Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Nancy Sherman's "Afterwar"

Nancy Sherman, University Professor at Georgetown University and Guggenheim Fellow (2013-2014), served as the Inaugural Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the United States Naval Academy. A philosopher with research training in psychoanalysis, she lectures worldwide on moral injury, the emotions, resilience, and military ethics.

Sherman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers, and reported the following:
Page 99 expands on Afterwar’s unifying theme of moral injury and delves into how empathy (or more specifically self-empathy) can aide the moral recovery of our soldiers. While physical trauma creates external scars, the moral injuries of war can leave veterans with internal scarring that can be just as devastating. Feelings of guilt and shame can compound to the point where soldiers hold themselves culpable for experiences outside of their control. One example is army Major Jeffrey Hall, who in 2003 saw members of an innocent family killed by crossfire in Baghdad, Iraq. Hall was charged with making amends with the surviving family members. After finding them, the family made it clear that what they wanted most was the return of the bodies of their loved ones. However, due to bureaucratic incompetence, he had to wait over a month for the bodies.

During the wait, he was ordered to deliver the solace money, a pittance of $750. The uncle rejected the money and threw it in the dirt. When Hall finally received the bodies, they had rotted. He had to deliver them unembalmed and cooked by the desert heat beyond recognition. The family’s last request was for Hall to obtain their death certificates for a proper funeral. When he obtained them, they were marked, in bold red letters, “ENEMY.”

The moral injury Hall felt ran deep to the point where suicidal feelings emerged, but, thanks to an attentive commander, he received the help he needed. Part of his help involved evaluating himself through self-empathy. The goal of self-empathy was to look back on his past memories not as the subject, but as an objective observer. Self-empathy allowed Hall to deal with his shame by viewing himself not as the transgressor, but as the victim and, consequently, granted himself a newfound sense of mercy and compassion.

Afterwar seeks to better understand the moral injuries that our soldiers face through a lens both philosophical and personal. It bridges the divide between civilians and veterans and, in doing so, fosters moral healing that soldiers desperately need.
Visit Nancy Sherman's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue