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article imageOp-Ed: A new kind of stress for the modern military – ‘Moral injury’

By Paul Wallis     Sep 28, 2019 in Health
Washington - Historically, few people are as neglected and ignored by their governments and people as the military. The multigenerational horror stories of vets are grim enough. Now, there’s a whole new form of stress, and not much idea what to do about it.
The new kind of stress is called “moral injury”. If that sounds rather odd for a type of stress, it’s real enough, and it applies to drone pilots who attack people from a console in an office, kill those people and possibly injure others, and then go home to have dinner with the kids.
Sound a bit… Grotesque? It is. The emotional stresses and the genteel environment could be called totally polarized, and that’s no trivial description.
These drones are no joke. They have serious firepower, and they have long reach. You can fight anywhere in the world from a place in the United States. They are highly destructive, and when you’ve fired whatever it is you’re firing, that’s it.
A workplace with attitude… And psychoses of its own
Less obvious in this wonderful environment is the hysterical nature of the driving forces behind the drone attacks. The drone pilots are military people, acting under orders. Anything from half-ass religious mania to even more half-ass political zealotry and brass-hat imbecility can be the command structure. Not exactly great for the moral certainties, for sure.
Drones are becoming the new force in modern militaries and even terrorist attacks. This part of the military arsenal is going to be around for quite some time, until A.I drones take over. The new problems will be around, too.
Given the total inability of political and military organizations to do much more than count beans on any subject, help will be slow in arriving. It took nearly a generation for PTSD to be properly acknowledged, despite a century of previous experience. “Moral injury” may take as long, or longer.
The usual story is that “nothing is too important to be ignored”. Crippling stress, in particular, is the frontrunner in any scenario of what’s most likely to be ignored. A wonderful place to go nuts, in fact.
…So what can be done about it? A bit, but not enough, yet.
The problem with a new kind of stress is that analysis and treatment bases don’t exist. Stress is understandable, to a point. A systematic series of major emotional experiences followed by a normal life, however, are well-known as major obstacles to adjustment and managing that stress. People in a personal crisis can’t relate to normality, for obvious reasons. It seems alien, remote, indifferent. It’s going to require some thorough investigation.
Possible helpful options:
1. Rotate pilots. There’s no need to add to the stress by repeating it for any length of time.
2. Evaluate mission options. Does a target actually need to be hit? Are there more productive options?
3. Ensure that exposure isn’t continuous. The easiest and surest way to aggravate any kind of stress is to repeat it. Breaks need to be significant.
4. Upgrade pilots to develop their technical expertise. This is also a way of breaking the cycle and will add useful skills, like target analysis, acquisition, systems critiques, and similar useful things while not adding stress. (NEVER waste trained people, by overuse in particular.)
5. Monitor stress carefully. Military people don’t live in a cocoon, and many are pretty hard cases, but overstress produces unmistakeable signs, erratic behaviours, and similar issues. Pilots should be rotated before those signs emerge. If they do, they need time off to get out of the hamster wheel and back to life.
...You might want to be a bit less frivolous about fighting wars all over the planet, too.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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