Mummy on the Orient Express: Wounded in a Forgotten War…

I haven’t forgotten that I promised a follow up post for Kill The Moon, however, I am probably going to return to that post after the season ends, in order to include examples from the whole series.

MRS PITT: Is there some sort of fancy dress thing on this evening?
MAISIE: I don’t think so. Why do you ask?
MRS PITT: Well, that fellow over there, dressed as a mummy monster thing.
MAISIE: Who do you mean? I can’t see him.
MRS PITT: You! You! Throw that man out of my dining car. It’s disgusting.
WAITER: I’m sorry, Madam. Which man?
MRS PITT: Which man?! I’ll have your job. That man, right there, dressed as a monster.
MAISIE: Mama, there isn’t anyone there. Are you feeling okay?
MRS PITT: Don’t you dare lie to me, girl. I won’t be made a fool of. Stop it. Stop it. Stop him at once. Right now.
MAISIE: Mama, there’s no one there

When first watching Mummy on the Orient Express, I posted on my facebook profile that Steven Moffat needed to learn about moral injury. While most people are familiar with PTSD and the staggering effect it can have on service members and veterans, moral injury is less well known in popular discourse. While PTSD is a psychological condition  that affects the parts of the brain that deal with the regulation of fear, moral injury, “is the result of reflection on memories of war or other extreme traumatic conditions. It comes from having transgressed one’s basic moral identity and violated core moral beliefs”-Brock and Lettini.

Yet ignorance does not negate how painful and deadly moral injury can be for those who are suffering from it. Moral injury, like PTSD, is invisible, and as a result it can be easy to be dismissive towards the suffering of those experiencing moral injury. We rely on sight to be able to discern what is real and authentic, and such an attitude applies towards our understanding of injuries. We use our sight to gauge the seriousness of a wound and the perceived discomfort of the person with the injury. Injuries that we can’t see, make us uncomfortable since it can be difficult for us to understand the seriousness of such injuries.For instance if a person is on crutches,  we know  that said person will have trouble time getting to and from class, as a result a friend might offer a ride or offer to carry the person’s books. Yet how does one help those suffering from invisible wounds? Additionally, and perhaps this is an indication of cynicism on my part, physical injuries can help us assess the depth and length of support we offer another person. Is there a chance of healing? How long will the person be injured? Do I really have the time and energy and resources (including emotional) to support another person through their difficult journey? What are the chances that I or someone I love will experience this type of injury? Invisible wounds are harder to predict and control.

In this episode, the Doctor and others on the train are threatened by a mummy that is only visible towards those about to die. When Mrs. Pitt complains about someone in costume her granddaughter and those around her understandably question her sanity and health. She does not realize that the mummy is invisible to everyone else but her. In “real life” my reaction would not be much different than her granddaughter’s. Yet even when she dies, her death is dismissed by the other passengers as a health factor, since she was quite old and frail. The only people that have a hunch that something more sinister might be at hand are the Doctor and Clara since experience has taught them that not much is impossible in the universe.

DOCTOR: Come on, Captain. Where would we all be if we all followed our job descriptions, hmm? Good question. Glad you asked. In your case, you’d be doing something instead of climbing inside a bottle.
QUELL: I have followed the procedure for accidental death to the letter.
DOCTOR: Yes, I’m sure you have. And I’m sure you do just enough of your job to avoid complaints.
QUELL: You don’t know anything about me.
pizap.com14136936794961.
QUELL: There is no evidence of any attack or other parties
DOCTOR: Yes, let’s just sit around and wait for the evidence while the bodies pile up. Or here’s a crazy thought. We could do something to stop it. Why am I even talking to you?

Quell, wants to pretend that nothing unusual is going on. As the captain of the ship, he is responsible for what happens to the passengers, a responsibility that can be daunting in the face of trouble. As a result, he chooses to ignore any hint of suspicious activity. The Doctor points out that his reaction is somehow traced to his experiences in war. Though the Doctor is not sure of the specifics, he knows that Quell wants to try and put his past experiences behind him by seeking solace in a job that is supposed to be relatively trauma-free. And when evidence that something more troubling may be occurring, Quell immediately seeks to distance himself from it. The Doctor, however, understands that ignoring a problem does not magically solve it.

When service members return from war-there is an expectation-by some family members, friends, and perhaps the individual service member, that things will be able to quickly go back to normal, especially if the service member has no discernible injuries. Popular media loves to show case welcome home stories and they are often framed in a fairy tale fashion: the hero has been gone conquering enemies, and now is home and can live happily ever after with loved ones. Yet as the high incidents of alcoholism and suicide demonstrate, some veterans and service members struggle to move past their experiences of war. Furthermore, even those who seem to outwardly be doing well or who aren’t struggle from alcoholism, depression, anxiety etc may still find transitioning home to prove challenging.

As a society we express shock and horror at learning about the suicide rate (about 22 a day), the divorce rate, or the homelessness rate of veterans, and for a few weeks or months we demand change. But after a while as wars languish or are “ended,” and as other issues come to the media forefront, the experiences of our veterans and service members are forgotten We want them to forget their service in a warzone, except to titillate us with details that glorify war. Or at the very least we expect them to act like Quell- who at least on the surface appears to have moved on. If veterans and service members can’t mentally let go of their time in a war zone, we want them to at least go through the motions of normality.

DOCTOR: Oh, come on, Captain. How many people have to die before you stop looking the other way?

………..

QUELL: It turns out its three. The amount of people that had to die before I stopped looking the other way.

At some point denial no longer becomes feasible. For Quell, the death of another person, forces him to wake up and confront the stark reality of his situation. If he wanted to stop the deaths, he would need to get to the root of the problem.

Likewise, in the case, of our returning service members and veterans we need to stop pretending that war is a glorious game, as depicted in the movies. We can’t claim to support our troops and our veterans and then expect them to keep quiet about their experiences, or be able to simply move on and forget about what they have gone through. If we want to truly support our troops than we will have to go beyond trite clichés and the posting of yellow ribbons and deal with the fact that war can be messy and painful. Those of us who are civilians will never understand what our service members and veterans go through/have gone through, but we can provide a listening ear that does not condemn or judge. We can insist that our nation provide adequate health care and support for those asked to fight on our behalf. We can critically think about how our nation’s obsession with war and violence may be less about security and more about profit and greed.

QUELL: You really think it can sense psychological issues?
DOCTOR: It seems so. Why?
QUELL: When you said I’d lost the stomach for a fight, I wasn’t wounded in battle as such, but. My unit was bombed. I was the sole survivor. Not a scratch on me. But post-traumatic stress. Nightmares. Still can’t sleep without pills.
It is important to note, that unlike PTSD, moral injury is not a psychological diagnosis. There is no checklist that a clinician can consult nor any medication that can be prescribed. And of course one can have both moral injury and PTSD at the same time. I have no doubt that Quell would experience PTSD after being the sole survival of his unit-but he may also suffer from moral injury. The importance of one’s unit is drilled into the service member. Each person in the unit must be able to perform at top capacity in order to ensure the safety of their fellow service members. They share an experience that few understand and in times of danger, boredom, etc they have their unit to turn to as family members and friends are often thousands of miles away. They are supposed to be willing to do whatever it takes to care for their fellow service members. This emphasis on the unity of a unit is a essential part of the moral fabric of the military and the inability to fulfill that commitment can be devastating. One can feel as if he/she has violated a deeply sacred moral code-and the fact that such a violation was unintentional matters little. It is hard to imagine that Quell could have done something to protect his unit from a bombardment-especially if it was a surprise attack. Yet the sense of failure is still acute. How do you make sense of surviving while everyone else died? What could you have done differently?

Moral injury calls into question one whole’s identity. We all have concepts of moral actions, of what is “right” and “wrong” and even in war, at least on paper, there is a clear understanding of what actions are acceptable and what actions are not. And most of us have clear criteria for what makes a person moral or immoral and we would like to think that we would do the right thing in all situations. But the reality of war rarely conforms to our neat little categories of right and wrong. Snap decisions are made, and actions occur that are beyond an individual’s control. Most people would not even think to blame Quell for surviving or accuse him of breaking the code of morality that stresses the bond between service members. Yet, reassurances of, “you couldn’t have done anything” and, “you didn’t do anything wrong” sounds cheap and hallow.

DOCTOR: That doesn’t sound like a scroll. That sounds like a flag! And if that sounds like a flag, if this is a flag, that means that you are a soldier, wounded in a forgotten war thousands of years ago. But they’ve worked on you, haven’t they, son? They’ve filled you full of kit. State of the art phase camouflage, personal teleporter.
PERKINS: Ten seconds.

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The deaths from the mummy do not stop until the Doctor recognizes that the mummy is in fact a soldier from a forgotten war. While the war has ostensibly ended centuries ago, for the soldier the war continued. Additionally, once the Doctor found out the mummy was a soldier in a forgotten war, he treated the mummy with respect and not as a helpless victim nor as a horrible monster. One of the important things to remember about moral injury is that it does not render veterans and service members as victims to be coddled. Such a view is condescending and patronizing especially coming from those of us who have never been deployed to a war zone. Instead learning about moral injury should bring about a sense of shame that as a nation we give lip service to the notion of supporting our troops and veterans, but in reality we quickly forget those we ask to fight on our behalf. And even if we view war or a particular war with disdain, that does not negate our obligation to support our veterans and service members.

It is easy for those of us who have never been to war to tell veterans and service members to just “get over it,” especially if years or decades have passed since the ending of a particular war. We tend to view the departure of boots on the ground as the end of a war and we fail to recognize how invisible wounds make it difficult for those who fought to leave the war beyond. And as long as we as a society continue to turn a blind eye to the continued war that many veterans and service members face, there will be more instances of death, drug and alcohol abuse, and homelessness.

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