During the winter of 2008, Rita Nakashima Brock of Faith Voices for the Common Good, Gabriella Lettini of Starr King School for the Ministry, and Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg of Luna Productions gathered for dinner in Berkeley, CA. Inspired by Luna Productions‘ Emmy-nominated documentary, “Soldiers of Conscience,” made with permission of the U.S. Army, the group discussed what might be done to reach religious communities and bring national attention to the questions of moral and religious conscience facing service members and veterans.
From that initial conversation, the group conceived the idea of holding a Truth Commission on Conscience in War (TCCW) so that more people could listen to the voices of veterans. The invited testimony from diverse veterans who struggled with moral conscience in war, as well as experts such as a VA psychiatrist, a philosopher of war who is also a veteran, a military chaplain, religious leaders, a legal expert, and a war correspondent. Their testimonies were designed to help others learn about the complex moral questions surrounding war and its aftermaths.
The planning committee for the TCCW included the dinner group, who donated their time as a public service to the Truth Commission. In addition, Ian Slattery, a producer at Luna Productions, worked half-time for several months to provide administrative support and to reach out to Luna Productions’ military contacts, including Chaplain (Col. US Army ret.) Herman Keizer, Jr., who was wounded in Vietnam and served for 34 years as a military chaplain. Finally, the Starr King School for the Ministry, Faith Voices for the Common Good, and Luna Productions became the most important organizations to provide personnel, funds, and in-kind support for the TCCW. During the spring of 2010, Drs. Brock and Lettini offered a course on the history and purpose of truth commissions for a dozen graduate students and seminarians from all over the United States, all of whom also served as commissioners for the TCCW.
The group secured the generous in-kind support of the Riverside Church in New York as a venue for a public hearing and invited Rev. Keizer to be the honorary host of the TCCW. Dr. Kaia Stern of Harvard Law School agreed to chair the public hearing. In a difficult fund-raising climate, the small planning committee secured the support of several private donors and almost seventy co-sponsoring organizations, which donated funds and in-kind services to support the project. Each co-sponsor provided a commissioner for the hearing. (All are listed at www.conscienceinwar.org.)
The TCCW received testimony for four hours at the public hearing on March 21, 2010, and met the next day to discuss the testimony and a proper response to what had been revealed. Commissioners created strategies for further conversations in their communities and shared ideas for educating their constituents about the complex issues the commission raised. On November 10, 2010, the TCCW issued its consensus Report at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. and the next evening, the Report was dedicated and delivered to religious representatives at an interfaith service to honor moral conscience, preached by Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., who had also served as a commissioner at the March hearing.
Among the consensus recommendations contained in the TCCW Report (available online a at www.conscienceinwar.org) was the following:
To Religious and Community Leaders
In working with members of the Armed Forces and veterans, religious and community leaders must educate themselves and their members about the consequences of the physical and psychological wounds of war and the needs of those who struggle with lingering wounds. They must learn to listen to veterans about how to reintegrate them into their communities while not falsely valorizing or demonizing them or leaving them to suffer invisibly and in silence. They must, especially, educate themselves and their communities in how they can support those who suffer moral injury.
Drs. Brock and Lettini worked from 2011-2012 to carry forward this recommendation by holding a conference in Berkeley in March 2011 on moral injury and seeking funds to create the Soul Repair Center. The Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School opened June 1, 2012, through the support of a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. in Indianapolis, IN.
As they worked to secure funds and establish the project, Drs. Brock and Lettini also began work on a book to introduce moral injury to the general public, especially those identified in the TCCW report as needing to undertake work to address moral injury. On Nov. 6, Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury After War was released by Beacon Press. It would not have been possible without the important contributions of four veterans, Camillo “Mac” Bica, Chaplain (Col. US Army ret.) Herman Keizer, Jr., Pamela Lightsey, and Camilo Mejía, who generously allowed their stories of moral injury to be told and veterans such as Kevin Benderman, Tyler Boudreau, Joshua Casteel, who also provided materials for the book.