Book Review: What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars by David Wood

I kind of had an idea of what to expect from this book just from reading the title and I was not wrong.  Perhaps I am not the person to critically review a work of this type as I knew from the introduction on that I would disagree with most of the premises in the book.

But first as always, the stats.  What Have We Done is 272 pages of text separated into 15 chapters and a prologue. The chapters are topical and cover different aspects of the moral injury the author is claiming most, if not all, soldiers suffer in combat.

Before I get into my issues with the book let me state where I am coming from.  Readers of this blog may know some of this already as it is partially on my about me page.  I was a career combat arms soldier in the US Army who spent the majority of my career in Divisional heavy cavalry units to include two combat deployments.  My own personal experience of combat and the moral ambiguities of fighting in our nation’s current wars color my review of this work extensively.

My objections, of which there are a couple.

  1. I object to the whole notion of moral injury to begin with.  If you read the definition of moral injury, it is describing an attack on conscience.  Here is the definition of moral injury from the DSM – oh wait, I can’t give that to you because the APA has not yet defined it but as an alternative here is the definition from the Moral Injury Project at Syracuse University “Moral injury is the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person perpetrates, witnesses, or fails to prevent acts that transgress their own moral and ethical values or codes of conduct.”  Now if that definition doesn’t sound like some kind of catch all for a bad conscience I don’t know what is.  I find the definition total garbage and at best a transparent attempt to actually convince people that they have done something wrong when they have not and to profit from that.
  2. I have issues with the author.  He is a war correspondent, a long serving war correspondent but nonetheless a war correspondent, that is a different animal entirely from being a combat soldier.  This line from his bio on his personal page tells me all I need to know – “Mr. Wood was raised as a pacifist and in 1968 completed two years of civilian service in lieu of military duty.”  That tells me that Mr. Wood, for all of his experience looks at war from a different perspective than the average combat soldier and I wonder if he really gets it as much as he thinks he does.

The balance of the book is a series of lugubrious tales of soldiers and marines bemoaning their fate and questioning themselves and their self-worth because of the things they have done.  At best it is depressing to read about people who did their duty and have been convinced that in the doing of their duty they compromised themselves morally.  My own opinion is that the people at fault here are those doing the convincing.

I cannot in good conscience recommend this book to anybody, veteran or otherwise.  This book is at best another in the long series of sideways attacks on the military and anyone else who does not hew to the pacifist mantra espoused by the Code Pinks and other anti-war types who benefit from the freedoms provided by those they denigrate and undermine at every turn.

I was not going to include a sales link to the book but here it is and perhaps someone else will read it and then come back here and leave a comment explaining where I am incorrect in my assessment.