Things I am grateful for today

Moral injury: distress related to having violated core moral boundaries.

I am grateful for some things today.  I mean, I’m grateful for something every day–my kid has health insurance; I slept in a warm, dry, safe place last night; I had breakfast this morning.  Not everybody can say all three of those things, and a lot of people can’t say any of them.

Today, though, is a little special: instead of feeling grateful for what is, today I’m feeling grateful for what is not.  Three things in particular:

  1. I am not in a war.  A lot of folks are–Kurdish fighters who did most of the fighting against ISIS for us, and who we then abandoned; Ukrainian soldiers defending their country against their historic enemy, and ours since the end of the Second World War, and why the president of the United States of America would hate them so much, I can’t imagine, beyond the two hours that he spent in a room with Vladimir Putin and then wouldn’t even tell his own cabinet members about.
  2. I am not in the bowels of a guided missile cruiser wishing that I hadn’t dropped out of high school–a place that I have certainly been before, unlike the president of the United States, who participated actively in sports throughout college, and then got out of the draft on the grounds that he was not sufficiently physically fit.
  3.  I am not going to kill myself today.  In contrast, about 20 of my fellow US military veterans will do just that today.  Why?  There isn’t just one reason why anyone kills themselves. (See Thomas Joiner’s excellent book Why people die by suicide for details.  He knows what he’s talking about–an eminent suicidologist, and editor of the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.)  And, veterans share the same risk factors as anyone else.  But, there’s a particular contributor to suicidality in veterans that is not often present in the general population.  It’s called “moral injury.”  Here’s a definition of it, from a paper by H.G. Koenig, N.A. Youssef, and M. Pierce:

Moral injury (MI) involves distress over having transgressed or violated core moral boundaries, accompanied by feelings of guilt, shame, self-condemnation, loss of trust, loss of meaning, and spiritual struggles.

Koenig, Harold G., Nagy A. Youssef, and Michelle Pearce. “Assessment of moral injury in veterans and active duty military personnel with PTSD: a review.” Frontiers in psychiatry 10 (2019).

What I find especially striking about the concept of moral injury is that it has nothing to do what I suspect most people would think was the big cause of guilt in veterans, which is to say: survivor guilt.  Nope–nothing about surviving going on in moral injury.  It’s not about your buddies getting killed–it’s about who you killed.  Moral injury is not about what you experienced– it’s about what you did.  Sociopaths like to kill–nobody else does.  And our military does a good job of screening out sociopaths.

Here’s the original caption of the picture that you see at the top of this post:

American Special Forces worked closely with Kurdish troops to fight the Islamic State in Manbij, Syria, last year. Credit: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times. Headline of the article: Pullback Leaves Green Berets Feeling ‘Ashamed,’ and Kurdish Allies Describing ‘Betrayal’

You certainly don’t have to pull the trigger on someone to suffer moral injury, though.  “Pullback leaves Green Berets feeling ‘ashamed’.”  Do you begin to get a sense for why Trump’s level of support in the military is so low?  The guy has done some deeply un-American stuff, but contributing to the rate of veteran suicide–feel free to tell me if you think I’m stretching too far with this, but it’s a new low, even for a guy so deeply in the gutter.

English notes

Things I am grateful for today is the title of this post.  Some observations about it:

  1. It contains what is known as a bare relative clause: “I am grateful for today.”  The “non-bare” version would be Things that I am grateful for today.  I try to use the non-bare versions, on the theory that I imagine them easier for non-native speakers to process, and I spend far more time speaking with non-native speakers than with native speakers.
  2. Another way to say it would be Things for which I am grateful today.  If that’s easy for anybody to process, I’m not aware of the evidence for it.
  3. Yet another possibility: Things which I am grateful for today.  I don’t know of any situation in which that would be preferred.  Which does not, of course, mean that there aren’t any.
  4. Explain to me again how “English is so much less complicated than other languages”???


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