<i>Sin Sick: Moral Injury in War and Literature</i> by Joshua Pederson (A Book Review)


Joshua Pederson’s Sin Sick: Moral Injury in War and Literature proposes the use of moral injury – a psychological concept describing the affliction of those who break their moral code when committing despicable acts – as a framework through which war narratives of the American War on Terror can be productively read without resorting to the controversial idea of perpetrator trauma, which seems to excuse veterans as victims of the war.

Pederson provides the reader with a clinical overview of the condition as well as a first literary theory of moral injury as a manifestation of various forms of excess through a genealogical reading that includes analyses of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Camus’ The Fall. Sin Sick appears as a step in the right direction as it addresses in a timely manner a blind spot in trauma theory using a concept that more accurately describes a specific type of suffering. In the author’s mind the very term “moral injury” entails an acknowledgement of the soldiers’ wrongdoing, and this allows him to defend contemporary war writers from critics accusing them of using a narrow point of view that focuses on the pain of the American protagonists and hides the suffering of their victims.

Ultimately, the study introduces readers to a fresh way to understand the psychological pain of perpetrators and seeks to inaugurate a new branch of studies that can run in parallel with trauma theory.


trauma theory; war literature; trauma; moral injury

Litz, Brett, et al. Adaptive Disclosure: A New Treatment for Military Trauma, Loss, and Moral Injury. Guilford, 2016.

Pederson, Joshua. Sin Sick: Moral Injury in War and Literature. Cornell University Press, 2021.

Shay, Jonathan. “Learning About Combat Stress from Homer’s Iliad.” Journal of Traumatic Stress, vol. 4, no. 4, 1991, pp. 561–579.

Published : 2022-06-15

ArminioA. (2022). <i>Sin Sick: Moral Injury in War and Literature</i&gt; by Joshua Pederson (A Book Review). Review of International American Studies, 15(1), 149-154. https://doi.org/10.31261/rias.13585

Angelo Arminio  angelo.arminio@uniroma1.it
Sapienza - University of Rome; University of Silesia in Katowice  Italy

Angelo Arminio is a second-year PhD student at Sapienza Università di Roma and the University of Silesia in Katowice. He earned his BA at Sapienza with a thesis which explores the interdependence of memory, autobiography, and literary fiction in Paul Auster’s early works. His MA dissertation investigates questions of historical truth and fiction in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried as well as more recent veteran narratives. During his studies, Angelo spent time abroad at the University of York and the Freie Universität Berlin thanks to the Erasmus Programme. After earning his MA, he spent a year teaching Italian in Nuremeberg thanks to a fellowship sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Education. His current research focuses on the evolution of the fictional narratives of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, focusing on questions of authority, memory, trauma, and the use of fictionality as rhetoric. His research interests include contemporary narratives of war, postmodern and contemporary fiction, autofiction, narratology, and Walt Whitman's poetry and prose.

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