Being An American Today Means Living with “Moral Injury”
On Wednesday the manager of the San Francisco Giant’s baseball team, Gabe Kapler spoke of his participation in the pre-game National Anthem ritual, and his subsequent decision not to participate.
“I knew that I was not in my best place mentally and I knew it was in connection with some of the hypocrisies of the national anthem and how it coincided with the moment of silence [for the Uvalde victims] and how the two things didn’t sync up well for me, but I couldn’t make sense of it in real time and it took me a couple of days to pull all my thoughts together.”
That sounds to me like a person struggling with what we have learned to call “moral injury.” I don’t think Kapler is alone.
“Moral injury” is a concept that comes from the military. It is what happens to a person who is complicit in actions that violate their moral compass, their sense of right and wrong and of fundamental human decency. Say a soldier is ordered to do something that they know to be wrong, like shoot a civilian or a child, or maybe they witness fellow soldiers take such actions. Moral injury is the sense of guilt, shame and betrayal that leaves them disquieted, disturbed, even traumatized.
The Wikipedia site on “moral injury” includes the following: “. . . Moral injury is a normal human response to an abnormal traumatic event. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the concept is used in literature with regard to the mental health of military veterans who have witnessed or perpetrated an act in combat that transgressed their deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”
I suspect that every one of us in this country, who is not in deep denial or self-medicating like hell, is experiencing “moral injury.” We live in a nation that is allowing things that violate our fundamental moral compass, our sense of right and wrong, namely the slaughter of children in our public schools or the murder of ordinary people in grocery stores, at outdoor concerts, or in churches. Each horror is followed by inaction, nothing is done to address the situation. Worse we are told that nothing can be done.
Living in a democracy we are all implicated when these things happen. We can’t simply excuse ourselves.
And yet we have little recourse or way to change things, other than how we with our vote. In the meantime, public polls overwhelming supporting gun control measures seem to have no effect on many, not all, of those in office. They simply wait for it all to die down.
Meanwhile, we the people, are living with the effects of “moral injury,” which include disorientation, confusion, anger, grief, guilt, shame and isolation. We are beside ourselves. This is, to repeat, a “normal human response.” It is not that something is wrong with us when we have these feelings. Something is wrong with a country that allows this, even seemingly condoning it.
Oh sure, some politicians piously proclaim their grief and concern. Even Donald Trump read off the names of the dead children at the NRA Convention. Ted Cruz says the problem is that school’s have too many doors. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says we need to “harden these targets.” Arm the teachers, have the students wear bullet proof vests.
No! That is all so wrong, and we know it and so we try to make sense of things while living in a fog of moral injury.
A baseball manager, for goodness sake, gives words to what we’re all feeling . . .
“Every time I place my hand over my heart and remove my hat, I’m participating in glorification of the only country where these mass shootings take place. On Wednesday, I walked out onto the field, I listened to the announcement as we honored the victims in Uvalde. I bowed my head. Metallica riffed on City Connect guitars. My brain said drop to a knee; my body didn’t listen. I wanted to walk back inside; instead I froze. I felt like a coward. I didn’t want to call attention to myself. I didn’t want to take away from the victims or their families . . .
“But I am not OK with the state of this country. I wish I hadn’t let my discomfort compromise my integrity. I wish that I could have demonstrated what I learned from my dad, that when you’re dissatisfied with your country, you let it be known through protest.”
To me Kapler puts words to our shared “moral injury.” To the mix of sadness, anger, disorientation and despair that many citizens of this country are experiencing now — the experience of finding ourselves having “witnessed or perpetuated an act . . . that transgressed our deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”
To be clear, such a response is good not bad. It is a “normal human response.” To not respond this way is to be so deep in denial, whether numbed by ideology or self-medication or self-deception, as to be effectively dead.
Kapler will no doubt pay for his decency, his humanity. I am sure that, even now, he is under attack on social media. Some fans will probably boo or taunt him. Who knows maybe professional baseball will censure him or fine him? But none of them makes him wrong. He embodies the spiritual struggle, the moral injury, of being an American today.
“I am not OK with the state of this country,” said Gabe Kapler. I hope that none of us are.