mauritania and 58,312 went to Niger. Some 118,000 Malians have been internally displaced, 35,300 of them within the north itself, in the regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. UNHCR faces severe funding gaps in each of the host countries and in Mali, and increasing insecurity is shrinking humanitarian access to populations in need of protection. For host governments and aid agencies, the refugee influx has compounded the food and livelihoods crisis affecting the Sahel region. Should a planned intervention by the Economic Community of West African States be launched in northern Mali, refugee populations are likely to grow further.

10. IDPs in Colombia: Since the start of the conflict between the Colombian government and armed Marxist guerrillas in the mid-1960s, the threat of violence has forced millions to abandon their homes. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations living in remote, rural areas have been particularly affected. The government puts the number of IDPs at 3.6 million, but several NGOs estimate the figure is closer to 5 million, pointing out that many of those displaced have not been officially registered. Most now live on the fringes of Colombia’s towns and cities, where they often struggle to adapt to urban life and face discrimination in the search for jobs and opportunities. Lack of identity documents also excludes many from access to public healthcare. Despite recent peace talks between the government and the guerrillas, it remains unsafe for most of the IDPs to return home, making the need for better integration into host communities a priority.

Instead of escaping the soul-killing mechanism of modern technological society, they learned that the tyranny of technology ruled even more omnipotently in war than in peacetime. The men who through daring chivalry had hoped to rescue their spiritual selves from the domination of material and technical forces discovered that in the modern war of material the triumph of the machine over the individual is carried to its most extreme form. Ernst Toller

Why EU Did Not Deserve a Nobel Peace Prize | David Swanson

Yes, indeed, it is a little-acknowledged feat of miraculous life-saving power that Europe has not gone to war with itself — other than that whole Yugoslavia thing — since World War II. It’s as clear a demonstration as anything that people can choose to stop fighting. It’s a testament to the pre-war peace efforts that criminalized war, the post-war prosecutions of the brand new crime of making war, the reconstruction of the Marshall Plan, and … and something else a little less noble, and much less Nobel-worthy.

Alfred Nobel’s will, written in 1895, left funding for a prize to be awarded to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Fredrik Heffermehl has been leading a valuable effort to compel the Nobel committee to abide by the will. Now they’ve outdone themselves in their movement in the other direction.

Europe is not a person. It has not during the past year — which is the requirement — or even during the past several decades done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations. Ask Libya. Ask Syria. Check with Afghanistan. See what Iraq thinks. Far from doing the best work to abolish or reduce standing armies, Europe has joined with the United States in developing an armed global force aggressively imposing its will on the world.

There were good nominees and potential nominees available, even great ones.

Now the Nobelites have almost guaranteed themselves a second-ever pro-war peace-prize acceptance speech. If you don’t recall who gave the first one, I’ll tell you after the U.S. election when you might be better able to hear me.

What a disgrace that the Nobel peace prize needs alternative awards that don’t go to warmongers. What a further shame that even those don’t always go to people who measure up to Nobel’s will.

Was Nobel asking so much really when he asked that a prize go to whoever did the best work toward abolishing war?

The West is so in love with itself that many will imagine this award a success. Surely Europe not going to war with itself is more important than Europe going to war with the rest of the world! Imagine how many white people might have died if Europe had kept its warmaking to itself. By directing the threat of war outward and engaging in humanitarian wars and philanthropic wars, Europe has taken us beyond naive war abolition and into an era of powerful possibilities. Oh, and some dark people died. But we’re looking at the Big Picture.

Does this not frighten anyone?

"War is peace, freedom is slavery, etc., etc." - someone famous said that I think.

Republicans get to deficit spend not just because their side will sign-up happily to tax-cuts, but because their constituents believe big-time in war. And war costs a lot. Republicans will ‘sacrifice’ themselves and future generations in the name of fighting a war. Now the Dems are into war too, though not quite like the Republicans. But the Dems can’t quite convince their members that the party should spend money on any other big projects – in fact, they no longer believe it themselves.

Pastiche Without Purpose: Democrats and the Politics of Debt

Alex Gourevitch:

Democratic spending is buried in the indirect incentive changes and obscure tweaks of the tax codes. But there is no ideal or purpose important enough that people are willing to say “screw it, we’ll come up with the money somehow – the sweat of our brow tomorrow, for the debts we incur today.” Revenue neutrality, offsets, CBO estimates – those are the buzzwords of Democratic fiscal policy. The dull, mind-numbing repetition of wonkspeak is not just a policy program, it is a totemic incantation, hoping to making something real out of the apparition of a party without projects.

Hezbollah’s ruthless and brilliant use of car bombs in Lebanon in the 1980s to counter the advanced military technology of the United States, France, and Israel soon emboldened a dozen other groups to bring their insurgencies and jihads home to the metropolis. Some of the new-generation car bombers were graduates of terrorism schools set up by the CIA and Pakistani intelligence (the ISI), with Saudi financing, in the mid-1980s to train mujahedin to terrorize the Russians then occupying Kabul. Between 1992 and 1998, 16 major vehicle bomb attacks in 13 different cities killed 1,050 people and wounded nearly 12,000. More importantly from a geopolitical standpoint, the IRA and Gama’a al-Islamiyya inflicted billions of dollars of damage on the two leading control-centers of the world economy — the City of London (1992, 1993, and 1996) and lower Manhattan (1993) — and forced a reorganization of the global reinsurance industry. Mike Davis on the History of the Car Bomb | TomDispatch (via nickturse)

(via nickturse)

The Science of Genocide | Chris Hedges

On this day in 1945 the United States demonstrated that it was as morally bankrupt as the Nazi machine it had recently vanquished and the Soviet regime with which it was allied. Over Hiroshima, and three days later over Nagasaki, it exploded an atomic device that was the most efficient weapon of genocide in human history. The blast killed tens of thousands of men, women and children. It was an act of mass annihilation that was strategically and militarily indefensible. The Japanese had been on the verge of surrender. Hiroshima and Nagasaki had no military significance. It was a war crime for which no one was ever tried. The explosions, which marked the culmination of three centuries of physics, signaled the ascendancy of the technician and scientist as our most potent agents of death.
“In World War II Auschwitz and Hiroshima showed that progress through technology has escalated man’s destructive impulses into more precise and incredibly more devastating form,” Bruno Bettelheim said. “The concentration camps with their gas chambers, the first atomic bomb … confronted us with the stark reality of overwhelming death, not so much one’s own—this each of us has to face sooner or later, and however uneasily, most of us manage not to be overpowered by our fear of it—but the unnecessary and untimely death of millions. … Progress not only failed to preserve life but it deprived millions of their lives more effectively than had ever been possible before. Whether we choose to recognize it or not, after the second World War Auschwitz and Hiroshima became monuments to the incredible devastation man and technology together bring about.”
The atomic blasts, ignited in large part to send a message to the Soviet Union, were a reminder that science is morally neutral. Science and technology serve the ambitions of humankind. And few in the sciences look beyond the narrow tasks handed to them by corporations or government. They employ their dark arts, often blind to the consequences, to cement into place systems of security and surveillance, as well as systems of environmental destruction, that will result in collective enslavement and mass extermination. As we veer toward environmental collapse we will have to pit ourselves against many of these experts, scientists and technicians whose loyalty is to institutions that profit from exploitation and death.
Scientists and technicians in the United States over the last five decades built 70,000 nuclear weapons at a cost of $5.5 trillion. (The Soviet Union had a nuclear arsenal of similar capability.) By 1963, according to the Columbia University professor Seymour Melman, the United States could overkill the 140 principal cities in the Soviet Union more than 78 times. Yet we went on manufacturing nuclear warheads. And those who publicly questioned the rationality of the massive nuclear buildup, such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, who at the government lab at Los Alamos, N.M., had overseen the building of the two bombs used on Japan, often were zealously persecuted on suspicion of being communists or communist sympathizers. It was a war plan that called for a calculated act of enormous, criminal genocide. We built more and more bombs with the sole purpose of killing hundreds of millions of people. And those who built them, with few exceptions, never gave a thought to their suicidal creations. [++]

The Science of Genocide | Chris Hedges

On this day in 1945 the United States demonstrated that it was as morally bankrupt as the Nazi machine it had recently vanquished and the Soviet regime with which it was allied. Over Hiroshima, and three days later over Nagasaki, it exploded an atomic device that was the most efficient weapon of genocide in human history. The blast killed tens of thousands of men, women and children. It was an act of mass annihilation that was strategically and militarily indefensible. The Japanese had been on the verge of surrender. Hiroshima and Nagasaki had no military significance. It was a war crime for which no one was ever tried. The explosions, which marked the culmination of three centuries of physics, signaled the ascendancy of the technician and scientist as our most potent agents of death.

“In World War II Auschwitz and Hiroshima showed that progress through technology has escalated man’s destructive impulses into more precise and incredibly more devastating form,” Bruno Bettelheim said. “The concentration camps with their gas chambers, the first atomic bomb … confronted us with the stark reality of overwhelming death, not so much one’s own—this each of us has to face sooner or later, and however uneasily, most of us manage not to be overpowered by our fear of it—but the unnecessary and untimely death of millions. … Progress not only failed to preserve life but it deprived millions of their lives more effectively than had ever been possible before. Whether we choose to recognize it or not, after the second World War Auschwitz and Hiroshima became monuments to the incredible devastation man and technology together bring about.”

The atomic blasts, ignited in large part to send a message to the Soviet Union, were a reminder that science is morally neutral. Science and technology serve the ambitions of humankind. And few in the sciences look beyond the narrow tasks handed to them by corporations or government. They employ their dark arts, often blind to the consequences, to cement into place systems of security and surveillance, as well as systems of environmental destruction, that will result in collective enslavement and mass extermination. As we veer toward environmental collapse we will have to pit ourselves against many of these experts, scientists and technicians whose loyalty is to institutions that profit from exploitation and death.

Scientists and technicians in the United States over the last five decades built 70,000 nuclear weapons at a cost of $5.5 trillion. (The Soviet Union had a nuclear arsenal of similar capability.) By 1963, according to the Columbia University professor Seymour Melman, the United States could overkill the 140 principal cities in the Soviet Union more than 78 times. Yet we went on manufacturing nuclear warheads. And those who publicly questioned the rationality of the massive nuclear buildup, such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, who at the government lab at Los Alamos, N.M., had overseen the building of the two bombs used on Japan, often were zealously persecuted on suspicion of being communists or communist sympathizers. It was a war plan that called for a calculated act of enormous, criminal genocide. We built more and more bombs with the sole purpose of killing hundreds of millions of people. And those who built them, with few exceptions, never gave a thought to their suicidal creations. [++]

If we really saw war, what war does to young minds and bodies, it would be impossible to embrace the myth of war. If we had to stand over the mangled corpses of schoolchildren killed in Afghanistan and listen to the wails of their parents, we would not be able to repeat clichés we use to justify war. This is why war is carefully sanitized. This is why we are given war’s perverse and dark thrill but are spared from seeing war’s consequences. The mythic visions of war keep it heroic and entertaining the wounded, the crippled, and the dead are, in this great charade, swiftly carted offstage. They are war’s refuse. We do not see them. We do not hear them. They are doomed, like wandering spirits, to float around the edges of our consciousness, ignored, even reviled. The message they tell is too painful for us to hear. We prefer to celebrate ourselves and our nation by imbibing the myths of glory, honor, patriotism, and heroism, words that in combat become empty and meaningless. Chris Hedges (via its-ideology-stupid)

(Source: truly-nothing, via jayaprada)

War Is Betrayal | Chris Hedges

We condition the poor and the working class to go to war. We promise them honor, status, glory, and adventure. We promise boys they will become men. We hold these promises up against the dead-end jobs of small-town life, the financial dislocations, credit card debt, bad marriages, lack of health insurance, and dread of unemployment. The military is the call of the Sirens, the enticement that has for generations seduced young Americans working in fast food restaurants or behind the counters of Walmarts to fight and die for war profiteers and elites.

The poor embrace the military because every other cul-de-sac in their lives breaks their spirit and their dignity. Pick up Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front or James Jones’s From Here to Eternity. Read Henry IV. Turn to the Iliad. The allure of combat is a trap, a ploy, an old, dirty game of deception in which the powerful, who do not go to war, promise a mirage to those who do.

I saw this in my own family. At the age of ten I was given a scholarship to a top New England boarding school. I spent my adolescence in the schizophrenic embrace of the wealthy, on the playing fields and in the dorms and classrooms that condition boys and girls for privilege, and came back to my working-class relations in the depressed former mill towns in Maine. I traveled between two universes: one where everyone got chance after chance after chance, where connections and money and influence almost guaranteed that you would not fail; the other where no one ever got a second try. I learned at an early age that when the poor fall no one picks them up, while the rich stumble and trip their way to the top.

Those I knew in prep school did not seek out the military and were not sought by it. But in the impoverished enclaves of central Maine, where I had relatives living in trailers, nearly everyone was a veteran. My grandfather. My uncles. My cousins. My second cousins. They were all in the military. Some of them—including my Uncle Morris, who fought in the infantry in the South Pacific during World War II—were destroyed by the war. Uncle Morris drank himself to death in his trailer. He sold the hunting rifle my grandfather had given to me to buy booze.

He was not alone. After World War II, thousands of families struggled with broken men who, because they could never read the approved lines from the patriotic script, had been discarded. They were not trotted out for red-white-and-blue love fests on the Fourth of July or Veterans Day.

The myth of war held fast, despite the deep bitterness of my grandmother—who acidly denounced what war had done to her only son—and of others like her. The myth held because it was all the soldiers and their families had. Even those who knew it to be a lie—and I think most did—were loath to give up the fleeting moments of recognition, the only times in their lives they were told they were worth something.

“For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’” Rudyard Kipling wrote. “But it’s ‘Saviour of ’is country’ when the guns begin to shoot.”

Any story of war is a story of elites preying on the weak, the gullible, the marginal, the poor. I do not know of a single member of my graduating prep school class who went into the military. You could not say this about the high school class that graduated the same year in Mechanic Falls, Maine. [continue]

Moral Injury and American War | Nan Levinson

A couple of decades ago, Dave Grossman, a professor of psychology and former Army Ranger, wrote an eye-opening, bone-chilling book called On Killing. It begins with the premise that people have an inherent resistance to killing other people and goes on to examine how the military overcomes that inhibition.

On Killing examines the concerted effort of the military to increase firing rates among frontline riflemen. Reportedly only about 15%-20% of them pulled the trigger during World War II. Grossman suggests that many who did fire “exercised the soldier’s right to miss.” Displeased, the U.S. Army set out to redesign its combat training to make firing your weapon a more reflexive action. The military (and most police forces) switched to realistic, human-shaped silhouettes, which pop up and fall down when hit, and later added video simulators for the most recent generation of soldiers raised on virtual reality.

This kind of Skinnerian conditioning — Grossman calls it “modern battleproofing” — upped the firing rate steadily to 55% in Korea, 90% in Vietnam, and somewhere near 100% in Iraq. Soldiers are trained to shoot first and evaluate later, but as Grossman observes, “Killing comes with a price, and societies must learn that their soldiers will have to spend the rest of their lives living with what they have done.”

That price could be called moral injury.

The term may have come from Jonathan Shay, though he demurs. Whatever its origin, it wasn’t until the end of 2009 that it began to resonate in therapeutic communities. That was when Brett Litz, the Associate Director of the National Center for PTSD in Boston, and several colleagues involved in a pilot study for the Marines published “Moral injury and moral repair in war veterans,” a paper aimed at other clinicians. Their stated aim was not to create a new diagnostic category, nor to pathologize moral discomfort, but to encourage discussion and research into the lingering effects on soldiers of their moral transgressions in war.

The authors found that emotional distress was caused less by fear of personal harm than by the dissonance between what soldiers had done or seen and what they had previously held to be right. This echoes Grossman, who concludes that the greatest cause of psychological injury to soldiers is the realization that there are people out there who really want to hurt you.

Moral injury seems to be widespread, but the concept is something of an orphan. If it’s an injury, then it needs treatment, which puts it in the realm of medicine, but its overtones of sin and redemption also place it in the realm of the spiritual and so, religion. Chaplains, however, are no better trained to deal with it than clinicians, since their essential job is to patch up soldiers, albeit spiritually, to fight another day.

Yet the idea that many soldiers suffer from a kind of heartsickness is gaining traction. The military began to consider moral injury as a war wound and possible forerunner of PTSD when Litz presented his research at the Navy’s Combat Operational Stress Control conference in 2010. The American Psychiatric Association is also thinking about adding guilt and shame to its diagnostic criteria for PTSD. A small preliminary survey of chaplains, mental health clinicians, and researchers found unanimous support for including some version of moral injury in the description of the consequences of war, though they weren’t all enamored of the term. As if to mark the start of a new era in considering the true costs of war, a new institution, the Soul Repair Center has just been launched at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, with a $650,000 grant from the Lilly Foundation to conduct research and education about moral injury in combat veterans.

Of course, to have a moral injury, you have to have a moral code, and to have a moral code, you have to believe, on some level, that the world is a place where justice will ultimately prevail. Faith in a rightly ordered world must be hard for anyone who has been through war; it’s particularly elusive for soldiers mired in a war that makes little sense to them, one they’ve come, actively or passively, to resent and oppose.

When your job requires you to pull sleeping families from their beds at midnight thousands of miles from your home, or to shoot at oncoming cars without knowing who’s driving them, or to refuse medical care to decrepit old men, you begin to question what doing your job means. When the reasons keep shifting for what you’re supposed to be doing in a country where most of the population wants you to go home even more than you want to, it’s hard to maintain any sense of innocence. When someone going about his daily life is regularly mistaken for someone who means to kill you — as has repetitively been the case in our occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan — everyone becomes the enemy. And when you try — and fail — to do the right thing in a chaotic and threatening situation, which nothing could have trained you for, the enemy can move inside you and stay there for a very long time. [++]

And for those to whom war presented itself as a random disaster? It was not random at all. That shelling that killed your mother and the militia that raped your sister were intended to terrify the population and make them governable again. Rounding up and torturing your father was a way to ensure he would think only of survival for his family and himself, not of ‘politics’. Your brother joining the rebels? Well, that was an unintended consequence of planned actions.

Tarak Barkawi, Syria: War from the inside out

What war is really good at is resisting any consistent meaning we try to find in it. It inverts our purposes. It mocks our high-mindedness. It denies any possibility of adequately answering the question: “Why did our sons and daughters have to die?”

The crisis in Somalia is not going to end soon. History is repeating itself and this is a never-ending problem. What I see today is what I saw in 1991: desperate people who fled their war-torn country, leaving everything behind, only to end up in a camp where living conditions are below what is humanly dignified. Abubakar Mohamed Mahamud has worked with Somali refugees in northeastern Kenya since the war in Somalia began more than 20 years ago. Originally a nurse specializing in nutrition, he is now MSF’s deputy field coordinator. (via doctorswithoutborders)