C.G.Jung / Contemporary / Ethics / History

PTSD and Moral Injury seen from C.G. Jung – Achilles in modern wars

The Newsweek article A New Theory of PTSD and Veterans: Moral Injurywas probably the best article I ever read about PTSD – besides Shay’s Achilles in Vietnam. Yes most important factors may very well be moral injury, traumatic events and being betrayed by leadership.  But, there is more  – ethical, Jungian depth psychological and political circumstances:

  • Villains don’t get PTSD: The individual (and its society) has to have moral standards and be reflective to experience moral injury.
  • Adding insult to injury:  Societies project their shadows on the soldiers traumatic events.
  • The line between Good and Evil:  PTSD is an Achilles heel made visible by modern media
  • Serving the Devil:  Differences between societies collective and individual  belief systems – the coming home effect (after winning and loosing) and the authoritarian mass psychology.
  • The contemporary despise of the Archetype of the Warrior – Do nothing, see nothing, hear nothing, and go nowhere, feeling good looking away.

People never come back from war unchanged.

I’m glad that the issue for individuals of crossing previously taboo lines of behavior, in the context of combat/trauma, is recognized as a significant factor. The example of the Marine Fox Company is very convincing and the arguments make a lot of sense. Send people to war today and a certain percentage will get PTSD, commit or see war crimes and suffer after coming home. Because war transforms also the country at war. Sometimes with a time delay. It took 50 years (protected by the American soldiers) before European social scientists and media were allowed to stereotype their fathers – all soldiers as war criminals.

My father, a country boy, who was drafted with 17 during the Second World War, fought basically as “grunt” for his life. He served in Russia until 1945 and subsequently three years longer as prisoner of war in coal mine under very harsh conditions. 1948 he returned to Germany with empty hands, which lost not only a war but any moral standards and cared little about  foot soldiers busying itself with clearing the rubble and starting the Wirtschaftswunder. Nevertheless, he became a good father and husband and raised me fairly well. He told me little about this time, only that he almost got court marshalled two times. Once he was watched laughing over a propaganda poster and one time after a frontal assault of the russians (he was an army machine gunner). Reason was, he had to open his last ammunition box, having killed wave after wave of soldiers driven into the bullet hail by Stalin’s commissars. It was us or them, but his last box unfortunately contained food which he stashed away. But there is always more ammunition.

Why was PTSD a lesser issue after the 2nd world war?

It must be todays schism of moral standards imposed on the soldiers and reality – the  increased awareness of rotten political leadership sending them to war. I would argue it is the incredible difference between reality and moral standards reflected as hypocrisy of the society. If we’re serious about ending PTSD we must be serious about our shadow. Yes, there is moral injury, caused in large part by betrayal — not only from a field commander putting career over the lives of soldiers or betrayal by one’s government, namely, being sent to a war based on lies but also by us watching the war on TV projecting our undesired and evil wishes on them. The first duty of the ethically minded person is, from Jung’s psychological perspective, to become as conscious as possible of his or her own shadow.

The good and the Evil – “good wars” and “wars of aggression”

I would also argue there have been no “good wars” anymore after the second world war. If – and that’s at least a little  IF – even the Second World War was one. Lets assume it was. Outside of the political correct realm the older Germans remember the American soldiers (correctly) as a kind victor.

But why did the RAF pilots who executed  ‘Bomber Commander Sir Arthur Harris’s  industrialized burning of German cities and civilians  not develop PTSD? Harris was appointed chief of Bomber Command in February 1942. His first raids were bombing of medieval Lubeck (‘more like a fire-lighter than a human habitation’, in Harris’s words) and the 1,000-bomber raid on Cologne. The Operations Order for the bombing of Hamburg in July envisaged the ‘total destruction’ of the city. And so it did. At least Harris was honest: his aim was to destroy whole German cities and their inhabitants. Others were not. The official British line was dishonest. The fires were far away. So I guess.

Firestorm-1943: Source Universty of Exter

Firestorm-1943: Source Universty of Exter

Not comparing, evil with evil, few Nazis developed PTSD either. Derived from the history of  Nazi Germany, Jung would have to confront the shadow within the larger structures of any society. The ways in which a society is set up, through its laws and customs, has a lot to do with how evil is handled and perceived within its precincts. “Moral man and immoral society,” a concept of Reinhold Niebuhr’s, may be a guide here. Many scrupulous and well-intentioned individuals end up serving the Devil by being good and obedient citizens. And nobody is free of opportunistic strains, some outstanding artists and brilliant experts served dictators more or less knowingly or naively.

Responsibility and Truth

PTSD is itself not a moral injury. The Newsweek article rightfully does not equate PTSD with moral guilt. It makes the case, that there is a certain kind of (combat) guilt that could exacerbate or even trigger PTSD. The analysis does not blame the victim or smear the character of anyone else who suffers from PTSD. We are each responsible for our actions, but the “monies” who create the conditions and send people to war bear ultimate responsibility. That’s why the Nuremberg Tribunal judges ruled (before pre-emptive strikes became fashionable) that a “war of aggression” is the primary source of all other war-related evils – war crimes and crimes against humanity — flow. Sadly, we all own a piece of the responsibility regarding the latest generation of returning veterans and to believe what stipulates a war of aggression. War and guilt has been topic from greek tragedies, as Dr. Jonathan Shay’s points out very well in his “Achilles in Vietnam”.drshaybookachilles

Guilt is a reflection of Evil. But what is Evil?

It seems you need to reflect and to have a soul to develop PTSD, to accept a line between good and evil based on moral standards and coming to the conclusion to have failed on them.

We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself. He is the great danger, and we are pitifully unaware of it. We know nothing of man, far too little. His psyche should be studied, because we are the origin of all coming evil.(C. G Jung in an Interview , Bollinger Series or YouTube).

Jung’s question to the problem of evil were:

  • Is the unconscious evil?
  • What is the source of evil?
  • What is the relation between good and evil?*
  • How should human beings deal with evil?

Surely to him the unconscious is not the source of evil and Jung would answer in the affirmative that, yes, evil is real and it cannot be written off as the absence of good. Evil can inflict injuries indeed. Jung felt that a view like that  Augustin’s who espoused in his doctrine of “privatio boni” underestimated the problem of evil. Jung did not want to be soft on evil, which he thought is part of us. And yet, Jung did not want to see evil as an independent, self-standing and inherent part of nature, psychological, physical or metaphysical. This would lead to dualism. To him Evil is (like PTSD) most primarily a category of conscious thought, a judgment of the Ego, and therefore dependent for its existence upon consciousness:

With no human consciousness to reflect themselves in, good and evil simply happen, or rather, there is no good and evil, but only a sequence of neutral events, or what the Buddhists call the Nidhanachain, the uninterrupted causal concatenation leading to suffering, old age, sickness, and death.

The source of what we perceive as evil, then, is a mixture of psychological content (as defined by C.G. Jung as Shadow) and psychological dynamics that allow for, encourage, or require shadow enactments.

Do nothing, see nothing, hear nothing, and go nowhere – But what is Good?



I recently read Robert Mason’s narrative  of his experiences as helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, “chickenhawk”. He comes across as perfectly decent and reflected person, who wanted to fly, enlisted and survived the war but failed bitterly afterwards in private life. Almost a prototype of the moral injury argument. He functioned perfectly in his profession, get shot at during more than thousand sorties, lost comrades, witnessed cruel violence, was abused by incompetent leadership and coming back home spit at by a society, which fancied the Anti-Archetype of the Warrior. Causes for PTSD include things like child abuse, rape, bad car accidents, or emergency calls. Some people are less prone to experience post-traumatic stress. But the only sure way to prevent PTSD is to do nothing, see nothing, hear nothing, and go nowhere, project all the own aggressions to the veterans – just be good – and let the evil, the “monies”, the Pol Pots, the Mao’s, the Stalin’s, the Hitler’s have their way.

Religions and pseudo religions

It has been said God is dead. Dimwits proudly announce on TV, that they are transcendental deaf and the anchoresses roll over in delight. In his reflections on Western religious history in Aion (C,G. Jung CW 9/2), published in the aftermath of the Second World War, Jung interprets the future with reference to the astrological sign of the Fishes. In this Platonic Year (the “aion” of Pisces), which has lasted for two thousand years, there has been an underlying theme of conflict between great opposing forces, which is symbolized in astrology by two opposite fishes. As Jung delineates this history, he sees the conflict as raging between spirituality and materialism (spirit vs. body) and a parallel conflict between good and evil.

There is in Jung’s work a significant differentiation of collective shadow and individual shadow. At the very end, political correctness may be seen as today’s collective shadow. We want the paradise now and here. Ironically, the nickname of the Fox company was Saints and Sinners, but the concept of sin and confession has been largely discredited blocking to help mortals with the work of shadow awareness and integration. This is left now to a large extent to the single individual, often patched over by pharmacy or drugs. However, the work of confronting evil and dealing with it continues.The wider area of society and politics fanatical ideologies become demonic materialistic or ideological pseudo religions depending for their existence upon abuse of archetypal images, worshiped by the “Never Did Anything”.