OK, I’ve been absent from this blog for awhile. The last couple of months have been intense as I started two new jobs. In January I began serving as a part-time chaplain in a shelter for veterans. In February I began serving the First Congregational Church of Dalton as its part-time interim pastor.
Starting two new jobs was intense, but I think things have settled down and I can get my bearings again.
As part of my work with the veterans, I preside over funerals and memorial services. At the end of January one of the women vets died. We scheduled her memorial service for the end of February. Between the time she died and the service I met with several of the women who knew her.
During my visit with the women, I got two stories. One story was about the woman who died. The other story was each of their lives. No one’s life story was happy, though some of their lives were punctuated with happy moments.
I’m still haunted by one young woman. She had children, but they lived in the Midwest. She talked with them from time to time. But she hadn’t seen them in awhile. I didn’t get into why over a thousand miles separates her from her children, but I do know that substance abuse was a factor.
Also around that time I attended a lecture by Dr. Jonathan Shay on trauma that accompanies soldiers when they come home. Specifically, Dr. Shay talked about moral injury, which comes about after the soldier comes home. We think of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but it is the primary injury, like a bullet piercing an arm. Moral injury is its persistence, like the hemorrhaging of the wound itself. Moral injury comes about from the betrayal of what’s right by someone who holds authority, especially in a high stakes situation.
When we think of the cost of war, we think of the all the costs we spend to send our men and women into battle. They’ll include the combat pay, the weapons, the munitions, the supporting material (like food and medical supplies). If we’re astute we’ll include the transportation to get them to the front and the stuff that the soldiers need to stay in touch with people at home as well as transportation home. We might even factor in the personnel on-the-ready at bases around the world
We miss the costs of war once they get home. We don’t factor in the vets who are homeless or who are substance abusers. We overlook vets who can’t live with their spouses. And if they have children, then they’re growing up in single-parent households. But we don’t count these costs in the balance sheet for our national defense. Their costs become part of the social safety net that we can’t seem to fund adequately at all and some political leaders want to destroy entirely.
War’s costs are enormous. And yet, we can’t count it because we refuse to acknowledge its external costs.
Maybe if we get a true accounting of war, we might as a nation realize the cost of war is really unaffordable. Maybe it will force us to re-imagine our foreign policy Maybe it might fund our social safety net adequately.
Then, maybe I’m dreaming.