I have been thinking lately, Fellowshippians, about the impact of 20 years of war on us as a nation – particularly on the subset of U.S. citizens that we have asked to fight this war on our behalf, sometimes serving several tours of duty. Here we are in the wake of the departure from Afghanistan, with the impending arrival of 800+ Afghan allies who are becoming our neighbors in Tulsa, and in full awareness of the intricate dance that we have done between church and state in regards to the morality, and even necessity, of war.
How do we move from “Thank you for your service,” to a liberative solidarity with those who serve in the military, even (and perhaps especially) if we don’t think that war should ever be an option? That’s a question that is addressed pretty elaborately, as it often is, in the latest podcast of Homebrewed Christianity from Tripp Fuller, theology nerd and general rabble-rouser.
We’ve all been to the parades and seen the flag waving and maybe, like me, you’ve wondered how that “patriotism” acknowledges the very real trauma and “invisible” injuries that our service members carry with them long after the conflict is over. I think every year how sad it is that we celebrate the 4th of July, with a heavy “thank the vet” theme, by shooting off fireworks that are often a trigger for such combat veterans.
There’s a technical term that has arisen alongside the other known impacts of combat service like PTSD. It is “moral injury.” This is the deeper, less diagnosable product of combat that reshapes someone’s baseline. After all, the most direct way to generate a split in our Christian morality is to take anyone who has been taught to love their neighbor as themselves (and even love your enemy) and teach them to kill someone else. In fact, not only teach them, but command them to do so. That kind of disruption is not a light switch that one can turn off and on, it lingers and continues to disrupt.
We have a lot to wrestle with in this generation. We can’t romanticize war veterans in the same way we have done with the “Greatest Generation,” nor can we hold this love-hate thing like was done with Vietnam vets. How will we treat these veterans of the longest war in our history, one that went on often with minimal change to our daily lives?
As a new 58-bed veterans hospital is being built downtown, and we acknowledge the work done to make sure that veterans are not homeless in our city, but we know that there’s much more to be done. And most of it stems from our capacity to not simply let a “thank you for your service” be enough. Just like the systems we have in place to cause the moral injury in the first place, we need systems to help people heal from such injury.
Such work won’t be limited to our service members, by the way. The Afghans who will be our new neighbors will come with such trauma as well, trauma that we helped to inflict on their country. We have a moral obligation to them, too.
Take an hour a listen to this podcast. One, it’s a good way to get us all off screens for a while, and two, it’s worth your time.