Jelena Subotic & Brent J Steele
Journal of Global Security Studies
Published: 28 August 2018
The war in Iraq unleashed disastrous global instability—from the strengthening of Al-Qaeda, to the creation of ISIS, and civil war in Syria accompanied by a massive exodus of refugees. The war in Afghanistan is continuing in perpetuity, with no clear goals or objectives other than the United States’ commitment to its sunk cost. The so-called war on terror is a vague catch-all phrase for a military campaign against moving targets and goalposts, with no end date and no conceivable way to declare victory. The toll of these wars on civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East, on US troops, and on the US economy is staggering. But these ambiguous campaigns are also fundamentally changing US state identity—its view of itself, its role in the world, and its commitment to a liberal international order. They are producing profound anxiety in the US body politic and anxiety in US relationships with other international actors. To understand the sources and consequences of this anxiety, we adopt an ontological security perspective on state identity. We enrich ontological security scholarship by introducing the concept of moral injury and its three main consequences: loss of control, ethical anxiety, and relational harm. We demonstrate how the concept of moral injury illuminates some of the most central anxieties at the core of US identity, offering a new understanding of our global moment of crisis.
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