Veteran suicide, PTSD, and moral injury? Blame Raytheon

Peace Advocate December 2021

The Raytheon Antiwar Campaign protests outside of Fenway Park to raise awareness about Raytheon's hypocrisy surrounding the Run to Home Base.

by Kathie Malley-Morrison

[We] have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.” [Pope Francis, speech to Congress, 2015)

Pope Francis is correct, and the millions of profits reaped by Raytheon and other arms making profiteers in the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) are soaked in blood. Moreover, Raytheon et al. bear responsibility not only for the deaths and casualties of “enemies” (mostly innocent civilians) in targeted countries but also for the deaths and casualties of U.S. victims of the MIC’s endless wars. Through their successes in militarizing the U.S. for profit, the MIC has sent millions of Americans into life-threatening military service—enabled to do so by deliberate strategies limiting other employment opportunities. Since September 11, 2001, 2.8 million active-duty American military personnel have been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.  During this time, while the arms manufacturers and their buddies in Congress and the Pentagon became obscenely richer, countless service personnel sacrificed physical and mental health, relationships with loved ones, and ultimately their lives.

The costs of military operations for Americans participating in them are almost unfathomable. During its war on Afghanistan (which the Defense Department euphemistically and deceptively calls Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel), a total of 2,406 United States service members were killed—without any evidence of enduring freedom for anybody. Moreover, “survivors” of these military actions often suffered physical and psychological wounds so unbearable that suicide seemed like the only answer.

Although corporate and social media have acknowledged high suicide rates among veterans, they seldom acknowledge that the suicide death count following U.S. military operations far exceeds the death count for service people killed in active combat. One recent study estimated that 30,177 active duty personnel and veterans of the post 9/11 wars have died by suicide, significantly more than the 7,057 service members killed in war operations during that period.

Deaths and physical injuries are not the only costs of war ruining the lives of people recruited into the MIC’s profit-making activities. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and moral injury also take terrible tolls on participants in the U.S. war-making enterprises.   PTSD has been identified as a form of mental illness with symptoms of recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive recollections of a traumatic event, dissociative states, distressing dreams, intense psychological distress, over-riding feelings of terror, and/or physiologic reactivity. Veterans with PTSD can have extensive functional impairments such as unemployment, family and relationship difficulties, aggressive behavior, and poor quality of life. PTSD has been identified as a significant public health problem in both deployed and non-deployed veterans in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF). According to the National Health Study for a New Generation of U.S. Veterans, which investigated the health of 30,000 OEF/OIF veterans and 30,000 non-deployed veterans, nearly 11% of non-deployed veterans and nearly 16% of OEF/OIF deployed Veterans screened positive for PTSD.

In the military, moral injury is associated with situations in which people have experiences that contradict moral values guiding them in civilian life. Veterans with moral injury have intensified feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, and anger resulting from perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts transgressing deeply held moral beliefs and expectations. Both PTSD and moral injury are associated with suicide in veterans and active military personnel. Moreover, moral injury in both veterans and active military personnel may lead them to harm themselves, their partners, and their children, engage in hate group activities, and even take out their rage in an attack on the nation’s capital.

As Pope Francis said, it’s time to stop the arms trade. That means taking on the main culprits in endless wars—the military industrial complex. Investing millions of dollars lobbying members of Congress to buy their weapons of mass destruction makes Raytheon (and the other war profiteers) complicit in all the harm those weapons do. Such complicity is enabled by the fact that top Raytheon personnel also hold government positions where decisions are made both to go to war and to award profitable contracts to weapons manufacturers. Finally, complicity in blatant disregard for international law makes the MIC and all its components all the more morally culpable. These complicities must be ended. And remember, even if the weapons they sell do not directly cause the deaths of our own country’s  military service personnel and former personnel, Raytheon and the other war profiteering weapons manufacturers bear responsibility for the psychological wreckage leading to suicides and other post-war related miseries. 

How, the arms profiteers might protest, can they be held responsible for suicide, PTSD, and moral injury occurring in veterans years after their service? Here’s how: Those weapons manufacturers (and the right wing extremists who revere them) know that their weapons kill, know that users of their weapons can get killed, and know that engaging in or even observing deadly violence with those weapons can shatter the emotional lives of users and observers. (This is true even for drone operators doing their deadly work thousands of miles away from the violence they perpetrate. Moreover, those war profiteers know about PTSD, and perhaps even moral injury. And they certainly know they’ve been accused of crimes against humanity. They know all these things, yet where are their efforts to convert the economy to life-promoting enterprises?  Where is the evidence that they have any moral compass when they appear to see no value in the lives of people they designate as the enemy or even their own military personnel?

This is part II in a series on Raytheon. To read part I, click here.

Kathie Malley-Morrison, member of Mass Peace Action, is Professor Emerita from the Boston University Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences; her research focuses on family violence, war, and peace.