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Trauma and TranscendenceSuffering and the Limits of Theory$
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Eric Boynton and Peter Capretto

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780823280261

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823280261.001.0001

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Perpetrator Trauma and Collective Guilt: My Lai

Perpetrator Trauma and Collective Guilt: My Lai

Chapter:
(p.163) Chapter 8: Perpetrator Trauma and Collective Guilt: My Lai
Source:
Trauma and Transcendence
Author(s):

Ronald Eyerman

Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823280261.003.0009

Among other atrocities of the American war in Vietnam, the My Lai Massacre stands out as a clear illustration of the social pressure to individualize guilt and restrict any attempt to collectivize responsibility. With special attention to the traumatic character of this event, this chapter introduces and develops the notion of perpetrator trauma, which I define as a moral injury. I claim that perpetrator trauma occurs when individuals and collectives feel they have acted in ways contrary to deeply held moral beliefs. The essay contends that this encounter is rightly described as a trauma, in that it results from or in the shattering of identity, individual and/or collective. The mass murder of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai was cause for great public debate in the United States, wherein the idea of collective guilt and responsibility was central. I show way the attempt to responsibility was unsuccessful.

Keywords:   Collective Violence, Guilt, Moral injury, Perpetrator trauma, PTSD, Responsibility, Shame, Sociology, Vietnam

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