Quaker Universalist Conversations

Moral Injury in World War II

Five Came Back, by Mark Harris The remarkable three-part documentary series,1 Five Came Back (Netflix streaming), tells the story of the roles of five famous Hollywood film directors: Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), John Huston (The Maltese Falcon), William Wyler (Wuthering Heights), John Ford (The Grapes of Wrath), and George Stevens (Giant).

Let There Be Light, by John Huston (1046) All five men were involved in developing American troop and public propaganda through films during World War II, and Five Came Back describes the effect of their war experiences on the later films they made.

In part III, the documentary covers the Huston film Let There Be Light (1946),2 a close-up look at returning World War II soldiers suffering from extreme psychological trauma, before there was any language to explain this reality that we now recognizing as PTSD and Moral Injury.

Let There Be Light was banned by the government for 30 years3 as a denial of this complex reality, which we now, finally, publicly acknowledge.

Let There Be Light (screenshot)
Moral injury is a universal experience, seen most readily in the lives of military people, but is certainly also a consequence of many other traumatic experiences in all cultures and countries. The risk of moral injury is implicit in the Quaker Peace and Equality testimonies.

Today, Quaker House-Fayetteville (North Carolina) supports Quaker leaders and experts in raising the visibility of moral injury and of the emerging practical steps for its management in human lives.4 Friends should consider support for Quaker House-Fayetteville’s particular pioneering work in this field.

As Friends and their allies work on the awakening of compassion toward PTSD and moral injury survivors, Five Came Back will be valuable as an historical contextual document. In that work, the Huston film Let There Be Light will be valuable for training and education programs about our nation’s slow recognition of these concerns.


Image Source & Notes

Image: Screenshot from Let There Be Light [in the public domain in the United States, because it is a work of the United States Federal Government under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code].

1 Five Came Back was initially released in 2014 (see “‘Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War’ by Mark Harris,” by Charles Matthews, The Washington Post, 3/14/2014).

2 The entire Let There Be Light film is now available online through Internet Archive (aka “The Wayback Machine”) at https://archive.org/details/gov.ntis.ava04168vnb1.

3 See the following pieces about the suppression and restoration of Huston’s Let There Be Light:

4 See Quaker House’s Moral Injury Resources.

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