Navy pilot Larry Malone stands beside his A6 plane, a bomber that carried 28 500-pound bombs during the Vietnam War
A former Vietnam War pilot responds to the American Sniper film, examines the results of virtual violence, and considers ways to heal wounded warriors
By Larry Malone
We consume most of our violence virtually, from mainstream media and movies. Current news reports a Jordanian pilot burned alive in a cage. The video was produced in slow motion to celebrate the torturous agony and infuriate foes. A 3-second video clip of an NFL player beating his girlfriend unconscious in a hotel elevator was repeated hundreds of times when it was hot news.
What happens to our soul when we ingest a steady diet of virtual violence? Twenty-four hour media reporting of world pain and trauma is said to create compassion fatigue. We can only be so sorry about so much before we numb up, and tune out. How quickly do you change the channel from ads of starving children, or abused dogs?
What cumulative effect does violence create within us? When we are assaulted by virtual violence, do we unconsciously retaliate to become vicarious victors?
American Sniper is a current blockbuster movie depicting a legendary sniper with more than 160 combat kills accrued during four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Chris Kyle was a well-trained soldier skilled in the business of strategic killing with a high powered rifle.
The movie depicts a man who is certain of his moral basis for killing, as he defends freedom and the lives of other soldiers from enemy attack. He finds comfort and emotional distance from his work in a well-ordered system of righting wrongs, right and wrong, good and evil. He states that he is ready to account for each kill with his Maker.
Chris brings the war home with him in his soul. He is detached and emotionally unavailable to his wife and children.
The movie depicts a man doing his best to manage and control his behavior, while suffering the unpredictable expressions of post-traumatic stress disorder. Tragically, Chris is killed by a bullet, while helping a troubled veteran at a shooting range.
Chris was helped by helping other veterans, but it seems likely that the deep wounds of war would have continued to harm his life, and that healing would be still be difficult and lengthy. We will never know.
Violence doesn't just happen - something triggers it. Violence is an expression of inner turmoil.
When war and conflict rage within, war finds its way outward. Violence originates in a violated soul; domestic violence begins in the inner soul home of a person who cannot contain it or shield their loved ones from its toxic power. A violent soul is prone to express the brand of violence it receives.
This can pass generationally in a toxic inheritance gift that keeps on giving.
Killing in the name of national defense and protection of others is sometimes necessary, but extreme violence for any reason is a soul-wounding experience.
Human moral boundaries are trespassed when we become agents in the death transaction, and the soul becomes the host of a wound that seeks relief and healing.
Consider the sniper’s expertly trained eyes drawing a bead in the scope crosshairs on a human head that explodes like a melon when the bullet strikes. Now imagine this happening as a routine part of your work assignment, conducted in multiple deployments over several years. Can a warrior’s inner conscience and soul somehow not sustain cumulative harm in distance killing?
Can the belief that your cause is right and actions are moral negate the harm of violence to your soul?
Sniper killing is a close up, real-time virtual violence experience. It's virtual, because it's done at a distance usually safe from harm.
My role as a virtual killer
As a bomber pilot in Vietnam, I experienced distance killing, and my virtual violence was visible in cockpit weaponry displays. Years later, I would discover unexploded ordinance that remained in my soul. They were time bombs.
The violence of war, even in scenarios considered justified and unavoidable, inflicts wounds within warriors who are near to the death transaction. What we label PTSD, and attempt to cure with medication, counseling, and therapy is often a spiritual wound that has no temporal remedy.
We live in an age where technology creates virtual distance from blood, body parts, and wails of agony. We are removed from the reality of our power projection. It’s not real, it’s not personal; it’s just our sovereign business.
We don't have to kill; drones do it for us while we watch it live action. Techno-warriors engage in video combat from secure bunkers while death rains down on our enemies on other continents.
A sniper drops an enemy a mile away. A stealth pilot unleashes hell from above undetected by enemy defenses. While some of our troops are still in low-tech foxholes - cold and wet - others get to kill, go home, play with their kids, and watch movies.
Is there anything troubling about war killing when one combatant is completely safe from all harm?
The victims of techno-violence
Imagine you had an adversary so all-powerful that they could instantly kill you without warning, and there was absolutely no way you could return violence to them.
Their weapons have just hit your neighborhood, and blood and death are everywhere.
What are you thinking right now, and what are you willing to do as a response?
The human race is in new territory with techno-violence. As killing capacity gets more remote, lethal, and asymmetric, we lose touch with our humanity. It seems possible, even likely, that we can win every superpower battle and in the end loose our sovereign soul.
Violence is a two edged sword. Life exposes each of us to many forms of violence that can deeply wound us.
Some of the most toxic forms of violence do no physical harm, but moral injury, emotional abuse, neglect, psychological trauma, betrayal, and separation can violate our soul.
Inner harm from death and violence transcends boundaries.
Victims of war violence include warriors and the communities who sent them to war.
Soul wounds are beyond the healing reach of most forms of therapeutic, behavioral and clinical treatments, but the healing of both warriors and community can begin when stories, wounds, and grief are shared.
Healing begins when the spiritual wounds of soul and conscience are considered to be collective community wounds that are shared and grieved.
Imagine what would happen if community members would gather around soul-wounded warriors for the solemn purpose of collective healing.
In sacred settings, warriors are invited to tell the stories that surround their soul wounds to one or a few community members. They tell all they are able, in stories of unspeakable pain, unclear options, impossible choices, mistakes, moral injury, collateral killing and regrettable acts.
In this sacred place of compassionate hearing, there can be NO judgment, politics, second guessing, religious or moral supremacy. Personal views and beliefs held by participants can be expressed elsewhere. Here, we join together to hear, receive, absorb, share, and acknowledge community responsibility for inner wounds heretofore borne tragically alone by warriors.
Grief is shared with, rather than for, the warrior. As trust and mutual respect develop, stories of life wounds of community members can be shared, giving honor to warriors as confidantes. Genuine relationships become a conduit for human and divine love, healing souls inside out.
An invasion of light
When a soul-piercing story is told, heard and shared by others, a very dark room is invaded by a pinhole of light.
Eyes now focus on the light, not the darkness. The sharing of each story opens other pinholes of light. When grief is expressed the pain lessens. A wound shared with another brings a healing catalyst and balm.
Sad souls and broken hearts find rays of hope in grief. Anger and pain can yield to the power of love and forgiveness.
Together in human unity with our wounded warriors, we will become a community of wounded healers who build capacity for empathy and it’s extreme boundary edge: interpathy (an in-depth relationship that occurs when an outsider to a particular host community develops a burden for that community). It will take a “next level” community movement of human compassion, democratic responsibility and shared wound hosting and healing, as payment for the true cost of peace and war.
Together, we can rise to the power of collective healing, or we can fall to the toxic power of grief unfelt, confession unfound, and forgiveness forsaken. Are you willing to be part of a brave new order of peace builders who share wounds and sacrifice with our warriors?
Larry Malone flew the A-6 Intruder bomber from the USS Enterprise in the Vietnam War. Years later, he discovered some inner wounds and moral injuries related to war that surfaced in counseling and therapy. Well before Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis and treatment were available, Larry has discovered and walked a path that can help others provide spiritual care for wounds of the soul and conscience.
Larry retired as a Navy Captain (O-6). He had an extensive business career and served as director of men’s ministry for the General Commission on United Methodist Men from 1997-2010. He is president of the World Methodist Council men’s affiliate. Larry works through Operation Stand Down Tennessee, helping homeless veterans find hope and healing for soul wounds.
If you are interested in learning more or becoming involved, please visit www.about.me/larrymalone and contact Larry on the website email.
Here are links to Larry's story and soul wounds: