“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” So opens “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Albert Camus’ essay on the meaning of life in an absurd world, written as the Nazi atrocities had commenced in France.
Camus’ philosophical musings – which were born of the resistance movements in both France and Algeria – met the modern world head on last week when the Associated Press reported that suicides in Afghanistan now exceed combat deaths among American troops.
Part of the reason is that we are winding down the war: since January 1st there have “only” been 124 combat deaths. By contrast, there have been 154 suicides, a number that has been rising since 2005.
The Pentagon and veterans groups give several reasons for the increase, one of the primary ones being the ongoing lack of compassion for soldiers who seek treatment for emotional stress. That stress is compounded by the traumas of multiple combat tours and family and financial problems back home.
War is the ultimate theater of the absurd. In it, young people are trained to kill – and taught to die – in defense of life . . . and then discarded. Their isolation is exacerbated in a professional military that is cut off from the people whom it is meant to serve. The old draft kept the army connected to those people, if only because it had to train so many who did not want to be there and because they asked the question that all commanders dread: why are we doing this?