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Gourguechon, P.L. (2010). Perspectives: The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers. By Nancy Sherman. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010, 338 pp., $27.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 58(6):1227-1231.
(2010). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 58(6):1227-1231
Perspectives: The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers. By Nancy Sherman. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010, 338 pp., $27.95.
Review by: Prudence L. Gourguechon
With characteristic directness and clarity, the philosopher and psychoanalytic scholar Nancy Sherman puts the core argument of her poignant and challenging book, The Untold War, right up front on page one: “That psychological anguish in war is also moral anguish is a fact too often ignored. Studies of war trauma tend to focus on the acute psychological hardships of crossing the borders of peace and war. But the research … misses the ubiquity of the inner war and its subtle moral contours.” Sherman argues compellingly that “as a public we, too, need to know how war feels [morally, to those who fight it], for war's residue should not just be a soldier's private burden. It ought to be something that we, who do not don the uniform, recognize and understand as well” (p. 8). Her argument echoes Robert Jay Lifton's efforts a generation ago to bring the guilt of war into the commons (1976). The public and the military community need to accept as a fact the moral anguish soldiers experience.
Sherman's thesis illuminates a valuable lesson for psychoanalysts. It seems we often ignore the dimension of moral injury and conflict. Freud of course laid out the structural terrain of moral conflict, with his elaboration of the superego and ego ideal and the forces that may be at war with them. But the specific content and nuances of moral conflicts themselves, and the particulars of the suffering experienced when they become intense or unmanageable, are often overlooked in clinical considerations.
In the arena of the suffering endured by American soldiers fighting in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, this moral dimension has been underrepresented in both psychoanalytic and other mental health perspectives. For example, a key study of the mental health consequences of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, issued by the Rand Corporation (Tanielien and Jaycox 2008), describes the core injuries of soldiers as PTSD (an anxiety disorder), depression, and traumatic brain injury.
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