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“I felt personally responsible for creating those target packages which led to the deaths of those children, and that is the guilt. […] You have to accept the guilt of what you’ve done and separate it from the shame of the action. I think if I can successfully accept it, and process it, and heal from it, then I can help deliver that wisdom to the public. And if I just kill myself and take the easy way out, the mistake’s just going to repeat itself, and it’s going to be perpetual war. Nothing will change if no one shakes the foundations of this broken system.” 

Moral Injuries of War, Story #1913

Story #1913 originally formed part of the Moral Injuries of War Project, a public arts and conversation effort run by the International Trauma Studies Program which seeks to collect and share stories of moral injury amongst war correspondents and military veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The nameless veteran whose story is told here spent ten years in the American military where he worked as a ‘targeter’, an intelligence professional responsible for producing dossiers detailing the movements, contacts, and life of individuals with known or suspected ties to hostile organizations. Deployed at the height of the Iraq War, where international counter-terrorism efforts had reached a nearly “industrial-scale”, the servicemember relates an experience where a target package he hurriedly developed resulted in a botched raid that killed eight women and nine children with no association to the mission’s target. Story #1913 ultimately offers a moving reflection on the personal toll associated with the relentless, technologically fueled tempo of modern conflict, and also on the challenging path towards inner peace for veterans suffering from moral injury as they seek to reframe their damaging experiences as tools with which to teach and, hopefully, serve others. 

On the surface, it may be difficult to understand the connection between Story #1913 and peace. Indeed, the narrative offered by the unnamed American servicemember highlights the greatest tragedy of conflict – that regardless of the degree of personal care and good intentions behind one’s actions, outcomes that clearly violate one’s conception of morality can, and will, occur. Perhaps the harshest reality of conflict is that, in the words of one retired military chaplain, “everybody can do their jobs and a bad thing can still happen”. It is the difficulty in reconciling the rigid moral values instilled in servicemembers through training with this tragic reality that is at the core of the moral injuries suffered by the narrator of Story #1913 and countless others. 

#1913, however, is far more than a story of the physical and psychological cost associated with modern conflict. When viewed through the lens of moral injury, it serves as a powerful narrative of peace. This is not a peace that refers to the absence of violence in Iraq nor the redress of grievances suffered by those who participated in the conflict. Rather, the peace emphasized in Story #1913 is simultaneously internal to the narrator, with a focus on accepting one’s past violations of morality, and external, given the speaker’s desire to employ these injurious experiences as a tool to serve others by educating the public on the true costs of conflict. In this sense, Story #1913 is reflective of the process of “reframing”, whereby the facts of one’s experiences in combat remain the same, while the way in which events are viewed changes. Such processes seek to repurpose the trauma suffered towards productive ends, be it through donating time to one’s community, counselling fellow veterans, or simply offering the “wisdom” of one’s morally injurious experiences to aid those suffering from similar pain and to “shake the foundations” of the system that allowed this trauma to occur. It is this conceptualization of peace as a continuous internal process, with the ultimate end state being the acceptance of one’s woundedness and the desire to channel it in service of others, that I feel makes Story #1913 such a poignant and valuable contribution to this museum. 

What Do You Think?

  • How does this internal conceptualization of peace – as an inner journey to healing and serving after moral injury – chime with your own understanding of peace? 
  • Would such a conceptualization of peace affect the way in which you view other narratives centered on historical or contemporary conflict? 
  • Does Story #1913’s connection between moral beliefs and peace force us to reconsider what peacebuilding (on both micro and macro scales) looks like? 

If you enjoyed this item in our museum…

You might also like Combat Story #28, ‘Make me a Channel of your Peace‘ and other items with the tag ‘Moral Injury‘.

Mathias Katsuya, April 2022

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