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A chaplain’s reflection on the price of war

  • Published
  • By Chaplain, Col. Daniel Karanja
  • 16th Air Force (Air Forces Cyber)
Since the recent events in Afghanistan I have been in dialogue with my wingmen and families about how events like 9/11 and how the events that occurred in Afghanistan affect our Airmen, veterans, and civilians.
Like most veterans, I have closely followed commentary from our senior military leaders who also have personal experiences in Afghanistan. Collectively, their messages urge us to check on one another because the aftermath of Afghanistan and the remembrance of 9/11 are painful to witness, due in part to our past deployment experiences in these locations and other locations around the globe. To gain further understanding of the pain associated with these events, I offer these three thoughts:
1. Our strong emotions and diverse opinions about what is happening emanate from a deeply personal and sincerely held belief and commitment to our oath of office, Airman’s Creed and our Air Force Core Values.
2. Our strong emotions and diverse opinions about Afghanistan and other locations possibly originate from what is historically known as the principles of the just war tradition attributed to Greek and Roman classical thinkers and early theologians like Thomas Aquinas and Augustine. There are generally seven principles that attempt to explain why and how wars are waged. These are: a just cause, declared by lawful authority, right intention, reasonable chance of success, last resort, differentiating between civilians and combatants and the proportional use of force.
While there is space for much debate about these seven principles, they provide a reasonable outline that can help us in our dialogue about the current events in Afghanistan and historical, yet painful events like 9/11. There is opportunity and space to agree and disagree about the why and how, however, our deployment experiences are legitimate and not open for much debate.  We can agree that the price of war is high. Military members who have fought in this war and and those who sacrificed their lives on September 11, 2001, did so in order to protect the common good of innocent people, their sacrifice was priceless.
Military women and men are people of good will who give everything they have to protect fellow humans that they have never met before and will probably not meet again after their redeployment. This kind of service and sacrifice to humanity matters and is not lost despite what we are witnessing unfold in Afghanistan.
Memories of Ramp Ceremonies and memorial ceremonies are fresh in our minds and our hearts as we honored those in our formations who paid the ultimate sacrifice. These memories touch a low nerve only known to those who have stood in these formations. In the coming days and weeks ahead, let’s gift each other with the gift of unconditional presence and deep listening.
3. As we reflect on our values, the just war tradition, let’s also talk about moral injury. While this is a fairly “new terminology,” the experience among military members is not new. According to Brett T. Litz (National Center for PTSD, VA Boston, Mass.) and others, moral wounding happens when one feels like she or he “failed to prevent an evil” from happening or “bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs.”
Our hurt is stoked by the fact that we care deeply about what is happening. Our cohesion and shared sense of mission demands that we make time to talk and reflect about these current events including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Our dialogue could also include our sense of personal moral violation among other concerns we are bearing witness to.
This is a route and a journey familiar to us and together we can re-group and support one another moving forward, one step at a time!  We have protected others, we have fulfilled our calling and now it’s time to deeply listen to one another. Please call your 16th Air Force (Air Forces Cyber) Chaplain’s and the Surgeon General’s Office at 210-977-2014.