Janine di Giovanni

Five Things I've Learned About

Moral Injury and its Personal Consequence

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Join multi-award winning journalist and author Janine di Giovanni, and discover the Five Things She’s Learned about understanding and surviving the moral injury individuals suffer when forced to witness an event that goes against their moral core.

Online Event Details

  • 90 minutes


  • Single-Class Ticket - $40.00

View the archive of my 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about naming and understanding moral injury and about surviving its personal consequence.

I’m an author, an analyst, and — currently — a Professor of Practice of Human Rights at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. But first, and always, I am a reporter. I write long-format narratives, mainly about war and the politics of conflict.

My focus is on war crimes; global terrorism; refugee issues and sexual violence during war time. My goal is to document evidence on the ground that can later be cited in war crimes tribunals. I work alone; often undercover and in closed and difficult countries. And as a result, I’ve seen first-hand the profound trauma common to every war zone. Too often, I have also witnessed the devastating psychological consequences of conflict that continue to live on for members of local populations, for active soldiers, and for journalists like me.

In August 2020, Harper’s Magazine published my essay, “On Moral Injury,” in which I sought to give name to a single, shared scar common to all war zone participants — a scar that Dr. Anthony Feinstein, with whom I’ve worked closely, describes it as: “an affront to your moral compass based on your own behavior and the things you have failed to do.”

Moral injury is a branch of trauma that affects individuals forced to witness an event that goes against their moral core: A soldier, for example, who during war time is forced to witness torture; a a mother who sees her children bullied; journalists who witness terrible atrocities and must face choices between their obligation to help and their duty to observe, and who many remain haunted by their decisions for years afterward. In a collective sense, moral injury can similarly impact groups of people — citizens, for example, whose political values differ drastically from their country’s leaders and who feel deeply offended by lying, cheating or injustice in their political life.

In this ninety-minute class, I will look more closely at moral injury, and focus on what I’ve seen when individuals — and communities — believe they have significantly failed to live up to their own ethical standards. I’ll illustrate the psychological damage inflicted by this ethical dilemma with stories from my own career as a frontline journalist. I’ll address the responsibilities that journalists have toward their subjects, and that news organizations should their similarly have to their reporters. I will also explore some extended dimensions of moral injury, including for example, the moral injuries that the COVID-19 pandemic will likely inflict on us all in the months and years ahead.

Living through 2020 tested many of our core values — about what is fair and what is just, about illness as a metaphor. It also exposed the weakness of the health care system and the underlying structural injustice in America —  who is rich, who is poor, who gets good care and who does not. How do we live with ourselves about witnessing such cataclysmic shifts in society, and our own collective trauma as a society?  How can racism, sexism and injustice be so prevalent in a country that has so much to offer and is so evolved?

With the start of a new year, the beginning of a new U.S. government, and — we all hope — the beginning of the end of COVID-19 now in sight, it feels like the time to think through these issues, and to further develop together the concept of moral injury and its personal consequences.

I hope you’ll join me.

Janine di Giovanni

Janine di Giovanni is a multi-award winning journalist and author, and co-founder and co-director of The Reckoning Project: Ukraine Testifies, a transitional justice organization that trains researchers in Ukraine to collect testimonies that can be used in court.

Janine was a war reporter for nearly three decades, from the first Palestinian intifada in the early 1990s to the siege of Sarajevo; the Rwandan genocide; the brutal wars in Sierra Leone, Somalia, Ivory Coast and Liberia to Chechnya, Afghanistan, Pakistan. She reported extensively in  Iraq pre and post invasion, the Arab Spring, and finally Syria. Her field work for her most recent book took her to Gaza, Iraq, Egypt and Syria.  In 2020, the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded her their highest non fiction prize, the Blake Dodd. Janine served as a Senior Fellow and Professor at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs from 2018-2022. In 2016, CNN made a short video about her life and work when the International Women’s’ Media Foundation gave her their prestigious Courage in Journalism Prize.

Janine’s latest book, The Vanishing: The Twilight of Christianity in the Middle East, was published in 2022 and shortlisted for the Moore Prize for Human Rights, as well as being presented to His Holiness, Pope Francis, in Rome in March 2022. Her previous book, The Morning they Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria was translated into 28 languages and was a finalist for the Helen Bernstein New York Public Library Award for Excellence in Journalism.

As an analyst, Janine has written governmental white papers and been a Senior Consultant for projects for the UN Refugee Agency; the UN Democracy Fund; The Shattuck Center on Conflict, Negotiation and Recover; the International Refugee Commission. She is an International Board Member of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, and she is also an advisor on strategic communications.

She was a long-time Senior Foreign Correspondent for The Times of London and a Contributing Editor for Vanity Fair. She now writes for the New York Times; The Washington Post; The Guardian; The New York Review of Books; Harpers; The Atlantic; Foreign Affairs and many other publications.

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