According to USA Today, an ongoing study of 2,600 Marines suggests that feelings of guilt regarding certain aspects of their wartime deployment could be a leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The newspaper writes:
The conflicts that servicemembers feel may include “survivor’s guilt,” from living through an attack in which other servicemembers died, and witnessing or participating in the unintentional killing of women or children, researchers involved in the study say.
“How do they come to terms with that? They have to forgive themselves for pulling the trigger,” says retired Navy captain Bill Nash, a psychiatrist and study co-author.
The paper goes on to report that the notion that feelings of guilt may in fact be a causal factor in PTSD cases is relatively new in psychiatry. The article states that the American Psychiatric Association is now starting to consider “new diagnostic criteria that would include feelings of shame and guilt.”
This study would seem to bolster the argument made by documentary filmmaker and writer Sebastian Junger, who on a recent episode of Need to Know proposed that the U.S. create a memorial commemorating the innocent civilians killed in America’s wars. Junger argued the memorial would be valuable both as a way to acknowledge what he calls “the central tragedy of war,” but also to help assuage the deep remorse that he says many American soldiers bring home with them from combat.
Describing his memorial to us, Junger said:
It would simply be an acknowledgement that some wars have to be fought — there are just wars — and even in those civilians get killed. People who should not die get killed. And the soldiers know this, and they come back with this terrible knowledge, and they have no place to go to do whatever it might be, where they can make peace with things they might regret.
You can hear Junger describe his idea here: