Questioning the “Ultimate Sacrifice” Because of America’s “Ultimate Betrayal”

Confronting a new wave of moral injury with the fall of Afghanistan

Michele DeMarco, PhD
12 min readAug 21, 2021


Put down the espresso and stop filtering photos for social media. It’s time that we as a society really listen to those at the frontlines of moral pain — otherwise we are bound to keep repeating the sins of the past.

Statue of a solider with the American flag in the background.
Photo: Andrew Simboli

It’s late afternoon on an unremarkable day. The sky is blah; the wind is blah; even the birds struggle to give a shit. It a perfect backdrop for Wyatt, the titan of a man I’m walking beside. Looking at him is like staring at Everest — unwavering; formidable strength; the pinnacle of its rank; the one everyone fears and reveres. At one point, I’m pretty sure Wyatt felt as epic as this millennia-old mountain. But on this day, he is a black hole — whatever light that is trapped inside him is being held by a force universally strong.

As I’d come to learn, that universe was his vow — I will never leave a fallen comrade; until he did, and then that universe blew to pieces.

Wyatt, a special forces solider, was on a special ops mission in Afghanistan a number of years ago when, as he said, things went from bad to fucked up. An intelligence disaster — out of date information, ignorant militia fighters, one in particular who had seriously betrayed them.

“You know what betrayal feels like?” Wyatt spits, stopping to look me in the eyes. It’s the first sign of life I’ve seen from him in our time together. “It’s like you’re being held down and forced to swallow a big, steamy pile of dogshit — or horseshit, or pigshit, or whatever shit is the most disgusting around. And as much as you close your eyes, hold your nose, and try to convince yourself that the sickness you feel is something other than what it is, the fact is that it’s still betrayal, and it’s still shit.”

That shit cost Wyatt’s brother-in-arms his life. (Read Wyatt’s story here.)



Michele DeMarco, PhD

Award-winning writer, therapist, clinical ethicist, and researcher specializing in moral injury. I talk about the stuff many won’t.