Moral Injury and Atrocity
Kelly Denton-Borhaug [+]
Chapter Four, “Moral Injury and Atrocity,” introduces the philosophical theory of feminist philosopher Claudia Card to propose the following: moral injury is an atrocity, as described by Card, a “foreseeable intolerable harm produced by culpable wrongdoing.” Card’s theory of atrocity sets moral injury into sharper relief, demonstrating why our understanding must move beyond a focus on individual experience, to a deeper investigation of moral injury‘s structural and cultural violence. In contrast to various fatalistic or unquestioning attitudes, Card writes, “We need a theoretical account of what makes wrongdoing serious enough to count as evil or in what ways it is serious. `Evil’ is a heavy judgment.” Card’s theoretical distinctions provide a pathway to sift through the many ambiguities and complexities involved in ethical deliberation about moral injury as an “evil,” such that in the end, thought about the phenomenon of moral injury is advanced, leaving us in a better place, as Card hopes, to better know what to do about this evil, and how to transform it. The chapter applies Card’s theory to one last case study, the suffering experienced by “Andy,” a veteran whose moral injury led him to the brink of self-destruction. Analysis of Andy’s experience, including the interplay of structural and cultural violence in his individual experience, shows how and why the macro phenomenon of military moral injury as a whole, should be understood as “atrocity.” But going further, the chapter also explores the gradual transformation that is taking place regarding Andy’s leadership in a relatively new Moral Injury Program that has been developed at a Philadelphia Veterans Affairs hospital. The labor that has been undertaken by Andy, other veterans, and the professional caregivers in this program, reveals insight about the indispensable need and role for a deeper social analysis of military moral injury, for people like Andy, their families and care providers, everyday citizens, and people across the world whose lives are affected by U.S. wars.