Recent Standoff Involving Veteran

[Originally posted on the Quaker House blog by me, cross-posted here.]

A tragic standoff with police and death of the barricaded individual occurred a few days ago in North Carolina. More details were released in a Fayetteville Observer article, today.

A few things stand out in the article:

  • The veteran who barricaded himself and shot at police, Kevin Battaglia, was described as a “good soldier who lost his way after he left the Army” and that “his demons were catching up to him.”
  • He was apparently diagnosed with PTSD and was frustrated by his experience with the VA Hospital.
  • “He turned to an extreme grasp of faith to where that was the only thing he was concerned with.”
  • Photographs he posted showed “a Bible on top of a bulletproof vest and an American flag draped on the rifle.”

Was Kevin Battaglia suffering from moral injury in addition to or rather than PTSD? They have overlapping symptoms, and his turn to religion may have been an attempt to deal with any moral injury components.

The photos highlight a concerning trend — the militarization and patriotism/nationalism-alignment of religion that we sometimes see. We are quick to notice when it happens in non-Christian religions, but do we recognize this in Christian expressions of religion?

Regardless, a “good soldier,” (ie, I imagine a good person, who was also described as intelligent) suffered mental anguish and eventually died a tragic death that appears to have had components of suicide-by-cop. Our soldiers–our family members and friends–are being wounded by their experiences of war. Sometimes these wounds are invisible, but terribly deep and exacting.

Can we work toward peace? Can we do more to help veterans when they return?

One of his friends is mentioned as having reached out to Kevin recently. His friend also regrets not having done more. We thank him for reaching out to Kevin, and our hearts go out to him and all the friends and family who are now left with wounds of their own to heal.

 

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Legion: For We Are Many

moral injury in sacred texts

Moral injury is one of the priorities of Quaker House, and I have also always had a fascination with sacred texts. So, when Exploring Moral Injury in Sacred Texts, edited by Joseph McDonald and forward written by Rita Nakashima Brock, was published, I was immediately drawn to it.

The book is a compilation of essays written from various perspectives – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and civil. Some of the essays resonated more with me than others, but that is generally to be expected in such a work.

Remember the man who lived among the tombs, who gave his name as Legion? Michael Yandell offers a unique but coherent treatment of this story. He correlates the plight of the man living among the tombs to moral injury that stemmed from military experiences and from shouldering the burden of the entire army by his own self-identity. When the man approaches Jesus, he is both seeking out a representative of his victims and also interacting with a benevolent religious figure. Finally, this man, now relieved of some of his inner anguish, is given work to do within his community to continue the process of healing and reintegration.

my name is Legion, for we are many

My reaction to the essay written from a civil perspective was interesting. I initially recoiled at the term civil religion, even though this is not a new term. If sacred texts are supposed to have some hint of the divine within them, perhaps imperfectly diffused and captured, then equating civil texts with the sacred can feel like an affront. But, Daniel C. Maguire makes a powerful case for the similarities. His essay explains the resulting power of national fervor and patriotism and also clarifies a troubling result: Our culture is so overwhelming patriotic that thoroughly questioning the morality of a specific (or all) military action (that will result in death and destruction) is immediately at odds with this national moral code of sacred patriotism and its portrayal of honor. He refers to this phenomenon as a shifting of the burden of proof.

Additional essays I found particularly interesting were:

  • “Division of Spoils after Battle” by Brad E. Kelle, mainly for highlighting the community’s responsibility in sending soldiers into battle.
  • An essay discussing our sacrificial language and imagery by Kelly Denton-Borhaug, including recent literary examples capturing its effect on returning soldiers and on the communities who remain at home.
  • “Peter and Judas: Moral Injury and Repair” [or failure of repair in the case of Judas] by Warren Carter. This is an excellent contrast of outcomes.
  • The story of Aṅgulimāla as told by John M. Thompson, mainly for contrasting the Buddhist focus on “how to respond?” with the Western question of “what is just?”.

“We might look at the parades and celebrations, the tributes and ceremonies, the media frenzies and political scandals surrounding the US military as shackles and chains*–strategies to avoid confronting the trauma of war as a collective community while placing the burden of guilt regarding war on a few individuals. Mercy, healing, and movement toward the divine occur when these strategies are abandoned, when the aggressor [can]** speak the truth of his or her experience and the community is compelled to listen.”

Michael Yandell, “‘Do Not Torment Me’: The Morally Injured Gerasene Demoniac,” in Exploring Injury in Sacred Texts, ed. Joseph McDonald (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers), 148.

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* The community had attempted to bind the man who lived among the tombs, called Legion, with shackles and chains to keep him from hurting himself.

**I changed the wording here. The original says “. . . when the aggressor is compelled to speak . . .”