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State Dept. veteran Peter Van Buren talks about his powerful new antiwar novel, Hooper's War exploring the personal cost of combat, "moral injury". Since he published his first book about his experiences in Iraq, We Meant Well, Van Buren has been a frequent contributor to this podcast. Today, we discuss his new novel, set in WWII Japan, which looks at the impact of war on combatants and others and introduces the concept of moral injury. Unlike PTSD, which is the result of a fear-conditioned response, moral injury is a feeling of existential disorientation that manifests as intense guilt, grief and regret, often leading to self-medication and suicidal thoughts.
The lead characters in Hooper's War are an American and a Japanese soldier, and the reverse-chronology narrative (Hooper looking back during his final years) of the (fictional) firebombing of Kyoto.
As we discuss, Van Buren deftly uses the form of fiction to depict his own residual pain resulting from a one-year tour of Iraq where he saw victims who had been "roasted" by modern warfare driven by incoherent missions and pointless conflict. One of Hooper's superiors tells him "This shit doesn't end when the war does, it only ends when we do."
While we rarely cover novels on this podcast, Van Buren's new book is a compelling look at the human cost of armed conflict, and raises many important issues about the morality of war. PBC strongly recommends this book, you can order it here. Follow Van Buren's blog posts and commentaries here.