March 2017 Book Reviews

March 2017 Book Reviews

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Like Other War Wounds, Moral Injury Will Scar

What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars. David Wood. Little Brown and Co. 304 pages. $28

By Pauline Shanks Kaurin

David Wood is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has covered conflicts around the world for Time Magazine, the Los Angeles Times and other publications. His latest book, What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars, is part storytelling, part personal narrative, and part reporting on both conventional and new treatments for healing and managing moral injury, with a dash of philosophical and policy reflections on the causes. Overall, it is a readable and very engaging volume.

To begin, it is important to distinguish moral injury from post-traumatic stress disorder, as the two are often conflated or confused. According to Dr. Jonathan Shay, who coined the term, “Moral injury is an essential part of any combat trauma that leads to a lifelong psychological injury. Veterans can usually recover from horror, fear and grief once they return to civilian life, so long as ‘what’s right’ has not also been violated.” There are some overlapping elements with PTSD, so this distinction has been difficult and a long time in taking hold in the psychological community and popular press reporting.

In What Have We Done, Wood does a good job of continually coming back to the focus on moral injury and its distinct aspects in the stories—his own included—of those who struggle, as well as his portraits of the cutting-edge scholars and practitioners who are working on new methods of management and treatment with high potential impact, should they be adopted more broadly than the current conventional treatments. The idea is that moral injury is a wound like other wounds sustained in war and can be managed accordingly, even if the scar is always there.

Wood also ventures into discussions of the military-civilian culture gap as a factor in making moral injury worse, and also in holding potential for a remedy if it can be bridged. However, readers might get the impression that the military hasn’t given any thought to the issue of moral injury, much less trained for it. As Wood writes: “They learn to kill, but nothing here or in their formal training prepares them for the acute moral dilemmas they will face in war.”

As a military ethicist, I must point out that this is simply not true. Ethical and moral (values) training has occurred at all levels and in all kinds of formats since at least Vietnam; the recent focus on resiliency was designed in part to address concerns not just about PTSD, but moral injury as well. Much of the work here is done not only in formal training but also informal mentoring and counseling, especially by chaplains.

Perhaps Wood’s intended meaning is that the military inadequately prepares people to deal with these issues. If so, that opens a different vein of discussion. What would it look like to adequately prepare people to manage moral injury? Is it even possible to do so? While this is certainly an important discussion, moral injury is as old as warfare itself, and the historical and literary traditions attest to human attempts to manage and come to terms with it. Every experience will be unique. There are some preparations possible: tools one can have in their kit; support from peers and society before, during and after. But the individual will have to manage this as an individual.

Why? Moral injury is fundamentally about finding and making meaning of experiences relative to one’s own morals and that of the community—both military and civilian. It is a process of identity development and management: There is suffering and healing, progress and setbacks, isolation and intimacy, guilt and forgiveness. There are no checklists, templates or online training modules. It is complicated, and it should be. If warfare ceases to become morally difficult, we have lost an important part of the human experience.

Pauline Shanks Kaurin is associate professor of philosophy at Pacific Lutheran University, Wash., and teaches courses in military ethics, warfare, business ethics, and the history of philosophy. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Concordia College, Minn.; a master’s degree from the University of Manitoba, Canada; and a Ph.D. from Temple University, Pa.

* * *

Confederate General Can Blame Himself for Woes

Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy. Earl J. Hess. The University of North Carolina Press. 368 pages. $35

By Col. Cole C. Kingseed
U.S. Army retired

In the words of author Earl J. Hess, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg “has always been a controversial figure of the Civil War.” In fact, Bragg’s contemporaries labeled him “a fool, a bloodthirsty disciplinarian and an old-fashioned scapegoat, all wrapped up in one package.”

In the more recent forefront of Bragg’s detractors was Thomas L. Connelly, whose magnificent two-volume history of the

Army of Tennessee offered readers a largely negative view of the Confederate commander. In contrast, Hess presents a more balanced assessment and posits that Bragg’s failures rested more “on the personal level than in the military sphere.”

Hess is no stranger to Civil War history. He is the Stewart W. McClelland Chair in History at Lincoln Memorial University, Tenn., and the author of many books on the Civil War, including Civil War Infantry Tactics, Pickett’s Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg, and four other volumes in the Civil War America series. As with the other volumes in this landmark series, Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy broadly interprets the history and culture of the Civil War era.

Braxton Bragg is not a full-length biography. Hess devotes a single chapter to Bragg’s antebellum career and two short chapters to Bragg’s life following his resignation of command of the Army of Tennessee. The heart and soul of Hess’ book is an examination of Bragg’s Civil War career. “How Bragg handled his army in the field is important,” Hess states, but “the reaction of a myriad of people to his success or failure as a general is even more important.”

One of the most intriguing aspects of this book concerns Bragg’s relationship with Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Though Davis and Bragg had served together in the Mexican-American War, they were hardly on friendly terms when the Civil War commenced. Future Union Gen. William T. Sherman said, “Bragg hated Davis bitterly,” and Bragg resigned his commission in the old Army because of Davis’ policies as secretary of war in the Franklin Pierce administration.

Hess breaks new ground, opining that friendship was not an issue because Bragg’s administrative abilities endeared him to Davis. Bragg had demonstrated to the Confederate chief executive that he was a disciplined trainer who clearly understood volunteer forces. In short, Davis supported Bragg because Davis “sincerely believed him to be a reliable and effective commander.”

What was missing on Bragg’s resume was combat, but that was about to change. In March 1862, Davis ordered Bragg to central Tennessee, where Bragg commanded a corps at Shiloh. In the ensuing battle, Bragg “rose to the occasion [and] fought the battle with passion, even with an air of desperation.”

But Hess notes that “there were black marks on Bragg’s record,” such as his uncoordinated attacks against the Union position known as the Hornet’s Nest, which resulted in over 2,400 Confederate casualties. In his own battle report, Bragg criticized his subordinate commanders for his own inept handling of his troops, beginning a pattern of a lack of personal accountability that characterized his future campaigns.

Hess is far too empathetic to his subject in stating that “Robert E. Lee ended his highly praised Seven Days campaign with his army conducting equally uncoordinated, piecemeal attacks against a strong Union position at Malvern Hill.” Hess states, “Lee was never criticized for this costly exhibition of ineptness in the Army of Northern Virginia.” The inference is that if Lee was not criticized, Bragg should not have been criticized.

As with Shiloh, Bragg’s campaigns in Perryville, Ky., and Stones River, Tenn., and the battles around Chattanooga in 1863 resulted in initial victories. But in each case, the Confederate commander unexpectedly withdrew from the field. Hess correctly concludes that the post-Stones River controversy “marked the beginning of Bragg’s decline as an effective leader.”

Nine months later, the Battle of Chick-amauga (Sept. 19–20, 1863) marked the zenith of Confederate fortunes in the West. Chickamauga was the Confederacy’s single major victory in Tennessee. Despite repeated urgings from his corps and division commanders, Bragg again forfeited the South’s gains through his haphazard pursuit of the Union Army of the Cumberland as it fled to Chattanooga.

Davis probably should have relieved Bragg of his command following Chickamauga, as the senior command of the Army of Tennessee was totally dysfunctional and most of Bragg’s subordinate commanders were in open revolt. Bragg “had burned out as an effective commander by the fall of 1863,” Hess writes, and his subsequent defeat at Chattanooga in November 1863 finally spelled the end of his tumultuous tour of command.

Does Bragg merit the condemnation of contemporary observers and modern historians? To Hess, the answer is a resounding no. Under Bragg’s command, the Army of Tennessee achieved a higher standard of effectiveness than any of his predecessors or successors attained. Bragg won a few tactical victories, yet he never translated those tactical victories to strategic successes. It is probable that no army commander had to deal with such insubordinate corps and divisions as did Bragg, but much of his troubles were of his own making. In the end, “Bragg was a fascinating mixture of good and bad qualities, [and] his impact on Confederate history was enormous.”

Col. Cole C. Kingseed, USA Ret., is a writer and consultant. A 30-year infantry veteran, he commanded at the platoon, company and battalion levels and served in a variety of military assignments, culminating in his tenure as full professor of history and chief of military history at the U.S. Military Academy. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Dayton, Ohio; master’s degrees from Ohio State University and the U.S. Naval War College; and a Ph.D. from Ohio State.

* * *

Battling the Elements in the Far North

81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska’s Frozen Wilderness. Brian Murphy with Toula Vlahou. Da Capo Press. 264 pages. $24.99

By Lt. Col. Gregory Banner
U.S. Army retired

Imagine bailing out of a crashing aircraft, with no supplies to speak of, in rural Alaska, in the winter, not knowing exactly where you are and likewise with others not knowing where to go. That is the start of the book 81 Days Below Zero, which describes how Army Air Corps 1st Lt. Leon Crane managed to survive and walk out of the remote wilderness more than 11 weeks after his B-24 crashed in December 1943.

While the World War II European and Pacific theaters of war are comparatively well-known, there were a lot of supporting activities in other areas all over the globe. Canada, Alaska, Greenland and adjacent territories played a crucial role in wartime logistics as well as actual combat, and a lot of people passed through these areas during the war. But operations in the far north entailed not just combat against the enemy at times; they also required a constant battle against unforgiving elements.

Many individuals know what it is like to be uncomfortable in the cold, but very few understand the extreme environment well below zero. Exposed flesh freezes, metal breaks, and the simplest tasks become almost impossible. Crane was dropped into that environment, unprepared and ill-equipped, and forced to survive in temperatures that routinely reached into the 30- and 40-below-zero range.

Author Brian Murphy is a journalist at The Washington Post who joined the newspaper after more than 20 years as an award-winning foreign correspondent and bureau chief for The Associated Press in Europe and the Middle East. His book is an epic tale and one that will hold the attention of anyone interested in Alaska, World War II history, survival, or operations in the extreme cold. The story focuses naturally on Crane’s journey out of the wilderness, but Murphy also provides some background on Alaska during the war and some of the critical missions there. The main character, in fact, was part of an aviation test unit based in Fairbanks, Alaska, as the Army Air Corps tried to learn to deal with cold-weather impacts on aircraft and equipment, a requirement that remains to this day as we continue to operate in those extreme environments.

Murphy also spends time discussing the continuing efforts of the U.S. government to locate, identify and bring home the remains of our servicemen from all conflicts, something in which Americans should take justifiable pride. In this story, one of Crane’s crewmates was, in fact, finally located in 2006 and given a proper burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Va.

It would spoil the book to describe the details of Crane’s survival and journey. In some ways, he was incredibly lucky; but he had to be, given the challenges he faced. There were numerous times he could have died, and he easily could still be among the many missing from the war. There is no doubt that he made good decisions and had a will to survive that carried him through and provided the framework for his ultimate deliverance.

Times have changed. The search and rescue system has evolved greatly; helicopters have revolutionized transportation; communications and location devices are now routinely used; clothing and equipment are much better; and survival training has come a long way. Most of that was in its infancy or nonexistent in World War II. This story’s value lies in giving us an understanding of how it is possible to survive in the harshest conditions on almost nothing but wits, guts and determination.


Lt. Col. Gregory Banner, USA Ret., spent 21 years in the Army as an infantry and Special Forces officer. Among his assignments was instructor at the Northern Warfare Training Center, Fort Wainwright, Alaska. He continues to camp and teach in the mountains and cold weather, mostly with the National Ski Patrol Mountain Travel and Rescue Program. He has a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Military Academy; and master’s degrees from Troy University, Ala., and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

* * *

Fighting for U.S. Interests Half a World Away

The United States Army in China, 1900–1938: A History of the 9th, 14th, 15th and 31st Regiments in the East. Alfred Emile Cornebise. McFarland. 296 pages. $45

By Lt. Col. Timothy R. Stoy
U.S. Army retired

Alfred E. Cornebise follows his excellent The United States 15th Infantry Regiment in China, 1912–1938 with this broad scholarly overview of the U.S. Army infantry regiments that served in China from the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 to the final withdrawal of the 15th Infantry Regiment in March 1938. He covers the political and social framework in which they served and discusses the U.S. impact on Chinese political, economic and social development in the first half of the 20th century. He documents how memories of that period of weakness continue to influence Chinese strategy and diplomacy today.

Cornebise is professor emeritus of history at the University of Northern Colorado and the author of 14 books. In his latest, The United States Army in China, 1900–1938, he analyzes China’s weakness in the 19th and first half of the 20th century after millennia of being, in Asian eyes, the world’s pre-eminent culture and power. Western economic exploitation and extraterritoriality after the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 caused major resentment in the Chinese ruling class and general populace.

The Boxer Uprising was the eventual result. The 9th and 14th Infantry Regiments deployed to China and suppressed the uprising along with the forces of other nations, including those of Japan, which through its early opening to the West and rapid modernization had eclipsed first Russia, then China as regional hegemon. The 15th Infantry Regiment arrived after the legations were relieved and conducted mopping-up operations for several months before departing for the Philippines. The 9th and 14th Infantry Regiments also departed shortly after the end of hostilities.

The Boxers’ bloody defeat and depredations by military forces in the wake of the rebellion embittered many Chinese. This bitterness was deepened through greater international extraterritorial expansion and economic exploitation in the wake of the uprising. The inability of the degenerated ruling dynasty to protect Chinese interests led to its fall and the establishment of the Chinese Republic in 1911 and into 1912. The U.S. was concerned its economic interests would again be endangered and in early 1912 once again deployed the 15th Infantry Regiment from California to Tientsin, China, to protect the vital Peking-Tientsin railroad. For the next 26 years, American soldiers lived and operated in their Tientsin compound, mostly apart from the turmoil raging in northern China during the Warlord Era.

Cornebise illustrates that although the 15th was stationed in China, its contacts with and interest in the natives were limited to those who worked for U.S. forces. Some soldiers made an effort to explore China and get to know the Chinese, but the majority of the regiment remained focused on garrison life and annual marksmanship training in Chinwangtao. Cornebise also provides an illuminating review of numerous regimental officers who went on to become general officers and play major roles in World War II.

The rise of Japan and its military activities in China resulted in the 1932 deployment of the 31st Infantry Regiment to Shanghai to guard American interests in that city. The author describes the day-to-day life of soldiers in Shanghai as they protected American and international interests while trying to avoid engaging Japanese forces in combat. The Shanghai incident was actually a major military effort by both the Chinese and Japanese, and Cornebise does well to focus attention on that important historical event.

The final two chapters in which Cornebise analyzes the long-range impacts foreign activities had on China’s development are thought-provoking. Missionary activity, extraterritoriality, economic exploitation, ruthless suppression of the natives, and the imposition of Western culture and dress alienated a proud people and built ever greater resentment against the interlopers. Cornebise asserts this so-called century of shame remains vivid in Chinese minds, and drives China’s efforts to regain and retain its pre-eminence and rectify real and perceived past injustices.

This solid, scholarly and thought-provoking book is a good overview of the U.S. Army regiments that operated in China; provides an interesting and necessary review of U.S. and foreign involvement in China during a critical period; and analyzes how this involvement continues to shape Chinese political, diplomatic and military behavior. This book has relevance today as many ask what China wants and why, as it becomes an economically powerful nation and flexes its diplomatic and military muscle.


Lt. Col. Timothy R. Stoy, USA Ret., is the historian for the 15th Infantry Regiment Association. He has a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Military Academy and a master’s degree from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.