Insulting America’s Sacred Idols: Helping Veterans Recover from Moral Injury

Back in March, Quaker House in Fayetteville, NC, the home of America’s largest military base, Fort Bragg, hosted me to discuss my recovery from PTSD and moral injury. The full video is below, along with a three minute clip that Lynn Newsom, the co-director of the Fayetteville Quaker House, is using in the talks she gives to military and non-military audiences on moral injury.

During my talk I am not very clear about the correlation, and, yes, I would also say causation, between combat and suicide. However, there is a very clear link between combat veterans and suicide, a link that is obviously very dangerous to cherished American myths of war, with all too familiar, prevalent and false motifs of justice, honor and redemption. To illustrate the connection between war, violence and suicide, a connection that manifests in veterans through PTSD, depression, substance abuse, and moral injury, I have included, at the end of this essay, 15 fairly easy to find studies of the last few decades documenting the prevalence of suicide in combat veterans.

Among the below studies, and among the most recent, dealing with my fellow veterans of the Afghan and Iraq Wars, researchers at the National Center for Veterans Studies have found that veterans who were exposed to killing and atrocity had a 43% greater risk of suicide, while 70% of those Afghan and Iraq veterans who participated in heavy combat had attempted suicide. We spends millions of dollars and thousands of hours to physically, mentally and morally condition each young man and woman who volunteers to serve in the military to travel abroad and kill, but upon their return, in reality, effective and thorough programs to decondition our veterans, help them reenter and reintegrate into society and regain emotional, moral and spiritual balance and health are nonexistent, while care for developed wounds, both physical and mental is underfunded. Continue reading

“Longevity is Nothing Without Dignity”

The film follows the story of S. Brian Willson, a Vietnam veteran and trained lawyer, whose wartime experiences transformed him into a revolutionary non-violent pacifist. In 1986, Brian and several veterans fasted for more than 40-days on the east steps of the U.S. Capitol to protest against the war in Central America.

Then, in September 1987, Brian and other Veterans Peace Action team members sat on the tracks to protest a weapons train carrying missiles and bombs bound to be used against peaceful civilians in Central America.

Instead of the train slowing down for the protesters on the tracks, the conductor increased the speed of the train to three times its legal speed limit. Brian tried to get off the tracks, but the speeding train struck him, cracked his skull, and tore off both his legs.

Today, Brian continues his efforts to fight for peace on his prosthetic limbs. Please join him and stop illegal American wars and other covert military actions waged against peaceful sovereign states and citizens internationally.


Letter from an Afghan-American to the US Government on behalf of Afghan Villagers

From my friend Kadir, representing a point of view not often heard in the West:

July 13, 2015
To the Honorable Daniel F. Feldman
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
The U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Room 1517
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Ambassador Feldman:

The negotiations in Islamabad, Pakistan on July 7, 2015 between the Afghan puppet government, the Pakistan government and current prisoners of Pakistan, are a sham. These negotiations will not lead to true peace in Afghanistan. However, maybe that is what the governments of the United States and Pakistan want– negotiations they know will never lead to peace. I believe the “sham” negotiations are for appearance only, so that the United States and NATO look like they want peace. It is common knowledge that the current Afghan freedom fighters were not represented at the negotiations. However, the U.S. Department of State has reported that it has held face to face negotiations with the Taliban in Pakistan but that is a big lie. It is common knowledge that the Taliban will not participate in negotiations inside Pakistan. The United States government knows this fact. Such deception and sham negotiations will not bring peace, which the majority of Afghans and the American public want.

Also, the Pakistani government’s involvement in any negotiations is definitely an obstacle to peace. Pakistan profits from the United States’ war in and occupation of Afghanistan. I believe it is a repeat of the mistakes made in the 1980s during the Soviet Union’s war in and occupation of Afghanistan when the negotiations went through Pakistan.

I believe these negotiations will not work because the Afghan Freedom Fighters are not at the table. To achieve true peace, I strongly believe the United States needs to directly negotiate with the representatives of the Afghan villagers, who are resisting the illegal war and occupation and fighting the thugs of the Afghan puppet government, who are carrying out ethnic cleansing and retaliation against the Pashtun.

I am also concerned that Pakistan has imprisoned thousands of Afghan villagers, who are mostly Pashtun, since the tragic events of 9/11. These villagers are sitting in prisons for years without having been convicted of any involvement in 9/11 or other crimes. Also, I believe the thousands of Afghan villagers, who the majority are Afghan/Pashtun and Muslim, imprisoned in CIA “ black hole” detention centers around the world, need to be released. Their continued detention violates international law. Detaining these villagers are war crimes. I believe this unlawful detention of Afghans creates an obstacle to peace and security in Afghanistan, the region and the world. The rendition and detention of Afghans in these “black hole” CIA detention centers is itself terrorism. When will the superpowers and its puppets stop terrorizing the Afghan villagers? I thought the U.S. Department of State was about diplomacy and not promoting terrorism.

As a concerned U.S. citizen, who was born in Afghanistan, I strongly believe that it is time the United States government changes its war/occupation policy to a “sincere” negotiation and peace policy. I have been waiting for 4 decades for true peace in my motherland. I have been waiting for 15 years for the government of my homeland, the United States, to follow the law and end the war in and occupation of Afghanistan. The Afghan villagers have never received justice these past four decades. Don’t the Afghans, who are victims of war crimes from 1978 to the present, deserve justice just like the Jewish people, the Bosnians and the Rwandans received? Justice delayed is justice denied. Without justice there can never be peace.


Kadir A. Mohmand
Former Representative of the Afghan Freedom Fighters for North America during the 1980s

Was the Afghan War Worth It?

And a quick interview I did with Chinese TV from last March where I briefly discuss how a military first US foreign policy has led to war, chaos and terrorism throughout the Muslim world.

Updated with transcript from RT:

As long as the Afghan government aligns itself with the US, which is keeping troops, planes, special operations and drones to bomb targets in Afghanistan or Pakistan, there will be no peace, says former US Marine Matthew Hoh.

RT: Peace talks between Afghan officials and Taliban representatives have ended with both sides agreeing to meet again after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. After more than a decade of war the Afghan government and the Taliban are finally talking. Was it worth the thousands of lives lost, both military and civilian?

Matthew Hoh: No, it wasn’t and I think the proper way to look at the Afghan War, as you look at all wars or all conflicts, is not in an isolated vacuum or is because of one solitary event, in this case the last fourteen years of the war in Afghanistan as being caused by the Al-Qaeda attacks on 9/11. However, it should be viewed as this is a war that has been going on continuously since the 1970s.

Continue reading

An Excellent Article On Moral Injury

Quite possibly the best article on moral injury I have read. Thanks to The Atlantic and to Maggie Puniewska.

Healing a Wounded Sense of Morality
Many veterans are suffering from a condition similar to, but distinct from, PTSD: moral injury, in which the ethical transgressions of war can leave service members traumatized.


Amy Amidon has listened to war stories on a daily basis for almost a decade.

As a clinical psychologist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, she works with a multi-week residential program called OASIS, or Overcoming Adversity and Stress Injury Support, for soldiers who have recently returned from deployments. Grief and fear dominate the majority of the conversations in OASIS: Amidon regularly hears participants talk about improvised explosive devices claiming the lives of close friends; about flashbacks of airstrikes pounding cities to rubble; about days spent in 120-degree desert heat, playing hide and seek with a Taliban enemy. Many veterans in the program are there seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

But many of Amidon’s patients talk about another kind of trauma, a psychic bruise that, unlike PTSD, isn’t rooted in fear. Some of these soldiers describe experiences in which they, or someone close to them, violated their moral code: hurting a civilian who turned out to be unarmed, shooting at a child wearing explosives, or losing trust in a commander who became more concerned with collecting decorative pins than protecting the safety of his troops. Others, she says, are haunted by their own inaction, traumatized by something they witnessed and failed to prevent. In 2012, when the first wave of veterans was returning from the Middle East, these types of experiences were so prevalent at OASIS that “the patients asked for a separate group where they could talk about the heavier stuff, the guilt stuff,” Amidon says. In January 2013, the center created individual and group therapy opportunities specifically for soldiers to talk about the wartime situations that they felt went against their sense of right and wrong. (Rules of engagement are often an ineffective guide through these gray areas: A 2008 survey of soldiers deployed at the beginning of the conflict in Iraq found that nearly 30 percent of the soldiers in each group encountered ethical situations in which they were unsure how to respond.)

Experts have begun to refer to this specific type of psychological trauma as moral injury. “These morally ambiguous situations continue to bother you, weeks, months, or years after they happened,” says Shira Maguen, the mental-health director of the OEF/OIF Integrated Care Clinic at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and one of the first researchers to study the concept. Examples of situations that might precipitate moral injury are betrayals by those in leadership roles, within-rank violence, inability to prevent death or suffering, and hurting civilians. Sometimes it co-exists with PTSD, but moral injury is its own separate trauma with symptoms that can include feelings of shame, guilt, betrayal, regret, anxiety, anger, self-loathing, and self-harm. Last year, a study published in Traumatology found that military personnel who felt conflicted about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of a combat situation were at an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior afterwards, compared with their peers who didn’t have that same sense of ambiguity. The main difference between the two combat-induced traumas is that moral injury is not about the loss of safety, but the loss of trust—in oneself, in others, in the military, and sometimes in the nation as a whole.
Continue reading