Combat places individuals in impossible situations and scenarios

By John M. Schluep

When I was a young the measure of a man was determined by several criteria that I sorely lacked:  Courage, decisiveness, physical strength, sex appeal, etc.  The measure of a woman was determined by her ability to attract and care for the men.  (the 1950’s) These cultural characteristics were reinforced in high school athletics, college fraternities, and sororities, and in the military training.  I bring this topic up today because of the recent Golden Globe Awards statement on women’s right to be viewed as people and not as objects by wearing black and the non-remarkable announcements that men in power (and not) have exploited women.

In scripture King David saw Bathsheba and lusted after her, he later had her husband Uriah lead in battle which assured his death so David could take Bathsheba.  The ‘sin’ of David was the abuse of power and authority for his personal agenda.  (Attraction to another is not wrong – your actions are or will be.)  Leadership is here to serve the people.  In every reported instance it was the abuse of power by the men preying on the women (the people).  Pay attention you in authority!


I remember the Jody Calls in the Army as we ran in formation each morning referring to the enemy in terms that were demeaning, dehumanizing, and making them objects rather than people.  In our work at WJH, this is foundational to the Moral Injury.  Soldiers realize, sometimes later in life, that they were responsible for inflicting death and destruction on fellow human beings – men and women, sons and daughters, parents and grandparents – much like us.  I define the Moral Injury in simple terms:  When the noble cause of service is compromised the result is a moral injury.  (Soul wound). 


For many entering the military the taking of a life on purpose or by accident is one of their fears.  Combat places individuals in impossible situations and scenarios.  Recently I spoke with a veteran and said, “Thanks for your service.”  She replied with flat affect, “If you knew what I did, you wouldn’t thank me.”  I asked, “What did you do?”  She replied, “I was an interrogator.  I water-boarded prisoners.”  I spoke to her of the moral injury of which she said, “Funny, my therapist just informed me I have a moral injury.”


Here’s the thing:  In combat, no one has time to think about taking the life of one who is intent on taking your life or the life of your fellow soldier.  One only reacts like Pavlov’s Dog; Operant Conditioning – I was trained (conditioned) in reflexive firing techniques – “point and shoot.”  The thinking comes later.  I didn’t ‘see’ the enemy as a human being; if that were the case I would not be writing this now.  (I am not a combat veteran.  I was an infantry officer serving in combat ready line units.)


So here are the other things:  1) There will come a time when we see the enemy as a fellow human.  2) We will see the enemy as a father, son, husband; daughter, mother, wife; grandchild.  3)  We mistakenly took the life of an innocent non-combatant.  4)  Men see women as objects.  Women see men as objects.


In the Healing Circles we work to see one another as equal – no gender specifics – as all creation as made of the same stuff – there is a divine presence within and without.  A time for recognition, a time for confession, a time for admission, a time for asking for forgiveness, a time to forgive, a time to be forgiven.


When men and women begin to see one another as equals, as souls embodied in feminine or masculine bodies – when we see the Human Race rather than specific races– then we will begin to journey back to true community.  We will be in ‘this’ together and care for one another.  My thoughts from my desk on a cold winter evening.

Listen – Speak – Heal.