War and Negative Revelation: A Theoethical Reflection on Moral Injury Open Access

Yandell, Michael (Summer 2020)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/k930bz329?locale=en


This work offers a phenomenology of “negative revelation” in which false or distorted claims of goodness and justice disintegrate, becoming meaningless in the concrete experience of war. This disintegration of meaning is itself a meaningful experience, “revealing” here comes to signify the presence of goodness and justice through the profound experience of their absence – in theological terms, a type of via negativa.

War is an experience in which a person sets out confident she is doing good, because a priori – or before the reality of war – she is confident that she is good or on the side of the good. For such a person, the actuality of war may be a revelatory experience; real encounters with other people may dissolve her a priori sense of goodness into meaninglessness. By witnessing or participating in the dehumanization of others, one is stripped of the confidence that one is doing good, and her being good may also be called into question, creating an existential crisis. The other side of this revelation is an apophatic knowledge of goodness: goodness is known through its absence, or by realizing that goodness is not here. To experience the absence of goodness is still to perceive the good, and to long for it.

           The heart of this work adds a layer of complexity or depth to the term “moral injury” as a negative revelation. The context and logic of war itself, beyond the actions of individuals, is emphasized, paying specific attention to the war the United States has been waging since 9/11/2001. Moral injury as a negative revelation is a disintegration of false normative claims of goodness and justice, as well as a disintegration of one’s sense of self oriented toward those normative claims. This disintegration is prompted by the recognition of life in the midst of war’s diminishment of life.

Table of Contents

Preface 1

Introduction 5

Chapter 1 – Anti-life: The Logic of War 22  

1. What Anti-life “is” 29

a. The assault of nothingness 29

b. The stasis of nonbeing 31

c. The parasitic nature of ideology 38

2. What Anti-life “does” 44

a. Anti-life in the form of life 46

Chapter 2 – Domination as Freedom: Anti-life and Global War 53

1. What we know: Reflecting on Donald Rumsfeld 56

2. Knowing domination 63

a. Full spectrum dominance – domination through military power 64

b. “American Sovereignty” – domination through political power 67

c. Good and evil – domination through a pretense of moral superiority 75

3. From ironic to evil – We were never innocent 77

Chapter 3 – Moral Injury as Negative Revelation, Part I: “Moral” – Betrayed by Convention 82

1. Introducing Moral Injury 86

a. Moral injury and convention from the perspective of clinicians 90

2. What’s wrong with “what’s right” 96

a. Martha Nussbaum on “nomos97

b. Personally experiencing the convention 100

c. Just war theory and the moral convention 102

Chapter 4 – Moral Injury as Negative Revelation Part II: “Injury” – Loss of Meaning 108

1. The Intelligible Self 111

a. Practicing life as a soldier 113

2. “The Entry of a Surd:” Disintegration of the Intelligible Self 121

a. Fragments of revelation 124

3. The Affirmation of Meaninglessness 130

Chapter 5 – Negative Revelation and Turning to Life 136

1. Major Concepts 137

2. The Example of Saul/Paul 140

3. The Revelation of the Other 142

4. Turning Point 153

5. Conclusion: Open to Life 161

Bibliography 167

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