The Joker as Archetype

Carl Jung once said, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method of dealing with the darkness of other people.” What most veterans don’t know, but soon find out, is that facing evil out there means facing it inside of ourselves, too.

This article is from a military chaplain who has the unenviable task of providing service people with the spiritual justification for going to war. Though many chaplains would not frame their job in this way, it is a reality. Whether they rely on Aquinas’ “just war” theory which has been canonized in the Catholic catechism or other theological ashlars that is their primary job in the military–keep the fighters “heads in the game.” This particular chaplain eschews that role to a certain degree. His article touches on the great theological question of “why is their evil?” and “aren’t all of us evil in our own way?” He uses this to frame the Joker (as in the latest movie) in the role of Satan or Cain.

It is in this way that he touches on The Joker as an archetype found within all of us. Yes, there is a little evil in all of us, thus the Christian doctrine of “the fall” based on “original sin.” The question that he does not answer is why don’t most people identify with this archetype–as some, like Mao, Lenin, Pol Pot, and Hitler certainly seem to have?

However, he does frame veterans as suffering from the moral dilemma of war in this conversation between himself and a veteran:

I sat at a table with a veteran friend of mine, sipping coffee in a local cafe. He looked around as we talked about where we’d been and things we’d done. “They’ll never know,” he said. “I mean, how could they?” Our fellow patrons were having conversations a million miles away from ours, talking about things like kids, yoga and groceries, not darkness or things that haunt us. “I suppose it’s better that way,” he added. Maybe it is, I thought, but maybe not.

And this, I think, is the crux of suffering from moral injury: society is not forced to confront the reality of war. Instead, they see a video game rendition as spectacle. The warship firing off cruise missiles or the “luckiest guy in the world.” This type of war, the Pentagon learned during Vietnam, provided the psychological distance necessary for belligerent nations to hide the reality of war: hence, the Pentagon’s refusal to allow the media to photograph or film the dead soldiers coming back from Iraq.

In all, I would say the article points to a truth, though it does not specifically call it out. War is nothing other than primal one on one combat, multiplied by thousands. It is gory and fraught with moral problems at the personal level. It puts the spotlight on the Hobbesian view of life: “nasty, brutish, and short” which stands in stark contrast to the Utopian view of humans as enlightened beings. Thus, I would echo this chaplain in saying that I don’t think veterans should hide what war really is if they want to find peace within.