International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Trauma and World Literature: Moral Injury

01/01/2019
by Scott Janssen
The challenges for many soldiers returning from war go beyond the potential for PTSD, moral injury, traumatic bereavement and a range of associated risks from increased rates of suicide to a host of physical illnesses. For many, the wounds include a sense of having been betrayed by those they trusted. Though the perpetrators vary—civilian leadership, money-hungry profiteers, uncaring bureaucracies or an unappreciative home front—the one which can rankle most is when soldiers feel betrayed by their commanders.
 
Jonathan Shay traces literary expressions of such betrayal to the ancients. In Homer’s Illiad he sees the rage of Achilles as rooted in the warrior’s perception of having been stabbed in the back by his commanders—a violation of trust, honor codes and fair play that Shay calls a “betrayal of what’s right” (Shay, 1994). In the Odyssey, Shay indicts the duplicitous commander Odysseus for placing his own self-interest ahead of his men and, in the end, leaving every last one of them dead (Shay, 2002).

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