The International Trauma Studies Program's programs:

Exploratory research and public arts project

Over the past 18 years, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties worldwide and cost trillions of dollars. Human rights violations, including the systemic use of torture and detainee abuse, have further compromised the ethics of these wars.

In these recent wars, one of the hindrances to healing for soldiers, journalists, and humanitarian and human rights practitioners is that they often suffer alone from their endured experiences. It is important that they share these with us, the public, no matter how troubling or morally challenging. We need to know what goes on in war and they need focused listening and acknowledgement of what they have been through. We need a public space where we are able to share in their experiences and grow from them together.

It has become apparent that due to their war experiences, many veterans, journalists and humanitarians suffer from “moral injury” as well as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Moral injury is defined as “Perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations” (Litz et al., 2009). It is a “disruption in an individual’s sense of personal morality and capacity to behave in a just manner” (Drescher et al., 2011). Moral injury may leave one with overwhelming feelings of shame, guilt and anger. These problems of conscience are often associated with the high numbers of suicides and mental distress in the veteran population.

There are many factors that make it difficult for veterans, in particular, to speak about these experiences from shame and guilt, loyalty to leaders and peers, security level issues, to fears of retaliation. But often the silence is maintained by the belief that the public is not really interested in listening.

Moral injury not only affects individuals but affects us, collectively, as well. We as a public must contend with the collective moral injuries of war and share (distribute and carry together) the burdens of shame and guilt, anger and outrage, usually carried by the individual alone. And out of this sharing we may find connection, hope and the possibility of building a cornerstone for collective healing. We need a public forum that can acknowledge the experiences of those who participated in and witnessed the recent wars.

The Moral Injuries of War public arts project is having its debut at the National Museum of Art, Bucharest, Rumania – September 26-29 at UNFINISHED Arts and Ideas Festival.

© Tom Stoddart