slays_hector

Shay, author of “Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character” (Simon & Schuster, 1995), sees moral injury in combat as an issue dating back at least to Homer’s Iliad, the epic poem about the siege of Troy that’s dated to around the eighth century B.C. The poem opens with the commander of the Greek army, Agamemnon, taking a captive woman, Briseis, from the warrior Achilles. Achilles, offended by this betrayal of “what’s right” in Greek military culture, refuses to fight. He withdraws from all but his close companion, Patroclus — until Patroclus is killed and Achilles goes mad with grief, killing Patroclus’ killer Hector and desecrating the corpse.

Achilles’ berserker rage echoes the experiences of the Vietnam War veterans. Shay worked with for 20 years at a Boston VA outpatient clinic. Many saw their ideals crumble in combat. One soldier whose story is retold in “Achilles in Vietnam” describes watching for hours as suspected Vietcong unloaded boats in the South China Sea. Finally, he and his comrades got the order to shoot. They unloaded their weapons into the boats. When daylight came, they learned they’d killed a group of fishermen and children.

To add to the horror, the military leadership assured the soldiers that everything was fine — and then gave them awards for their valor. Shay’s patient got a Combat Infantryman Badge for his participation, an award that is supposed to mark a soldier’s experience of ground combat. The betrayal of getting kudos for killing civilians shook the soldier to his core. –How Old Is PTSD? by Stephanie Pappas

Fiction Writing Prompt: Write a story where the protagonist suffers a moral injury.

Journaling Prompt: How do you react when you learn that you’ve been tricked into doing something you abhor?

Art Prompt: Moral injury

Non-Fiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience about the history of PTSD through the ages.

Photo Credit: Achilles Slays Hector by Peter Paul Rubens on Wikimedia

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