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Public Statements

The Creation of a Commission on Healing the Physical and Psychological Wounds of War

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Unknown

Mr. McDERMOTT. Mr. Speaker, after a painful decade of war, the United States needs to take the time to regain its equilibrium and find peace. Without a formal process for acknowledging the physical and psychological costs of war, our collective trauma can undermine our country for decades.

As Ernest Hemingway wrote:

The killing is necessary, I know, but still the doing of it is very bad for a man, and I think that, after all this is over and we have won the war, there must be a penance of some kind for the cleansing of us all.

War involves staggering amounts of loss and--equally important--of killing. Despite great efforts by our soldiers to protect civilians, an overwhelming majority of casualties in modern war are innocent people. This incurs a deep spiritual and emotional cost to those who witness it and are sometimes responsible for it. Many initiatives exist that provide help for the men and women who have fought, but we must go beyond the policy initiatives. Soldiers returning from war need to share their experiences and unburden their souls.

Our soldiers volunteered to serve their country in war, but they did not volunteer to take over the entire moral burden that comes with it. Our Nation needs to discuss the complicated spiritual and emotional obstacles faced by any society that has waged war. This is not a partisan debate about the rightness or wrongness of war. This is a national effort to take care of our soldiers by publicly sharing some of their burdens. We must be willing to explore the responsibility that comes with asking them to fight.

In preindustrial societies, leaders were intimately involved in war, itself--often with a sword in hand--and religious and spiritual leaders were fully engaged in the aftermath. Rituals and ceremonies decommissioned the fighters and made the entire community conscious of the sacrifice. These processes are missing today, and they remain vitally important. The agony suffered by our veterans is vivid testimony: 22 veterans commit suicide every day while an average of almost one active duty soldier a day took his or her life in 2012. That's higher than in combat. Many other soldiers suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, become addicted to drugs and alcohol, or fall into violence and prison.

If a society fails to address these emotional and moral issues publicly, soldiers and vets will struggle with them privately. Many of them will lose that struggle and leave us all affected by their loss.

The Nation requires concrete ways to address the wounds of the war. We need a national day of solemn ceremonies that acknowledge the costs in lives, trauma, lost limbs, families, a renewed commitment to the social and health issues of veterans, a discussion about national service for young, nonmilitary Americans, and a systematic interaction between combat veterans and civilians.

I worked with Karl Marlantes, who wrote the book ``What It Is Like to Go to War,'' and with Sebastian Junger, who did the documentary called ``Restrepo,'' which was about Afghanistan, in order to create this bill that would address these issues. We propose a commission to examine and articulate the spiritual challenges and to help heal the psychological wounds faced by a Nation emerging from a decade of war.

We call on the President, on the Senate majority and minority leaders, and on the House Speaker and minority leader to appoint a group of distinguished citizens to explore ways to heal this society. The committee should include veterans, spiritual leaders, psychologists, journalists, maybe even a poet. It should strive to reach beyond the politics of war and into the true moral and emotional consequences that violence always incurs. It may be hard for us, but we must do it if we are to remain a humane society.

Some see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things as they never
were. The question we must ask now is: Why can't we do for our soldiers what needs to be done? They need to be taken home and received and understood by the populace for what they went and did for us.


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