"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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I’ve been meaning to write about a presentation I attended the other night by Omar Kadhr’s psychiatrist. He is a retired BGen, US Army. What was most interesting was not the discussion about Omar, but some comments he made about the ethical problems that exist in the US military. He traced those problems back to Bush’s statement (post-911) that the ‘gloves were coming off’ in the war on terror.  (meaning to, but too bloody busy to write)

His analysis (quite correctly) is that this fundamentally changed the way the US did war. A soldier is trained to apply overwhelming force to achieve the objective, but that force is always controlled. One does not go into a village, seeking a bomb maker, and kill everyone in the village. This is a fundamental point that separates military organizations from any other armed body – this somewhat contradictory need to apply huge amounts of lethal force in controlled doses. As he pointed out, the role of an officer is to control the beast in his men, and to control his own beast. The problem is that the ‘gloves off’ approach has loosed the beast – the result? Huge violations of the ethics of the soldier, and atrocities. It’s a compelling argument.

This raises for me the question of the impact of those top-level decisions on the individual soldier, those who are actually implementing that ‘gloves off’ mission. Soldiers are protected somewhat if they consider their mission to be righteous. If they doubt the fundamental rightness of what they’re doing, that opens up the increased potential for psychological injury (I’m oversimplifying here somewhat, this is very complex). My question – is the increased rate of suicide we’re seeing post-Afghanistan at least partly attributable to this changed approach to warfare? Soldiers know the difference between right and wrong, and when those lines are blurred through poor leadership, there is an impact.

This video interview of a Canadian soldier (Barry Westholm) about his experiences in Haiti (this is during the 95/97 UN mission I believe) is shocking. A single incident, and a decision made, are enough for a lifetime of suffering.

As Terry Kelly wrote in his moving tribute, “A Pittance of Time”,

It takes courage to fight in your own war
It takes courage to fight someone else’s war
Our peacekeepers tell of their own living hell
They bring hope to foreign lands that the hatemongers can’t kill.

Those who carry on the Canadian tradition of soldiering, often bring home wounds that are invisible but act to destroy lives and families.  Our act of remembering and honouring those sacrifices is to ensure they receive the care they need.

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Written by sameo416

November 11, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] Discussing a talk by Omar’s military psychiatrist that was convicting in Second post […]


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