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The Dilemma of a Soldier's Choices

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 23/03/2016 Dustin DeMoss
AMERICAN TROOPS © Raphye Alexius via Getty Images AMERICAN TROOPS

In September of 2011, Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland was serving in Afghanistan as part of a Joint Base Lewis-McChord unit. He was almost at the end of a year-long deployment working to help sway local Afghani leaders into supporting Western forces as opposed to insurgents. The soldier, who by all accounts was a stellar Green Beret and garnered much praise before the incident, was reprimanded on the basis of unprofessionalism and a "departure from integrity" by some of his higher ups. His charge? Assaulting an Afghan police commander in order to stop the brutal sexual assault of a local child. The boy was allegedly kidnapped by the police commander, chained to a bed for more than a week, and regularly endured rape at the hands of the commander.
Col. Steve Johnson, an individual who commanded Martland before his deployment, asserts that Martland should have ignored the situation at hand in favor of improving ties with the local leaders. Martland and Capt. Daniel Quinn, his detachment commander, were appealed to directly from the child's mother, who was also assaulted at the hands of the local police commander. Both Martland and Quinn state that this was not the first time such brutality had taken place, but that the police commander's actions in this particular incident were especially heinous. They felt they were morally unable to allow the situation to continue, and instead stepped in to stop the routine rape of the child.
While certain higher ups in the military are lambasting both Martland and Quinn for their actions, there is evidence to support the idea that they simply couldn't stand by and allow something so utterly repugnant to their morality continue -- not when they had the ability to stop it. In fact, doing so could have put both of them in danger of experiencing stronger mental afflictions and disorder when they returned home than if they intervened. It's not too much of a stretch to say that, in standing by and allowing the brutal rape of a child when he had the power to stop it, Martland would have been putting his own life at stake. There's really no winner in a reality where Martland ignored this manner of horrific child abuse and assault: The child loses, and so does Martland. If you're wondering on what I'm basing these assertions, I'm referring to the scientifically documented effects of "moral injuries."Moral Injuries
Emerging research has found something known as "moral injury." Moral injuries are the emotional and mental trauma that soldiers who witness or perpetrate acts that are against their moral beliefs. To be considered a moral injury, there are generally three criteria of which a certain situation must consist. These components include "(1) betrayal of what the soldier knows is right, (2) by someone who holds authority, and (3) occurs in a high-stakes situation."[1] A number of researchers[2],[3],[4] have found that morally injurious experiences (MIEs) "were correlated with greater general combat exposure, impairments in work/social functioning, posttraumatic stress and depression in the community sample"[5]. Veterans who have sustained significant moral injuries, in other words, experience a higher degree of number and severity of issues when they return home. This includes things like adjusting to society and moving on from their combat experiences.
While some might wave the assertion that this kind of experience could cause lasting harm to individuals, the research says otherwise. In fact, some researchers go as far as claiming that the root cause of many cases of PTSD experienced by soldiers who return from active duty is actually moral injury -- the PTSD is simply the way in which the wound manifests[6]. Even more research shows that sustaining moral injuries by allowing morally repugnant acts to continue, or by taking part in them either passively or actively, could actually raise the risk of veteran suicide.[7],[8]The increasing body of evidence surrounding the question of moral injury as it relates to suicide risk overwhelmingly supports the idea that veterans who experience MIEs -- particularly those experiences they hold to be especially repugnant -- are at a higher risk for suicide and mental disturbance when they return home.
Did Martland do the right thing? I guess that's a question that we all have to answer independently. He made the decision that aligned with his morals, and most likely saved more than one life on the day he acted -- his own as well as the child's. Not acting may have placed Martland at a higher risk for suicide later on, and we already know that the risk of veteran suicide is far higher than that for civilians. Martland is, by all accounts aside from this instance, a model soldier who has earned the praise of his commanders both before and after this incident. I'd say that not only is it morally questionable to suggest that he should have ignored the situation and allowed the rape to continue, but it's also irresponsible considering the amount of damage doing so would have done to his psyche. I don't believe we should be doing anything to increase the risk of veteran suicide, and forcing others in Martland's situation to simply "ignore" the situation is doing exactly that.
References:
Bartzak, PJ. (2015). Moral Injury is the Wound: PTSD is the Manifestation. Medsurg Nurs, 24(3).
Blumenthal, D. (2015). Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War by Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini, Beacon Press, 2012 (ISBN 978-0-8070-2907-7), xxvii + 144 pp., hb $24.95.Reviews In Religion & Theology, 22(1), 13-16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/rirt.12436
Currier, J., Holland, J., Drescher, K., & Foy, D. (2013). Initial Psychometric Evaluation of the Moral Injury Questionnaire-Military Version. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 22(1), 54-63. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/cpp.1866
Dombo, E., Gray, C., & Early, B. (2013). The Trauma of Moral Injury: Beyond the Battlefield. Journal Of Religion & Spirituality In Social Work: Social Thought, 32(3), 197-210. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15426432.2013.801732
Gaudet, C., Sowers, K., Nugent, W., & Boriskin, J. (2015). A review of PTSD and shame in military veterans. Journal Of Human Behavior In The Social Environment, 26(1), 56-68. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10911359.2015.1059168
Guntzel, J.S. (2013). Beyond PTSD to "moral injury." Retrieved from http://www.onbeing.org/blog/beyond-ptsd-to-moral-injury/5069.
Kopacz, M. (2014). Moral injury - A war trauma affecting current and former military personnel.International Journal Of Social Psychiatry, 60(7), 722-723. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0020764014547063
Kopacz, M., Simons, K., & Chitaphong, K. (2015). Moral Injury: An Emerging Clinical Construct with Implications for Social Work Education. Journal Of Religion & Spirituality In Social Work: Social Thought, 34(3), 252-264. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15426432.2015.1045681
Litz, B., Stein, N., Delaney, E., Lebowitz, L., Nash, W., Silva, C., & Maguen, S. (2009). Moral injury and moral repair in war veterans: A preliminary model and intervention strategy. Clinical Psychology Review, 29(8), 695-706. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2009.07.003
Nash, W., & Litz, B. (2013). Moral Injury: A Mechanism for War-Related Psychological Trauma in Military Family Members. Clinical Child And Family Psychology Review, 16(4), 365-375. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10567-013-0146-y
[1] Guntzel, J.S. (2013). Beyond PTSD to "moral injury."
[2] Litz, B., Stein, N., Delaney, E., Lebowitz, L., Nash, W., Silva, C., & Maguen, S. (2009). Moral injury and moral repair in war veterans: A preliminary model and intervention strategy.
[3] Currier, J., Holland, J., Drescher, K., & Foy, D. (2013). Initial Psychometric Evaluation of the Moral Injury Questionnaire-Military Version.
[4] Kopacz, M., Simons, K., & Chitaphong, K. (2015). Moral Injury: An Emerging Clinical Construct with Implications for Social Work Education.
[5] Currier, J., Holland, J., Drescher, K., & Foy, D. (2013). Initial Psychometric Evaluation of the Moral Injury Questionnaire-Military Version.
[6] Bartzak, PJ. (2015). Moral Injury is the Wound: PTSD is the Manifestation
[7] Gaudet, C., Sowers, K., Nugent, W., & Boriskin, J. (2015). A review of PTSD and shame in military veterans.
[8] Currier, J., Holland, J., Drescher, K., & Foy, D. (2013). Initial Psychometric Evaluation of the Moral Injury Questionnaire-Military Version

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___________________If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline or 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

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