Interesting AP story; see bolded portions:
A veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, former U.S. Marine Capt. Timothy Kudo thinks of himself as a killer – and he carries the guilt every day.
“I can’t forgive myself,” he says. “And the people who can forgive me are dead.”
With American troops at war for more than a decade, there’s been an unprecedented number of studies into war zone psychology and an evolving understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder. Clinicians suspect some troops are suffering from what they call “moral injuries” – wounds from having done something, or failed to stop something, that violates their moral code.
Though there may be some overlap in symptoms, moral injuries aren’t what most people think of as PTSD, the nightmares and flashbacks of terrifying, life-threatening combat events. A moral injury tortures the conscience; symptoms include deep shame, guilt and rage. It’s not a medical problem, and it’s unclear how to treat it, says retired Col. Elspeth Ritchie, former psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general.
Kudo’s remorse stems in part from the 2010 accidental killing of two Afghan teenagers on a motorcycle. His unit was fighting insurgents when the pair approached from a distance and appeared to be shooting as well.
Kudo says what Marines mistook for guns were actually “sticks and bindles, like you’d seen in old cartoons with hobos.” What Marines thought were muzzle flashes were likely glints of light bouncing off the motorcycle’s chrome.
“There’s no day – whether it’s in the shower or whether it’s walking down the street … that I don’t think about things that happened over there,” says Kudo, now a graduate student at New York University.
Troops who express ethical or spiritual problems have long been told to see the chaplain. Chaplains see troops struggling with moral injury “at the micro level, down in the trenches,” says Lt. Col. Jeffrey L. Voyles, licensed counselor and supervisor at the Army chaplain training program in Fort Benning, Georgia. A soldier wrestling with the right or wrong of a particular war zone event might ask: “Do I need to confess this?” Or, Voyles says, a soldier will say he’s “gone past the point of being redeemed, (the point where) God could forgive him” – and he uses language like this:
“I’m a monster.”
“I let somebody down.”
“I didn’t do as much as I could do.”