The Spiritual Cost of the Iraqi War

Kate Durda

The spiritual costs of the Iraqi war are enormous. The Iraqi War cannot be considered separate from what led us into it. Many U.S. citizens believe the president of the United States blatantly lied (consider the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that never materialized – thankfully!). Many also feel manipulated, and implicated in an atrocious war without having the power to stop it. This the first spiritual cost of the Iraqi war. For those who do not believe we should have started this war in Iraq, another spiritual cost is the shock, outrage, and deep loss of trust this engendered.

For all people involved directly in war, and their families, there is a different kind of trauma - the violence and trauma of being involved in war itself, on the frontlines, risking death, sometimes giving up their lives, and experiencing the loss of friends and loved ones. Normal loss and grief is a cost the war incurs. But such grief combined with unresolved issues surrounding the purpose and meaning of controversial wars such as this one can keep our spirits disturbed, and in a state of unrest.

Another cost of war is the mental/emotional conditions it can cause, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - a tragedy for those who live with it, and for those who live with those who experience it. Lives are shattered in war, but what is often not recognized by our Western society is that on the spiritual plane, souls are shattered, and are left that way. In indigenous cultures such spiritual loss is understood, and directly addressed. In Shamanism, the oldest recorded form of spirituality, such loss is called “soul loss”. Jeanne Acterberg, in “The Wounded Healer”, describes soul loss as “injury to the inviolate core that is the essence of the person’s being.” In milder instances of soul loss, people can and do recover. But in instances of repetitive or strong trauma, people may not ‘self-heal’ from soul loss. In extreme cases, they may go through life dispirited, not sure of their purpose, living without passion or direction, suicidal, angry, addicted, or in general not able to function well. Often psychological treatment does not fully help. In these more severe cases, they may require some form of spiritual healing, such as the shamanic ‘soul retrieval’. Sandra Ingerman is one of the world’s foremost experts on soul loss, and has written about the power of shamanic soul retrieval for those clients she was unable to help in traditional therapy. Veterans of wars, as a group, are known to have a high frequency of soul loss.

“You can make people do anything if they are afraid”. This is the first sentence in the movie trailer for Michael Moore’s new film, “Fahrenheit 9/11”. “Fear mongering" was rampant in the U.S. after September 11, 2001, fostered partly by our government. Fear can throw people off balance, and contributes to them acting from reactionary feelings rather than from a place of reason. Much discrimination, hate, prejudice and violence, and war, is based in fear and ignorance. The creation of a fear state represents a huge spiritual ‘cost’ to us as a people. However, what we need to spiritually focus on, what the most important question is what will we do in response to the fear that is created, and how we can help our country pull back from that reactionary state.

Spiritual practices promote maintaining balance and harmony, acting in accordance with our beliefs, and the recognition of our ‘oneness’ not only with all people, but also all of life. We are faced with a huge potential loss of spirit in this country. We can view that as an opportunity to respond equally strongly. Many people of conscience responded to the 9/11 tragedy by advocating peace, not retaliation; by vehemently disagreeing with the U.S. actions to invade Iraq; and by supporting peace efforts to ensure peace in Iraq and across the world. But there is much more that goes into working toward and creating peace.

Peace will not come about through wars and peace treaties. It will come about when people are truly ‘peace-full’. These times offer great opportunity to bring our highest spiritual values to healing both the past and the current conditions that feed violence and war. As James Baldwin wrote, “History does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” This reflects upon the spiritual principle, “As within, so without”. Part of the work we have to do is to heal ourselves, and come from a place of peace and wholeness (holiness) from within. If we ‘believe in’ and work toward peace, it does not necessarily mean we are peaceful people in our actions and work ourselves. If a war is ended, it does not mean that peace exists. Peace is a state of mind, If people still carry wounding, trauma, anger, need for retaliation, or fear after experiencing violence or war, they are not at peace. True peace and healing remains undone.

Pathways Foundation for Peace and Healing was created with the aim of fostering peace and healing through a focus on spiritual values. We sponsor and teach workshops on methods of finding personal peace and healing, and on cross-cultural ancient and current methods of conflict resolution as well as various healing methods. Some of our work includes working with prisoners in Michigan, where we sponsor spiritual circles for inmates to work on things like anger management, and to find peace, and healing. We are also begun the development of Trauma Response Teams, which will attempt to provide support and help, especially spiritual healing such as soul retrieval, for those who have experienced trauma of war or other disasters, in the U.S. and elsewhere. This will include working with veterans of wars as well as working with groups of people who have experienced severe and profound trauma (such as in Bosnia and Rwanda). Another project that Pathways is involved with is working with youth, to help them understand the concept of oneness, and to begin to foster peace within, as well as providing them with tools and techniques to maintain peace within. Recently, several of us attended the 12th Annual Conflict Resolution Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia and presented training in shamanism and soul retrieval healing.

In the 2004 Annual Peace and Justice Lecture, Dr. Michael Nagler discussed the extreme wealth of those in power, and pointed out that no one can outspend them. However, he reminded the audience that people working for peace have a power that those in power do not have. That is the power of ‘soul’ in fighting injustice and making a better world. We truly must ‘be the peace’ we want to see in the world, just as Mahatma Ghandi extolled us to “be the change we want to see in the world”. To further quote Gandhi, he also wrote "e;When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall -- think of it , ALWAYS."

KATE A. DURDA, M.A., is a Developmental Psychologist, Shamanic Practitioner, Esoteric Healer, and Educator. See and for more information.