Turning The Moral Injury Of War Into Moral Outrage For Change
Note: These are comments given at the United National AntiWar Coalition conference in Richmond, VA on June 16, 2017.
We live in an era of never ending war with terrible impacts not only on the world but on the United States.
Over the past sixteen years, the United States has spent $5 trillion on the ‘war on terror’ – thousands of billions on the war machine spreading chaos and destruction around the world, creating not only millions of deaths but millions more displaced. Replacing functional governments with dysfunctional government. Those trillions have done more harm than good for the world.
Imagine what good those thousands of billions of dollars could have done if they were spent on positive programs. This is a time of urgent needs in the United States and around the world that are not being met, often based on claims of lack of funds. But, the funds are there. The government has shown it cannot run out of money, it just chooses where it is willing to spend money. It never runs out of money for war.
I am not going to focus on the economic cost of war at home, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s comment in his Beyond Vietnam speech:
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
The US is living Dr. King’s prediction. This century of never ending war is leading us to spiritual doom.
I am a secular, not religious person, so I find it useful to put Rev. King’s ‘spiritual doom’ in different terms.
Jacob George a veteran and antiwar activist who joined us at Freedom Plaza at the Occupation of Washington, DC as part of his “bike for peace” tour talked about the “moral injury” of war. This was the injury that killed him, is killing veterans every day and is undermining the conscience of the United States.
Jacob was one of the thousands of vets who take their own life each year. One song he wrote and sang on his album “Soldiers Heart” was “They call me Hero”, one of its verses goes like this:
A celebration of violent deeds
Puts my heart at unease
Parades and flags can’t change with I’ve done
And there’s no honor
In what I’ve become
They call me son, they call me hero
But to me, I’m neither
They call me son, they call me hero
But to me, I’m neither I’m neither, I’m neither
Jacob wrote in another song that he “lost a piece of who I was on every single mission.” In my view, the country is losing a piece of itself on every day of war. Gradually but consistently with never ending wars the moral injury to our nation grows.
The US can call itself exceptional to justify mass killing around the world. We can have days that celebrate wars and veterans, exaggerate heroism and diminish the cost of war. Hollywood can produce movies about war heroes while ignoring the civilians they kill. The media can show glorious visions of shock and awe aerial attacks without showing the destruction of bombings – but none of that changes the reality of what the United States has become. The nation is suffering from a deep moral injury that it cannot face and is often prevented from facing by the mass media working with the bi-partisan war Congress and presidents.
The media avoids showing people in the United States that drone attacks and aerial bombings kill. The media does not report their names, who they are or why these mostly innocent people were killed. The media avoids showing us functioning countries that have been turned into chaos after US military attacks -human trafficing, the sexual abuse, the everyday violence, the mass displacement of people that destroying functional governments creates – remains hidden.
We get a glimpse of reality when information is leaked – the abuses at dark site prison like Abu Gharib or Guantanamo Bay and people are horrified, then look the other way as soon as they can be distracted. Or, leaks about the use of torture as US policy. Sometimes a video is leaked showing how US forces are nonchalant about killing civilians, even killing reporters on the ground, like the Collateral Murder video leaked by Chelsea Manning. The leakers of truth are prosecuted while those who violated the law remain free. The military does not allow photographs of draped coffins of US soldiers to be shown.
The moral injury is deep going back to the pre-founding of the country. In An Indigenous History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, writes about the origins of the ‘US Way of War:’ “This way of war, forged in the first century of colonization – destroying Indigenous villages and fields, killing civilians, ranging and scalp hunting – became the basis for the wars against the Indigenous across the continent into the late nineteenth century.”
George Washington further described the US way of war when during the Revolutionary War when he ordered the Six Nations of the Indigenous Peoples in New York attacked with orders to kill or capture civilians of all ages:
“The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more. I would recommend, that some post in the center of the Indian Country, should be occupied with all expedition, with a sufficient quantity of provisions whence parties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed. But you will not by any means listen to any overture of peace before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected.”
The US War of War begins with weakening the enemy by depriving them of food and necessities, today we call those economic sanctions, often a step to war before the war. Then the US comes in with an aerial bombardment whether a series of drone attacks or a massive show of air power which indiscriminately kills people of all age and type, innocent or combatant. It also means destroying essential infrastructure like homes, hospitals, transit. In the end the country is destroyed, chaos reigns – total ruinment is effected.
Is the US capable of looking at ourselves in the mirror or is the moral injury too great for such honesty? Can we see the foundation of the nation was built on stealing land from tens of millions of Indigenous Peoples who lived throughout the continent, US wealth was created by importing more than 10 million Africans who were enslaved to create immense wealth for plantation owners and industrialists? That the practice of Manifest Destiny expanded beyond the North American continent into stealing most of Mexico and into Latin America with the Monroe Doctrine and then into Asia with military actions against Korea in the mid-1800s, China in the 1840s/50s and the Philippines at the end of that century. In all of these cases, as in more modern times, the US war of war which causes moral injury for those involved, was the method of operation.
In the current news, the US has used the Mother Of All Bombs in Afghanistan, bombings in Raquaa are killing hundreds of civilians and have left more than 160,000 homeless, the US is joining in the mass killings and destruction in Yemen, moving long-distance artillery weapons that can shoot 300 miles into Syria, increasing troops in Afghanistan, uniting Saudi Arabia with Israel in a build-up to war against Iran.
On the home front is mostly silence. A population too numb to never ending war barely reacts. This is a symptom of our moral injury.
Our job is to get the people face up to the moral injury of war, our rapid approach to spiritual doom, and do all we can to stop the US war machine. That is why we are here. That is why we will be at the World Without War conference in DC in September. That is why we must find ways to re-ignite the antiwar movement.
One thing that is changing – the world sees what the US is doing. Allies know the US spies on their leaders. Allies know they are forced to spend billions buying US weapons. Forced to accept weapons we demand be placed on their soil even though they escalate tensions with their neighbors.
If we fail to awaken the population to the horrors of the US way of war, there will be blowback and not just the individuals willing to conduct suicide attacks, or motivated fighters involved in terror tactics but soon we will see countries rising against up to stop the US way of war.
If we do not awaken the US government and to change course from a destructive military power to an exceptional humanitarian culture aiding billions who suffer – a heavy price will be paid. We should expect it.
Our job is to turn moral injury into moral outrage and transform the United States into an exceptional humanitarian nation that is a member of the community of nations that lifts people up, rather than creates chaos and insecurity around the world.