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AFTERWAR by Nancy Sherman


Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers

by Nancy Sherman

Pub Date: May 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-19-932527-6
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Sherman (Philosophy/Georgetown Univ.; The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers, 2010, etc.) describes the many and varied struggles for inner pace after returning from war.

The author speaks to readers of those veterans with trouble reintegrating with civilian life upon return from the war front and our moral responsibility to bring some measure of understanding and engagement to them. She examines topics that are uncomfortable but undeniable—e.g., “feelings of alienation and disengagement,” “resentment or disappointment or visual dislocation,” and “profound moral dislocation and a consequent slipping of connectedness with family.” Sherman brings into the light the hellish experiences of both men and women in theaters of war, experiences that do not dissipate after leaving. She grasps and presents these vignettes via philosophy and psychology. She calls on a host of thinkers for guidance, including David Hume, Aristotle and Immanuel Kant, noting how “ancient stories, like that of Philoctetes, are our own stories through which to understand betrayal and the possibilities for trust’s renewal.” Sherman offers insightful emotional inquiries into the loss or turning from identity, the loss of dignity, the shame on top of guilt, gender betrayals, the what-ifs and could-haves, shadow feelings, and the overwhelming senses of sadness and futility. The twists and turns into a soldier’s post-traumatic renewal are complicated but essential to follow—e.g., the attachment involved in double transference, in which a familial relationship is mirrored in a professional one and where self-esteem leaks in via “a reciprocal positive moral address of trust and hope.” Readers will learn about the years veterans devote to therapeutic self-empathy and the rekindling of trust, and Sherman successfully invokes sympathy for their causes—even if the language is occasionally academic in nature.

A piercing course in sensitivity training to build a moral community upon re-entry into society. For a similar but more character-driven tale, see Helen Thorpe’s Soldier Girls (2014).