The philosopher asks what we owe to returning soldiersby Jonathan Derbyshire / May 27, 2015 / Leave a comment
In April 2007, US Army captain Josh Mantz was on patrol in Sadr City in Baghdad when a sniper opened fire on him and his troops. A bullet severed the aorta of his staff sergeant, Marlon Harper, before richoteting into Mantz’s right thigh, severing his femoral artery. A medic arrived and began tending to Mantz, whose wound was more visible than Harper’s. It was Mantz who survived, not his comrade.
Four years after his return from Iraq, Mantz suffered a profound emotional collapse. “It’s the moral injury over time that really kills people,” he said later. “Soldiers lose their identity. They don’t understand who they are anymore. Most people don’t appreciate the awful weight of that moral injury.”
In her new book “Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers,” the American philosopher Nancy Sherman tells Mantz’s story and those of other US military veterans. The notion of “moral injury” evoked by Mantz is central to her attempt in this book to expand the field of “Just War” theory (that is, the philosophical exploration of the morality of warfare). When I spoke to Sherman recently, she told me that she sees herself as very much “part of the circle of individuals who do Just War theory, beginning with Michael Walzer. But it’s been very narrow: it’s about the justification of war, or the conduct of war or circumstances and treatment after war—but not [what happens] at home.”
The problem, she thinks, with the traditional partition of Just War theory into “jus ad bellum” (which deals with the circumstances under which states are morally justified in going to war), “jus in bello” (which deals with the moral rules governing the conduct of war) and “jus post bellum” (which deals with the conditions of a just peace) is that it neglects the obligations that a state or a political community which sends men and women to fight abroad has to veterans when they return home. I asked her what those who don’t fight and stay at home owe to those who do (setting aside the question of whether or not one regards the war as having been justified; in Sherman’s view, the two questions are separate).