What Happens When You Can’t Leave The War Behind?

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Photo by Lance Cpl. Julio McGraw

When we go to war, we create a second self, it is a version of we are who can deal with the fear and terror of war, who can function and think in those few seconds where life and death hang in the balance. What happens when we return from combat? We can’t always reconcile our wartime selves with who we are supposed to be at home. Decisions made overseas, and the regrets associated with them, create a unique kind of injury, a moral injury.


“Moral injury makes its mark by creating a flawed sense of who you were when you were in harm’s way,” writes Marine and journalist, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, in an article for The Washington Post.

“Back in civilian life, that second self must merge with the present self — the person who wanders the aisles at Safeway and wakes up to the soft bleat of an iPhone alarm. Those months, or even years, of transition are wrought with moments that confuse the two selves. Strange moments in movie theaters when folded American flags make your breath come short and hot; or on the Fourth of July, when the muted pop of bottle rockets induces a nostalgia you can’t explain. Even the smell of burning trash reminds you of a place you’d secretly rather be.”

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This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

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