Why a 70-year-old Movie Is Relevant to Today's ‘Moral Injury’ Debate

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Following the books, TV shows, and movies mentioned here and here, a few more suggestions.

The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel. A reader writes:

I've been following your posts and book list, and have a recommendation: The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel.

Non-fiction (Finkel was an "embedded" reporter with a US Army battalion for 8 months between April 2007 and April 2008.) This is the All Quiet on the Western Front of the Iraq war.

A harrowing book- be prepared for that. I wanted to quit about 1/4 the way through. But I felt a duty to read it clear through- if the guys lived it and Finkel chronicled it, I could at least read to the end.

People need to know about this book.

Best Picture winner, 1946 (Wikimedia)

What It’s Like to Go to War, by Karl Marlantes. Since its publication five years ago, I’ve often noted here the excellence of Matterhorn, a Vietnam novel by my longtime friend Karl Marlantes. A reader writes about Marlantes’s subsequent book:

Karl Marlantes’s  What it’s Like to Go to War  is a Viet Nam and postwar memoir that belongs on returning soldier reinstatement and chicken-hawk cautionary reading lists too.

When reading about the roadblock tragedy today in your first post about Afterwar, I thought of the similar scene in One Bullet Away….

When you read What it’s Like to Go to War, consider if any part of Marlantes’ suggestions for bringing veterans back whole into civil life remind you of scenes in the film The Best Years of Our Lives.  I was reminded of his book when I watched the film again recently with my kids.  The movie is old but not dated for this topic.

From another reader on the same topic:

You mentioned Karl Marlantes's harrowing Matterhorn, but an even better book for this topic is his follow-on non-fiction What it's like to go to war. He addresses these exact issues, not just from the standpoint of the trigger puller, but also from the viewpoint of the officer who orders artillery and air attacks that kill dozens.


Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character, by Jonathan Shay. From a reader:

In your list of books about healing moral injuries, I hope you mention Jonathan Shay’s Achilles in Vietnam.  It is one of the most profound and humane books on healing trauma I have seen (indeed, it is one of the most profound and humane books I have ever read).

If you haven’t read it [JF: I have], it is structured as a meditation on Achilles’ moral breakdown in the Iliad, culminating with his dragging the corpse of  Hector around the walls of Troy—all filtered through Shay’s work with the men (Vietnam veterans) he has treated for combat trauma.  The notion that combat trauma is as old as combat, and that loss of honor through being forced to commit what “normal,” civilian society sees as crimes is at its root, has stuck with me for many years.

I know and tremendously admire this book and join the reader in urging others to find and read it.


Afghanada, a radio drama by the CBC in Canada. A reader in Toronto says:

I don't know if you already know Afghanada, but it was a radio play on the CBC. Khan Soror, a well-know Afghani actor played a a part and advised. Scott Taylor was the military advisor, so it was gritty and sounded real to someone like me (reserve force).