Feature

Editor's letter: War trauma at home

In Texas last week, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who survived four combat tours, two bullet wounds, and six IED explosions in Iraq became another casualty of war.

Navy SEAL Chris Kyle survived four combat tours, two bullet wounds, and six IED explosions in Iraq, where his sharpshooting skills made him a legend. But home in Texas last week, Kyle became another casualty of war. Iraq vet Eddie Ray Routh, whom Kyle had been helping cope with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, allegedly shot Kyle and another man to death (see The U.S. at a glance). Routh’s family and neighbors say he’d been unraveling since he returned from Iraq; he recently told authorities that his family “does not understand what he has been through.” 

Two years after the last U.S. soldier left Iraq, we have only begun the debate over whether the war was “worth it.” That argument was a subtext of last week’s Senate hearing on Chuck Hagel’s fitness to serve as defense secretary (see Controversy of the week). In truth, history will require many years to make a full cost-benefit analysis of the U.S.’s invasion and long, bloody occupation. But the costs did not end with the 4,487 Americans killed, the 32,223 wounded, the $1 trillion spent, and the more than 100,000 Iraqis killed. About 228,800 Iraq and Afghanistan vets have been officially diagnosed with PTSD, and another 100,000 are estimated to have the disorder. Only rarely do these invisibly wounded soldiers act violently; most wrestle privately with their demons, drink, rage at family members, unravel. “Moral injury,” clinicians are now calling the root of their anguish: a haunting feeling of shame and guilt for witnessing, and participating in, so much death and horror. When calculating whether the next war is worth it, let’s not forget what we’ve learned of war’s consequences, including what it does to the casualties who come home. 

William Falk

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