On the one hand, it would behoove us all immediately to read (if we haven’t already) President Trump’s THE ART OF THE DEAL: like it or not, it can tell us a lot about the man we’ve elected to lead our country.
Relevant as that would be, I have a different book in mind. I would like to suggest that the next book everyone should read is David Wood’s WHAT HAVE WE DONE: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars.
“Moral injury” refers to “the violation of our fundamental values of right and wrong that so often occurs in the impossible dilemma of modern conflict.” Mr. Wood asks us to consider seriously “our responsibility for war’s moral injury”; he asks us to think about “wartime morality and about our rationale for killing in ‘just’ wars…” He also asks, “What is the accountability of those who engineered the wars? Of the politicians who pushed for and funded the fighting year after year? Of those of us who silently accepted the rationales for war, voted for those in power, and paid our taxes?”
To call this book “troubling” is utterly inadequate. David Wood wants us to understand what we have done to the young men and women we send to fight, and what we have done, unknowingly, to ourselves:
“Just as those returning from combat often suppress the emotional pain of their experiences, so do we all draw the cover of collective amnesia over our part in war. Perhaps we are morally injured as well and, like so many combat veterans, are reluctant to peer into that darkness. The SUPPORT OUR TROOPS stickers that blossomed as the battle casualties mounted hinted at a deeper disquiet. Too easily we have forgiven ourselves for neither taking part in the wars nor demanding an end to them. We have turned our eyes from the realities of war. To those veterans who return troubled, we assign the term “PTSD” and criticize the VA for not moving quickly enough to help. But we have acknowledged what we know to be true about war.”
For me, the most devastating passage in WHAT HAVE WE DONE can be found at the very outset in the preliminary “Author’s Note”:
“This book is about the Americans we sent to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the moral injuries they sustained there. In those conflicts, civilians also were caught up in the fighting, as willing or unwilling participants or as bystanders. Even as our wars were getting under way in 2002, most Afghans and Iraqis were already enduring high levels of anxiety, depression, fear, grief, bitterness, and hopelessness from past conflicts and repression. The years that followed must have deepened their physical and psychological trauma to levels of pain we can scarcely imagine. The moral injuries of the Afghan and Iraqi people are beyond the scope of this book but not, I trust, out of our thoughts.”
I fear that David Wood is being too generous by half, because I frankly don’t think that most Americans (including me) give a damn or have ever lost a moment of sleep over the ongoing traumatic experiences of citizens of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Egypt, or any other conflict-riven place on the face of this earth. Why should we? We clearly don’t give a damn even about the Americans we send to fight in our endless and pointless wars; why in the world would we care about anyone else?
I cannot urge too strongly: the next book you read should be WHAT HAVE WE DONE.