Alternative Title

Moral injury, moral repair, and veteran anti-war activism

Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Study Type



School for Social Work


Veterans-Mental health-United States, War-Moral and ethical aspects, Veterans-Political activity, Peace movements, Moral injury, Moral repair, Veterans, Anti-war activism, Social movements


This exploratory study investigates the impact of collective anti-war organizing on veterans’ experiences of moral injury. Moral injury refers to the emotional, psychological, and spiritual unrest that emerges as the result of “perpetrating, failing to prevent, [or] bearing witness to… acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations” in the context of war (Litz et al., 2009, p 695). While current literature centers treatment for moral injury through clinical interventions, this study investigates if and how anti-war activism can provide a process for moral repair. Qualitative interviews with six veteran anti- war activists reveal that many intervention steps proposed by clinical literature on moral repair occur organically through antiwar activism. Morally reparative dynamics of activism include communalization of experience and community support; giving testimony and processing one’s story; agency, power and transformation of self; contextualization of violence and illuminating systems of war; and making amends, fighting for justice, and transforming society . Participants also identified elements of their activist work that were psychologically harmful. These include toxic environments and infighting; government infiltration; activist burn out; and public exposure to attack and abuse. Framing activism as a process of moral repair is not meant to exonerate veterans from responsibility for past participation in war, but rather to imagine how working towards justice and reparations for victims of U.S. imperialism can be transformative for veterans struggling with moral injury rooted in their participation in war. This study finds that moral repair for veteran anti-war activists can be seen as a process of transforming feelings of guilt and shame into tangible action against systems of war and empire.




iv, 103 pages. M.S.W., Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Ma. 2016. Includes bibliographical references (pages 88-94)

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