The Moral Injuries of War

The moral injuries sustained by veterans unable to cope with life after battle is a topic that deserves to be examined more closely, says Douglas Hickey 2014. As his Summer Fellows project he is studying the moral consequences of killing in war as well as the origins of military ethics and the deliberation of ethical decision making in the military.

Doug Hickey 2014“I have been reading about the state of ethical decision making in war from first person view and reviewing interviews from soldiers on the topic,” says Hickey, who is majoring in Psychology and Philosophy and minoring in Applied Ethics and Coaching.“Even after receiving therapeutic treatment, they are still returning to their normal lives impaired and broken.”

Hickey says men and women who enter the military to attempt to safeguard the United States should be spared from having to grapple in isolation with suicidal thoughts and feelings of worthlessness. “Most of these men and women have been subjected to an unforgiving environment of violence for a minimum of four years. For them to return home and have to continue to fight a mental war alone is profoundly heartbreaking to me,” says Hickey. “This shouldn’t sit well with any of us. I really would like to get down to the bottom of how and why  this happens to them.”

Hickey’s research shows that Veterans Affairs offices, doctors and psychologists have all confirmed the existence of these moral wounds through the various treatment methods that they use to allow our vets to return to a normal routine of daily living.  But often the treatment is not enough to help. “I want to know more about how to help veterans who return to their post-service lives after treatment with untreated injuries that continue to harm not only them, but those around them as well.”

As part of his research, Hickey read author Nancy Sherman’s book The Untold War which shows that combat veterans experience a variety of injuries resulting from the traumas of war. Sherman, a professor of Military Ethics at Georgetown University, interviewed nearly 40 soldiers from wars both past and present to build the case for her book. Hickey decided on his proposal for Summer Fellows after reading her work. “Sherman writes in a realm that is relatively untouched by the disciplines of philosophy and psychology. The moral injuries of war, their origins, and how to eliminate them, have been the focus of my project.”

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