Book Launch Highlights Struggles of Returning Veterans

Philosophy professor Nancy Sherman presented her new book on post-bellum effects on veterans called “Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers,” Wednesday at an event hosted by the Mortara Center for International Studies.

The event consisted of a conversation between Sherman and Mortara Center Director Kathleen McNamara, who spoke at the launch of her own book, “The Politics of Everyday Europe,” last week. Sherman’s launch was followed by a question-and-answer session with attendees.

McNamara began the hour-long event by introducing Sherman and her diverse background, which spans a wide range of academic disciplines such as psychoanalysis and ethics. McNamara also said that Sherman’s professional experiences, which includes visiting Guantanamo Bay Detention Center as part of an independent observation team, makes her uniquely qualified to write a book focused on the morality and psychology of veterans.

In addition to her vast academic background, McNamara also mentioned Sherman’s previous critically-acclaimed works, including “The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of our Soldiers and Stoic Warriors,” which acted as a strong foundation in military ethics that allowed her to write “Afterwar.”

Sherman said she wrote “Afterwar” in response to her personal inquiry into understanding soldiers’ moral perspectives after returning to civilian life. In her discussion, Sherman said she was inspired to write the book after teaching veterans at Georgetown.

“I wanted to do something a little more post-bellum, partly because of my setting here at Georgetown. I was teaching a lot of veterans … and they were coming and feeling very alienated, so I had this sense that I wanted to talk to them,” Sherman said.

Sherman then spoke to the importance of addressing veterans when they return from service from a moral perspective, recognizing the stigma that mental health issues hold within the U.S. health system.

“[Veterans] are in quiet ways … feeling a lot of anguish, not quite knowing how to say it, not knowing how to begin the conversation, in a country that nationally has an epidemic of mental health issues and a stigma surrounding it,” Sherman said.

Sherman also detailed specific case studies she used in her research for “Afterwar,” including an account from Navy seaman Alysha Haran who experienced sexism and depression while serving on a Navy destroyer.

Sherman said that veterans often feel unable to engage with civilians on mental health issues due to societal distance placed between the “war and the warrior.”

“People were coming home struggling with the stigma of mental health, and not knowing how to begin conversations in a country that learned to separate the war from the warrior. We’ve got, the ‘Vietnam Hangover’ … and one of the ways to politely separate the war from the warrior is to say ‘thank you for your service’ without doing anything,” Sherman said.

Lastly, Sherman suggested policy proposals that may help ease veterans back into civilian life. Specifically, she stressed the importance of across-the-board mental health reform in the United States, coupled with more extensive follow-up with service members after returning home.

Brittany Fried (SFS ’19), who attended the event, said she thoroughly enjoyed the intimate setting of the event and its conversational nature.

“I thought it was very engaging. It was really nice to have the personal stories and so much time for question-and-answer. I thought the conversation setting was very well done,” Fried said.

Santul Nerkar (COL ’19) said he learned about the importance of showing appreciation and care for veterans returning from service.

“I think there needs to be a better education of us, and we need more of an accepting role, more of a responsibility of this war and of soldiers that come back. That’s where the real patriotism lies, not in the war itself, but in the response afterwards,” Nerkar said.

Fried said the event helped her understand the role civilians can play in helping to facilitate the recuperation of veterans.

“I very much agree that a lot of [the solution] lays in education, and although we may not be able to completely emphasize because we haven’t been through the situation ourselves,” Fried said. “It’s important to be able to understand potential war wounds and how we can be a large part of helping them to recuperate and become a part of society again.”


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