What Have We Done:
The Moral Injury
of Our Longest Wars

 

 
In his book What Have We Done, David Wood writes beautifully and harrowingly about the consequences of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With many moving stories about individuals who served in those conflicts, he brings modern warfare to life at a deeply personal level, and also discusses the consequences at a national level, in terms of the ethical fallout for the United States as a whole.

Wood has a keen moral conscience as well as an astute eye for detail and a great ability to tell a story. The individuals he portrays so vividly come to life in this book as three-dimensional human beings. Most importantly, he names what they struggle with most deeply as “moral injury.” An issue that is too rarely discussed, moral injury is one of the primary difficulties that returning veterans have to battle. Distinct from both physical injury and from psychological injury (i.e. PTSD), moral injury occurs when a person violates his or her own conscience and cannot recuperate easily afterward.

The author shows how our military and our society as a whole fail veterans by neglecting to assist in their struggle to heal from the moral injuries that inevitably result when we ask them to act in a way that would be seen as abhorrent were it to take place outside of the theater of war. Wood movingly depicts how men and women sent to the two conflicts in the Middle East have come home crippled by guilt and how we have failed to assist them in healing. Readers will come away thinking about war and returning home from war with an entirely new perspective.

- Helen Thorpe and Alan Taylor
2017 finalist judges

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Excerpt from the book

“Each of us, of course, has experienced at least a twinge of moral regret and sometimes deeper and lasting moral injury. History is marked by immense human calamities and periods of unspeakable moral violation. Yet the moral jeopardy of war, especially in the wars the United States began and fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, is different. These wars demanded the intense and prolonged participation of a tiny fraction of the nation’s youth in sustained campaigns built on the intentional violation of the ancient sanctions against killing. Those who returned did so without the healing rituals of cleansing and forgiveness practiced by past generations. Threads of anger and betrayal run through their stories: violations of their sense of ‘what’s right’ by the Afghan and Iraqi civilians who turned violently against them, by an American public that turned its back on the war, and by the lack of clear victories in Iraq and Afghanistan that might have justified their sacrifices.”


2017 Nonfiction Winner

David Wood, photo credit Gina Santi

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

"News of this award awakened in me powerful memories of the time I spent in Bosnia reporting on the atrocities of that war and on the incredible strength and perseverance of the families who endured those terrible years. And later, as I accompanied U.S. peacekeeping troops into Bosnia, documenting how the Dayton Peace Agreement was gradually transforming a fragile cease-fire into a structure enabling Bosnians and Serbs and Croats to begin the hard work of recovering their common humanity. That effort goes on, in Bosnia and globally, and I am immensely proud and grateful to be a small part of the peace-building work that the Dayton Literary Peace Prize honors."

— David Wood                        


 

David Wood, a veteran war reporter, is a staff correspondent for the Huffington Post, where he won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting on severely wounded warriors. A birthright Quaker and raised as a pacifist, Wood has spent more than thirty years covering the U.S. military and conflicts around the world, most recently in extended deployments embedded with American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.



 

 
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