War Ethics & Trauma of Soldiers: Commonest Global Issues

While there may be strong arguments toward justifying the war under certain circumstances, no argument can be raised that war experiences are diverse and exceedingly traumatic. They can bring appalling psychological effects to war veterans that could leave invisible battle scars that take longer time to heal than actual wounds. The proven negative impact of war would always challenge it from the ethical perspective, as to how humans can engage themselves into war in spite of being aware of the imminent loss of human and material resource.

Thus there should be a sharp focus against its huge magnitude of casualties, and especially its far-reaching negative impacts like “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly known as PTSD, on the soldiers who take part in it. This is one of the outcomes of war amply substantiated by the psychologists. A study conduced as early as in 1946 highlights the fact that “when the front-line soldiers were trapped in continuous combat situations for 60 or more consecutive days and nights, 98 percent became psychiatric casualties to one degree or another” (Drury, 2008).

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This example shows how the trauma of war shadows the war veterans for the rest of their lives. Therefore, this paper explores the various negative psychological motivations behind humans’ interest in engaging in war and the psychological effects brought about by war to soldiers, as well as ethical considerations on the act of going to war, before reaching its own conclusion regarding the justification of waging a war. Psychologists’ Views on War and Trauma According to the psychologists, war stems out of deep-rooted social problems. Dr. Dave Grossman and Bruce K.

Siddle acknowledge that “good ends have been and will continue to be accomplished through combat”, yet never forget to mention that “Our psychological and societal inability to confront the truth about the effects of combat is the foundation for the cultural conspiracy of repression, a deception and denial that has helped to perpetuate and propagate war throughout recorded history” (Grossman ; Siddle, 2000). This double-edge situation is perhaps the greatest paradox of civilization, where groups of humans would rage war against one another to establish or defend causes that are important to the respective groups.

Many democracies owe their very existence to successful combat”, says Dr. Grossman, while citing the example of the combats against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II to justify the need of war. This certainly indicates that the value proposition of a war should be determined by the universally accepted preconditions of human rights and not by the paradigm like “good for the greater number of people” – which might outstrip the established ethical norms of human behavior in the event of a large country attacking a small country for the sake of good for the large number of people!

For the trauma part, however, there is not even an iota of doubt in the minds of the experts, as its tremendous impact is substantiated by the findings of numerous research and investigation, covering both physiological and psychological aspects related to it. While Dr. Grossman suggest to understand the “impact of parasympathetic nervous system backlash that occurs as a result of the demands placed on it system” where the demand forces the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to gather and discharge all of its energies towards that demand (Grossman & Siddle, 2000).

It is understood that this state of affairs would drain all energies towards an external cause and leave the body and mind incapable of performing the rudimentary physiological or mental tasks. This explains the plight of the soldiers at war who continuously receive such assaults on their nervous systems for long period of time and eventually turn ‘living ghosts’ with the backlash effect of war, even when away from it.

Such sordid state of affairs evokes the mind to explore about the basic elements of human desire that propel them to involve in a war. Lawrence LeShan, noted psychologist and author, lists the motivating factors behind wars after decades of investigation: 1. Displacement of aggression. 2. Projection of self-doubts and self-hatred. 3. Lack of meaning and purpose in life. 4. A need for greater belonging to a group (LeShan, 1992). Understandably, LeShan’s listing identifies certain elements of human behavior, which are inherent in its nature.

The first element of the list, displacement of aggression, points at the natural human urge to give vent to pent up emotions in them – where in the case of war it gets fuelled by external conditions, where it eventually blurs the perception about better and greater life, acquired in peaceful time. Instead, it takes war as the best avenue to “release the tension and stress on others, while achieving a sense of solidarity and unity within one group” (LeShan, 1992). The elements occupying the second spot of the list is somewhat self-explicit – as they are widely known as inherent components of human behavior.

However, it is their odd manifestation that turns into a potential driver of war. Lack of meaning and purpose, the third in the list, however, indicates at both the external and internal ambience of humans, where one of them might work over the other to influence the person to seek a purpose of life by engaging in a war – this trait of humans is acknowledged through folklores or even mythologies, where the heroes would tame the evil and achieve peace and prosperity for his group.

It is because of that sense of belonging to a group, LeShan added group sentiment in his list, where several factors ranging from protected living to expanding the base of group can motivate humans to engage in a war. According to LeShan it happens due to the “startling differences in the ways humans perceive reality during wartime compared to peacetime” (LeShan, 2003), where even the basic understanding of evil boils down to earmark the opponent group, the spiritual lessons get tweaked as a tool for motivation (example: “God is with us”) and the aspirations of better future get embedded with the will to win the battle.

Ethical Perspective Thus, understanding LeShan’s academic and psychological explanation of humans’ predilection towards war, it appears that war is an inevitable part of human life, it being an essential part of his existence. Humans have needs, and war serves an important role in meeting those needs. War may cause negative effects on many people, but it serves a great purpose in maintaining the sanity of human beings who would otherwise get overly stressed in the absence of an alternate object on which his anxiety and frustration can be thrown.

However, hundreds of years of history and recent documented studies show that war may not be justified after all. While there are numerous theories as to the needs that humans must satisfy through engaging in war, these theories greatly depend on conjectures and assumptions about the human psyche rather than actual evidence and figures. On the other hand, data gathered from actual human experience, especially those coming from recently waged wars, such as that against Iraq, support the more plausible theory that war causes more damage than good to humans.

Indeed, rather than appearing satisfied, soldiers who served during war and those who actually experienced being caught in war appear lost and traumatized. This state of reality proves that war is unethical, under any circumstance. Theory vs Modern Situation However, it is the collective needs and the desires that somewhat justify the human predilection towards war, where it serves some of the individual desires too – like paving the way of releasing stress and strain or to achieving glory.

Yet, how far it would be justified to entertain primitive ‘hunting’ or ‘surviving’ instincts of humans in modern times remains fairly debatable, especially in the wake of changing human psyche after years of refinement. This is evident from the studied attitude of the soldiers or even the people of the nations involving in a war. The tearful accounts of the soldiers who returned from the front, reports on their hapless post-war conditions, the instances of protests of the citizens of the nations involving in a war – all point towards one single fact that there is an active undercurrent against the war.

During World War II, 504,000 men were lost from America’s combat forces due to psychiatric collapse – enough to man 50 divisions”, writes Dr. Grossman, further adding that “The United States had to classify 800,000 men unfit for military service due to psychiatric reasons” (Grossman ; Siddle, 2000). These facts clearly show that the decision to go for a war in modern times does not necessarily align with the will of the soldiers, or for that matter, the attitude of the soldiers doesn’t align with the elements listed by LeShan.

There is another important angle that adds dimension to the discussion, is the changed nature of war – with rapid development in technology, modern wars are far more lethal than before, and thus are capable of leaving deeper scars on civilization. Perhaps this huge, demonic face of war is gradually contributing to the repulsive sentiments of humans – recent protests on Iraq war or the soldiers’ dreadful accounts of it corroborate this assumption. The discussion on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder didn’t get so much attention as it is getting today.

Rise of PTSD It is the huge rise of PTSD among American soldiers participated in Iraq war has brought back the age old debate on the utility value of a war – the ultimate gain of the civilization at the expense of huge material and human resources. Posttraumatic stress disorder as a whole is an emotional illness that stems out of prolonged period of life-threatening experience, where its victim becomes very sensitive to normal life and consequently avoids the normal life experiences.

This acute state of depression was earlier known as “battle fatigue”. If left untreated, PTSD can have devastating effect on its victims and consequently affect the person’s normal functioning. It brings a person on the brink of personality disorder and many of its victims reported to have succumbed to mental illness later (Edwards, 1996). Real-life Instance One real-life instance would elucidate the severity of the PTSD, where Sgt. Edwards thrashed his wife, Sgt. Erin a few months after both of them returned from separate missions in Iraq.

That spurt of violence in Edwards forced his wife to take all precautions against further assault, yet the sergeant outwitted all that to shoot her point-blank outside of her house, before killing himself (Alvarez ; Sontag, 2008). Exposure Therapy: Is it Adequate? To save the war veterans from such a perilous condition, medical science has developed new techniques where it utilizes virtual reality, which virtually reenacts the war scenes with appropriate visuals and sounds. By repeatedly encountering sights, sounds, smells and rumblings that evokes painful memories”, writes Amanda Shaffer in her article, “veterans with the disorder can begin to reprocess traumatic events and become desensitized to them”. (Schaffer, 2007). However, this kind of treatment, known as “exposure therapy, involves many risks, like the victim becoming re-traumatized or developing other problems like insomnia or irritation. Some experts don’t count it as an adequate measure to treat war veterans mostly because of the complexity of PTSD.

Overall, any comprehensive solution for PTSD is yet to arrive and that brings back the basic question again, how can the pitiful plight of soldiers be blanketed by the slogans like ‘war for social justice’? Ideal Role of Government and Other Organizations Therefore it is about time the governments and the independent bodies like United Nations focus more on preventing the war situations. The law keepers across the globe should turn their attention on the ethical parameters of war and envision the magnitude of the possible loss of human and material resources.

Let there be a cohesive and cogent effort to imbibe a simple idea to all nations that overall social responsibility of an individual goes beyond the restriction of a chosen group or country and includes all as its beneficiary. In addition to the above issues, there are also certain ethical considerations that should be given attention when one decides to engage in war. For one, the definitive question in all wars would be whether the goal of each side justifies the number of lives that would be lost in the fight. In addition, there is also the matter of responsibility.

A man has responsibilities to different people, namely, to himself, to his superiors, to his subordinates, and to the people in general, including the people at the other side of the battles (Walzer, 2004). Indeed, a soldier can feel personally responsible for every person whose lives may be affected by the war. Every person participating in war, whether he occupies a position in the higher echelons of the government or in the lower rungs of the military hierarchy, battles with his perceptions of what is wrong and what is right in the given situation.

His own beliefs on the dictates of both natural and man-made law, as well as his perception of human rights, would dictate the way he would perceive the morality of his participation in the war (Walzer, 2004). The big moral question in relation to war is whether a soldier owes his responsibility to the people of his county or to all people in general, including citizens of the enemy state (Walzer, 2004). All of these moral considerations are bound to take their toll in the minds of soldiers, and could lead to trauma and various psychological disorders.

The Manipulative Behavioral Training: Breeding Ground of PTSD? Towing the old adage of “there is nothing unfair between love and war”, the history of warfare is packed with die-hard attempts of armies towards achieving the competitive advantage over their opponents and this job is basically done by manipulating the behavioral processes of the soldiers, where they are taught to defy the call of conscience and only rely on commands (Murray et al. , 2000).

One can hardly be blamed if one sees this process of manipulative training as the breeding ground of PTSD. Thus, by all practicality, neither there is any chance of ceasefire, nor there is any escape for the soldiers from traumatic experience or its long-term negative effect. Real Solutions for a Safer World There is no denying to the fact that there are many peacekeeping forces across the globe are working in tandem to diffuse the tendency of engaging in a war.

In such endeavor of theirs the following points come to the fore as factors favoring a safer world: 1. Strengthening the force of law, not the law of force. 2. Abolishment of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. 3. Stopping the arms trade and military training programs. 4. Fostering good will by increasing global trade and cultural exchange (Real, 2008). However, such ideas still look like a distant dream amid the ambience of hostility among nations and the ongoing terrorism across the globe.

Conclusion Irrespective of all justifications that support war, it is not at all justified, as the cumulative loss in its process would always surpass any estimated gain out of it. The instances of tremendous negative impact of war on the soldiers and the observation that there is little chance of preventing war, or establishing ethics in it, together demand immediate attention on two subjects – one, raising global campaign towards establishing war ethics and two, arranging quality treatment for the war veterans.

War should comply with time-tested rules agreed upon by different states to prevent the commission of crimes that go beyond the dictates of humanity. The degree of violence exerted must be commensurate to the threat imposed and the objective desired. On the other hand, there must be sufficient treatment programs for war veterans who would experience severe trauma after the war.