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Soul Wounds: Healing and True Peace
By Daniel Corral
September marked the third anniversary of Jacob David George's suicide. I never met him personally, but many of my friends who are a part of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) along with the entire anti-war movement both knew and loved him. His life and death touched so many people.
As I listened to Jacob's recorded talk at the First Unitarian Church in April of 2013 during the IVAW testimony: "The Human Cost of War," he described war as causing wounds to soul and body. The Veteran's Administration (VA) had been providing him with cognitive processing therapy, however Jacob insisted on therapy that addressed what he described as moral injury, soul wounds, and soldier's heart.
Jacob stated during his testimony and song that what did help with these wounds of war were things like throwing his medals back in May of 2012 during the NATO meeting in Chicago, along with his work to educate the public and challenge the narrative of war through his bike tour "A Ride Till the End" and other IVAW and anti-war efforts.
This form of therapy was considered "politically loaded" by the VA and therefore could not be considered a part of his treatment plan. During his song, "Soldier's Heart," I was touched by many of his lyrics, especially the ones describing the war in Afghanistan and Iraq as American farmers being sent to kill other farmers. The lyrics described a wounded and shattered man, unable to transition back to civilian life due to the horrors of war: .".. I can't have a relationship, can't hold down a job." And a veteran who now lived with a broken heart, a heart broken by the country that he loved and served for.
Just over a year later, Jacob committed suicide. And still the war in Afghanistan and Iraq continues, causing death and trauma.
To this day, at least 22 US veterans commit suicide every day. The moral injury, the soul wounds, that Jacob so often talked and sang about, remind me of the life and work of Ignacio Martín-Baró, a priest and social psychologist in El Salvador who was assassinated in 1989.
He had collectively come up with a treatment plan for survivors of the horrors of the civil war in El Salvador, which involved both psychotherapy and what he called social therapy, to address the wounds of war. He stated that trauma was not a disorder, but a self-defense mechanism of the human being against a horrible situation called war. Trauma was a normal response to an abnormal reality. A reality that was anything but real, a horrible nightmare that made no sense, a fantasy.
In November of 2010, I went to the opening of "Operation Exposure: War is Trauma" at the Mess Hall in Chicago, Illinois. It was a "collaboration between the Justseeds Artists' Cooperative and veterans and supporters from Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW)... a direct response to the suicide epidemic and violation of GI's right to heal within the GI and veteran community."
The first art print that I noticed was one made by Matt Howard of IVAW which read in part: "PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How is this a disorder? What part of being emotionally and spiritually affected by gross violence is disorder?..." I could not help but make the connections between the people of El Salvador and the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, and the soldiers involved therein.
I believe that Jacob and many other veterans have been clear about their wounds and their need to heal from what the war has done to their minds, bodies and souls. I believe that Ignacio had it right when he addressed all of these wounds in what he described as psychotherapy and social therapy. An approach that was so effective that it was considered unforgivable by the Salvadoran and US military, whom subsequently planned and carried out his assassination.
Veterans of US wars have been clear about what their wounds are and what their needs are. From VVAW to IVAW, to the anti-war movement as a whole, the veterans and their allies ought to be listened to and public funds immediately allocated to provide treatment plans that are open to all regardless of discharge, citizenship, etc. Instead of funding more war with our public funds, we can and ought to stop the funding of these wars and instead fund veteran treatment plans and the rebuilding and healing of the people and lands we have and continue to make war in.
We should do this in memory of those affected by war, and who have lived with and shared their wounds and memories, and worked for the healing of lands, minds, bodies, and souls.
Daniel Corral is from Aurora, Illinois. He spends his days caring for his family and building kinship with the world.