I killed people in Afghanistan. Was I right or wrong?
Many veterans are unable to reconcile such actions in war with the biblical commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” When they come home from an environment where killing is not only accepted but is a metric of success, the transition to one where killing is wrong can be incomprehensible.
This incongruity can have devastating effects. After more than 10 years of war, the military lost more active-duty members last year to suicide than to enemy fire. More worrisome, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that one in five Americans who commit suicide is a veteran, despite the fact that veterans make up just 13 percent of the population.
While I don’t know why individual veterans resort to suicide, I can say that the ethical damage of war may be worse than the physical injuries we sustain. To properly wage war, you have to recalibrate your moral compass. Once you return from the battlefield, it is difficult or impossible to repair it.
VA has started calling this problem “moral injury,” but that’s as deceptive a euphemism as “collateral damage.” This isn’t the kind of injury you recover from with rest, physical therapy and pain medication. War makes us killers. We must confront this horror directly if we’re to be honest about the true costs of war.