More on Force Protection and Moral Injury

Mark LiVecche has published an expanded discussion of the relationship of force protection decisions to moral injury: Kevlar for the Soul: The Morality of Foce Protection.

LiVecche published a similiar essay last fall, on which I commented at some length. In addition to arguing for greater attention to the protection of non-combatants (an argument with which I wholeheartedly agree), Livecche continues to stress the difference between the tragedy of killing in combat and moral culpability. He appears to believe that if we were to frame war properly in classical just war terms, it would ameliorate – at least to a degree – feelings of guilt that combants who fight within that framework might come to feel.

… there exist conceptual resources to help warfighters deal with the trauma of killing in combat – chief among them is that tradition of Just War whose nascent Christian roots are found in Ambrose and Augustine, find greater maturation in Thomas Aquinas and the neo-scholastics, and stretch forward to include, among others, Paul Ramsey, Jim Johnson, Jean Bethke Elshtain, J. Daryl Charles, Oliver O’Donovan, and Nigel Biggar. Within this tradition are rendered such things as: guidelines and limits; exhortation toward particular character dispositions; the legitimacy of punishment; crucial distinctions between moral and non-moral evil; and the location of moral judgment in intention rather than simply outcome alone. Such ideas oppose the notion that killing is simply malum in se – wrong in itself; recognizing rather that killing comes in different kinds: including that which is simply innocent as well as that which – however tragically – is morally commendable. While such resources provide invaluable help with, most especially, the lawful killing of lawful enemies, they can, as well, go some distance in helping warfighters navigate more complex traumas like the accidental killing of non-combatants. But they cannot go all the way and conceptual frameworks alone will always be impotent in preventing moral injury, or the conditions for moral injury, in certain especially morally eviscerating circumstances.

I’m afraid that I’m not as confident, either in the unqualified good of the just warrior’s moral correctness or in the psychological benefits that such a framework might offer. While I think that it is important for warriors and their leaders to think, speak and act within the framework of the just war tradition, I also think that there are multiple levels of moral judgment at work in a combat environment. An act may be (mostly) good when weighed against the mstandard of temporal justice (i.e., the rescue of a hostage from the imminent threat of a horrific murder), but still morally burdensome when weighed against the standard of God’s redemptive love for all human beings (i.e., the killing of the assailant). It might be helpful to understand that God himself bears this moral burden in his judgement of the world, but then again, I know that I am not God. For me, I think, the answer lies in divine mercy and the cross of Christ more than it does in human rationalization. To me, feelings of guilt are not irrational. The moral burden of using lethal force is one that the warrior who professes Christ is willing to bear, however, for the sake of his neighbor.