Josh Morris privileges the voices of veterans to argue that returning soldiers need families, friends, and religious communities to listen to their stories with compassion to avoid amplifying the effects of moral injury. When society greets returning soldiers in ways that reinforce cultural norms that frame military service as heroic, rather than acknowledging its ambiguities and harmful effects, it exacerbates moral injury and keeps veterans from resolving inner conflicts and coping effectively with civilian life.
Morris, a military chaplain and veteran who served in Afghanistan, knows these difficulties first hand. Using stories from other veterans, Morris helps us see how cultural assumptions about military service can complicate moral injury and a veteran's return home. Drawing from liberation theologies, ideology critique, and Antonio Gramsci's advocacy for the working class, the book suggests useful perspectives and spiritual care resources for military chaplains, religious leaders, caregivers, and concerned civilians. Morris argues that military chaplains are uniquely positioned to help returning soldiers resist the amplification of existing moral injury. Moving from “thank you for your service” to liberative solidarity can galvanize resistance and make change possible.
Joshua T. Morris, Ph.D. is a bivocational scholar-practitioner who serves as a pediatric staff chaplain and also as a chaplain in the United States Army Reserve.
1. Are We Still Over There?
2. From Disorder to Injury: Mapping the Terrain(s)
3. Hermeneutical Circles and Liberative Praxis
4. The Reification of the Veteran: Kaleidoscopic Lived Experiences
5. The Centrality of Community in Moral Injury Support: Theological and Cultural Studies Analysis
6. Oppositional Forces: Toward a Counterhegemonic Paradigm for Spiritual Care
Appendix: Note on Research Design
Echoing Frantz Fanon and with characteristic boots on the ground, Morris identifies and critically examines the systemic ideological realities that exacerbate moral injury or interfere with its healing. He argues for creating counterhegemonic spaces of compassionate solidarity and recovery for those who suffer from moral injury. Anyone who cares for and seeks to be in solidarity with persons struggling from the traumas of war will want to read this book.
When soldiers return from war, civilian attitudes can amplify and complicate moral injury. In this much-needed text, Morris engages veteran’s stories of belonging, isolation, and betrayal to show how moral injury can provide wisdom and authority to help reintegrate returning soldiers. Using the film American Sniper to illustrate ideologies about war that harm veterans, Morris invites military chaplains and civilian caregivers to lead the ideological critique that can create the conditions veterans need to recover from moral injury. His liturgy of solidarity shows how to create the counter-hegemonic communities that help veterans come home and thrive.
Morris focuses on the unique role of chaplains and theologians able to “critique the dominant ideologies of American military service to cocreate counterhegemonic spaces” for meaning making with service members experiencing moral struggles. The voices of veterans Morris interviewed compellingly call readers into solidarity with them, in a process of reintegration that uses cultural critique to explore their moral struggles as sources of wisdom. This brilliant and pre-eminently practical book demonstrates the central role of chaplains in the urgent work of spiritual care of military moral injury.
Morris’s book offers an important and unique contribution to the new wave of moral injury scholarship developed in the last decade. Its approach is refreshing as it engages the moral injury of war holistically, bypassing the tendency of many scholars to see it mainly as a clinical or pastoral issue, and as such a problem of the individual. This book strives to engage moral injury though an interdisciplinary approach the honors the complexity of the issue and sees it as a collective problem that needs collective healing and liberation. One of the unique contributions of the author is to consider the figure of the military chaplain as a Gramscian organic intellectual. Morris sees the chaplain as a Gramscian organic intellectual accompanying individual solders in their healing processes while also engaging in the larger project of justice making and liberation that can truly heal the scars of war. I highly recommend this book that offers a much needed path to collective healing that is also truly liberating.
Chaplain Morris proposes valuable strategies for disrupting prevailing, uncritical, and individualized interpretations of veterans’ morally injurious experiences in order to help military and VA chaplains better address the distorting effects of unacknowledged ideological assumptions about war and military service that complicate healing for veterans and inhibit needed critical reflection in public life.
Will we hear the voices of the morally injured? The moral responsibility of war-making is too often scapegoated to military service members, passing over the bystander civilian society whose votes and tax dollars funded the enterprise. When Morris empowers the voice of military veterans, he does so as a necessary demand for a full and relenting hearing of the truth: the moral burden must be shared by all.
The church has long debated war in general and the terms for a 'just' war. Recently there has been a growing interest in the moral injury of soldiers and the responsibility of both the Church and the State for them. In Moral Injury Among Returning Veterans, Morris advances the conversation by harnessing the ambiguity of military Chaplaincy for theological profundity and ecclesiological clarity. Weaving together his own experience and the testimonies of those he served in Afghanistan with a liberationist reading of Bonhoeffer, Morris invites and challenges the reader with a vision of a counter-hegemonic community. In this text, Morris reveals himself as a trusted guide to process our own failures as a church, a nation, and an academy. I am deeply grateful for this powerful text.
Homebrewed Christianity episode on the book release and 9/11