The End of Violent Myth: A Reflection on Veteran Trauma, Original Sin, and Wartime Violence Open Access

Powers, Brian S. (2016)

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An Augustinian understanding of original sin holds explanatory power to describe the way violence effects participants and civilians during times of war. In light of this, this dissertation argues broadly for the power of sin as a theological and experientially descriptive concept to describe the "wrongness" at the heart of the human experience of violence in war. Building on an Augustinian understanding of the power of external forces to sequester and bind human willing in particular patterns in pursuit of false and illusory goods, this dissertation argues that combatant willing is sequestered and conditioned in particularly traumatic ways. Through the lens of modern interpreters of Augustine, primarily Alistair McFadyen, the concepts of bound will and original sin can be seen to illuminate the disconnect in the ways wartime violence is conceived by American society and by those who participate in it on that society's behalf. The conceptual vocabulary of original sin and bound willing help elucidate the falseness and fragility of the cultural understanding of American military violence as an uncritical "good" that is performed in the name of superior moral virtues. The falseness of this uncritical good reveals the need for a complex understanding of morality in light of the power of obedience, conditioning, habituation and other forces to narrow the horizon of options open to combatants and the ways in which these forces impact the psyche of combatants. The experience of combat is an acute encounter with human vulnerability and mortality and can be deeply traumatic, affecting the combatant's ability to experience hope and joy. This condition resonates with Augustine's conception of postlapsarian life as disconnected from the one true good of God and in the power of fear and terror. The constriction of agency experienced by combatants is extreme and often results in profound damage to their self-image and constructed identity. This damage resonates with theological interpretations of the effects of sin as hopelessness and poisoned memory. The conception of original sin, however, also frames guilt in non-exhaustive terms that provide avenues toward healing by reframing notions of blame and moral injury in non-totalizing axiological contexts.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1 - The Vocabulary of Sinfulness - Original Sin and the Trauma of Violence...16

Chapter 2 - Fields of Force and the Contemporary Military Experience...50

Chapter 3 - The Dichotomous Experience of Violence: Veterans and American Society...72

Chapter 4- The Privation of Life and the Distorted Soul...116

Chapter 5 - Perpetrators and Victims - The Enslavement of Agency and Betrayal of Identity...144

Chapter 6 - Sin as Poisoned Memory and Hopeless Future...182


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