In the rage of his grief, Achilles viciously slaughters Hector in one-on-one combat and then humiliatingly drags the lifeless body of Hector across the Trojan plain in front of the city walls to the horror of the Trojan citizens and Hector’s family. Just as with Achilles in the Iliad, Shay’s Vietnam veterans were witness to, victim of, or had participated in tragic and horrendous moral violations. Shay argues quite convincingly that it is this moral injury that is the key to the depth of their pain, the height of their rage, and the decades-long suffering that they endure from their combat experiences, some never completely recovering from it. But it was not just the blood and gore that affected them so thoroughly and deeply. It was primarily the egregious moral violations of their leaders. The widespread corruption of leaders and the violation of their sacred trusts to their men in Vietnam have been well documented and written about in many books over the years. In an organization that is so immersed, so saturated with commitment to moral values, the highest moral violations are those of its leaders who hold the sacred trust of authority and responsibility for the lives and welfare of all the men and women given to their care, the sons and daughters of America.
The U.S. military is nothing if not a moral organization. It lives and breathes moral codes, constantly reciting them in oaths (for enlistment, for reenlistment, for promotion, for commissioning, etc.) and persistently discussing them in training, mentoring, awards ceremonies, counseling, trials, non-judicial punishment, and speeches (duty, honor, country – supporting and defending the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic – loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage). Moreover, all soldiers know that they may be required to commit the highest, most costly moral act possible for a human, to sacrifice their lives, willingly laying down their life, giving that “last full measure of devotion” (Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”). And in this profoundly moral environment, the deep moral obligations between brothers-in-arms, sisters-in-arms and between subordinate and leader are held to be sacred. This is why the violation of that sacred trust by a leader has such a deep and lasting impact on the men and women who bear witness to the violation or who suffer from it. Furthermore, the moral implications of the violation are greatly magnified in the harsh, chaotic, and cruel environment, the life and death struggle, of combat.
I pray that the Lord bless you and keep you in His protective arms.