Armies know all about killing. It is what they do, and ours does it more effectively than most. What we are painfully coming to realize, however, is that we are also especially good at killing our own “from the inside out,” silently, invisibly. In every major war since Korea, more of our veterans have taken their lives than have lost them in combat. The latest research, rooted in veteran testimony, reveals that the most severe and intractable combat trauma—fraught with shame, despair, and suicide—stems from “moral injury.”
The idea that dutiful service to one’s country in war can inflict moral injury, putting at risk one’s humanity and very soul, is blasphemous and unthinkable to nearly everyone except those who have experienced it to be the case. At the root of our incomprehension lies just war theory—developed, expanded, and updated across the centuries to accommodate the evolution of warfare, its weaponry, its scale, and its victims. Any serious critique of war, as well any true attempt to understand the profound, invisible wounds it inflicts will be undermined from the outset by the unthinking and all-but-universal embrace of just war doctrine.