On the Receiving End of ‘Released Weapons’

I am struck by how often moral injury is discussed only in the context of the war veteran and his or her reaction to the realities of war. Often, the people being bombed, shot at, and killed (or their surviving family members) seem forgotten. As Grossman said:

And, finally, if in my focus on the pain of the killers I do not sufficiently address the suffering of their victims, let me apologize now.  “The guy pulling the trigger” wrote Allen Cole and Chris Bunch, “never suffers as much as the person on the receiving end.”  It is the existence of the victim’s pain and loss, echoing forever in the soul of the killer that is at the heart of his pain.

Grossman, D. L. (1995). On killing. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company.

Robert Koehler and Tyler Boudreau concur:

But a dehumanized enemy can suddenly rehumanize herself in a veteran’s conscience. As Tyler Boudreau has pointed out: “Moral injury by definition includes the memories of those who have been harmed.”

Though the article quoted from above is an anti-war polemic, it makes many valid points. First, as my research has shown and this article delineates, war statistics are peversely reported in passive voice. An example here will suffice:

American aircraft released 7,423 munitions in the country in 2019, according to figures published Monday by U.S. Air Forces Central Command. Coalition aircraft flew nearly 8,800 sorties during the period, over a quarter of which carried out strikes. The tally surpasses the previous record set last year when 7,362 munitions were released and comes amid ongoing discussion between American and Taliban officials aimed at ending America’s longest war.


Did the weapons release themselves? Did the planes fly themselves? No mention whatsoever of the targets of these passively releasing weapons nor a mention of what type of munition. Were they cluster bombs, hellfires, 500 lbs, bunker busters? What were the targets?

To bring this back to moral injury, this type of language is designed to provide psychological distance from the realities of war. As I wrote in my dissertation:

There are early images of individual homo sapiens grabbing an expedient weapon and bashing in another’s head, to the war images of today; the cruise missiles, drone strikes and their aftermath fill our screens and newspapers in a sanitized, diluted and packaged image.  In the Western world, the primitive image of one-on-one violence and war-making embodied in the mythical image of Ares has given way to war-making as Apollonian that is conducted from a distance bereft of the ensuing gore and crushing psychological effects of the battlefield.  Hillman (2007) said, “Mars [Ares] moves in close, hand-to hand, Mars propior and propinquus.  Bellona is a fury, the blood, the blood-dimmed tide, the red fog of intense immediacy.  No distance” (p. 134).

Fisher, D. (2018). Dulce et Decorum Est: Moral Injury in the Poetry of Combat Veterans. Carpinteria, CA: Pacifica Graduate Institute.

Glen Slater (2009) concurs:

the consistent aim of projectiles is to distance the shooter and an experience of the underworld (p. 35).

Slater, G. (2009). A mythology of bullets. Spring, 23–36.

Unfortunately, this psychological distance begins to diminish as one is confronted with the ugly reality of war, particularly the innocent civilians on the receiving end of those “released weapons.”

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