To Live Is an Act of Courage

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Strong, fierce, smart, and talented, Ajax is one of the greatest warrior heroes in classical mythology. He wins every campaign and every battle he enters, earning the name Ajax Unconquered. Yet as Ovid tells it in the Metamorphoses, “Unconquered, he was conquered by his sorrow”: he dies when he chooses to fall on his own sword.


His suicide happens after the greatest warrior of them all, Achilles, is killed, and Ajax and Odysseus defy all common sense in retrieving his body from their enemies, the Trojans. Both show extraordinary valor. Ajax does most of the fighting while Odysseus grabs the body and rides away to safety. Afterward, a council decides that both deserve to inherit the magical armor Achilles had worn. Forged on Mount Olympus, the home of the gods, this armor is both extremely protective and a symbol that its wearer is the greatest warrior alive. To settle the question of who deserves it, the two heroes battle each other, but the result is a tie. At last, they make their claims in words, and because Odysseus speaks with more eloquence, the council awards him the armor. Ovid tells us that Ajax’s disappointment was what caused him to kill himself. In a play about him, Sophocles writes that Ajax is so miserable that he falls into a stupor in which he imagines a flock of sheep to be warriors, and he slays them all. When he awakes and sees what he has done, he is so ashamed that he cannot bear it, and he dies by his own hand.

The terrible irony is that all of this is about armor, yet Ajax succumbs to the foe from which no piece of armor could have protected him: his own envy, rage, shame, and regret.

Throughout history, artists and writers have depicted “the sorrowful Ajax” because the story is so heartbreaking and so very human. At times, we are all—every one of us—our own worst enemy.


Today’s military faces a tremendous crisis. We are losing more soldiers to suicide than to combat. Some of this is attributable to PTSD—posttraumatic stress disorder—but a recent Pentagon study covering the years 2008 through 2011 showed that some 52 percent of those who committed suicide had never been deployed to a combat zone. Last year, military personnel killed themselves at a rate of about one a day. Veterans are killing themselves at a rate of almost one every hour, about 22 a day. Recently the rise in military suicide was so extreme that it made the front page of The New York Times and the cover of Time magazine. The rate is higher this year than it was at this point last year.

Written By: Jennifer Michael Hecht
continue to source article at theamericanscholar.org

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  1. Soldiers in the last decade have all been war criminals, fighting in aggressive wars. Technically that is a capital crime.

    In the interest of protecting soldiers, they have been removed further and further from their enemies. They lob explosives, and illegal weapons such as white phosphorus, DU, cluster bombs and land mines that let them fight from a distance. A necessary side effect of this style of fighting is more civilians and children are killed. The Geneva conventions have been declared “quaint”. The USA has embraced torture and rendition with relish.

    So it is only natural that soldiers would have extreme guilt. The guilt is even worse since the enemy has no means of harming the homeland. This is shooting fish in a barrel. So I think the PTSD is a good thing. It is the natural consequence of despicable behaviour. Why did these soldiers volunteer for Afghanistan and Iraq in the first place. It certainly was not to protect the USA. The pay is terrible. The working conditions appalling. That leaves adventure and sadism. If the only punishment was PTSD, they got off lightly.

    • In reply to #1 by Roedy:

      Soldiers in the last decade have all been war criminals, fighting in aggressive wars. Technically that is a capital crime.

      In the interest of protecting soldiers, they have been removed further and further from their enemies. They lob explosives, and illegal weapons such as white phosphorus, DU,…

      Well that was pretty damn glib. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to casually denounce a few thousand more people to life-long torment, just for completeness?

      Wholesale denunciation is just as serious a mistake as wholesale romanicisation of all soldiers as heros. An altogether more nuanced approach is needed, along with an appreciation that soldiers don’t get to choose where they’re assigned; that falls to others.

      Keep your denouncements for those who are to blame.

      • In reply to #5 by Ian:

        In reply to #1 by Roedy:

        Soldiers in the last decade have all been war criminals, fighting in aggressive wars. Technically that is a capital crime.

        In the interest of protecting soldiers, they have been removed further and further from their enemies. They lob explosives, and illegal weapons such…

        Well said.

    • In reply to #1 by Roedy:

      Soldiers in the last decade have all been war criminals, fighting in aggressive wars. Technically that is a capital crime.

      In the interest of protecting soldiers, they have been removed further and further from their enemies. They lob explosives, and illegal weapons such as white phosphorus, DU,…

      Any evidence for these claims? Not in isolated cases but wholesale as you seem to claim.
      I thought Iraq was a war without justification but Afghanistan had UN mandate and with good reason. The Taliaban were running a regime that made North Korea look like Candy Mountain. In the final analysis things are far better there now than they were before. Girls can get an education and they aren’t marching people by their hundreds into football stadiums to be machine gunned for various Sharia crimes. There aren’t terrorist training camps running without impunity over there now.
      I think most people wish that the world didn’t need large armies and the human race could get by peacefully. But I don’t think you can justify labelling all soldiers as war criminals because that implies a deliberate and prolonged deliberate targeting of civilians. Evidence for that please? And don’t go conspiracy theory on us. If the evidence isn’t out there it isn’t evidence.

    • In reply to #1 by Roedy:

      Soldiers in the last decade have all been war criminals, fighting in aggressive wars. Technically that is a capital crime.

      In the interest of protecting soldiers, they have been removed further and further from their enemies. They lob explosives, and illegal weapons such as white phosphorus, DU,…

      Wow. Do you have any evidence to back up your sweeping statements about common soldiers? Also, who exactly was it that declared the Geneva convention “Quaint”? And which Americans have embraced torture with relish? RELISH for crying out loud!

    • Your comment, Roedy, is just terrible. Just so terrible. Soldiers are recruited from poor neighborhoods before they even turn 18 and they are promised the world: education, stability, housing, good pay (compared to their options)
      I just can hardly believe you would think people are “sadists” and not desperate, and it’s repulsive that you judge the people fighting the wars rather than the people starting them.
      My heart goes out to the families of lost ones. I hope you grow a heart of your own.

      In reply to #1 by Roedy:

      Soldiers in the last decade have all been war criminals, fighting in aggressive wars. Technically that is a capital crime.

      In the interest of protecting soldiers, they have been removed further and further from their enemies. They lob explosives, and illegal weapons such as white phosphorus, DU,…

  2. I question the wisdom of telling emotionally vulnerable people they have a heavy moral obligation (suicide is akin to homicide). Obligation, coupled with perceived social judgement, are not effective therapies. This seems to be a flowery way of saying “pull yourself together” and “everyone gets the blues sometimes, but most knuckle down and get on with it”. It panders to the smug idea that folk in the depths of depression should “jolly well get a grip and realise how lucky they are”

  3. I suppose it is a perception of reality. Soldiers often join up with an idealistic intention of defending their homeland and serving higher moral causes. – only to find they are being deployed to do the dirty-work of scurrilous and incompetent politicians.

    With the benefit of hindsight, later reflection on the tasks they have been given to do, is probably quite devastating. So is the neglect of veterans by society when they return with “hero badges” but with many sleeping rough!

    http://news.stv.tv/west-central/190903-soldiers-on-the-streets-campaigners-sleep-rough-to-highlight-homelessness/
    Shelter estimates over 5000 veterans are currently homeless or sleeping rough in Scotland,

  4. @Roedy

    ” Soldiers in the last decade have all been war criminals, fighting in aggressive wars. Technically that is a capital crime.”

    .
    The classical confusion. Those that do what they see as their duty and the duty done

    ” Why did these soldiers volunteer for Afghanistan and Iraq in the first place. It certainly was not to protect the USA. The pay is terrible. The working conditions appalling. That leaves adventure and sadism. “

    You read minds? Sure this isn’t projection?

    I see that you know nothing of war or soldiering and the only despicable behavior here was your ” original ” comment

  5. Roedy # 1:

    The vast majority of ORs in the army joined because for various reasons they fell through the net and ended up with little or no education; in other words it was Hobson’s choice.

    And of course the brass love the fact that they have complient cohorts that they can condition for conflicts much of which are initiated under false pretences by politcians who are ignorant of history, incapable of thinking sub specie aeternitatis and, often for petty parochial party political reasons, refuse to follow the guidance their advisors, hence the bloody mess we are in at present.

    Apart from all of which life’s just bed of roses.

    • In reply to #13 by Timothy McNamara:

      Roedy’s last paragraph Isn’t without food for thought. Like mother always said, “If there were no soldiers, there’d be no wars.”

      You and Roedy should consider yourselves lucky that, like me, you have never suffered PTSD. It is not a subject to be glib about and not something that should be wished on anybody by anybody, for any reason. It isn’t decent.

      As for trite nonsense, Marx said that all property is theft, so now all we need is a magic wand and all the world’s problems would be over. Meanwhile, we can subsist on nuts and berrys.

      Sorry if this all sounds rather cynical, but the world won’t suddenly fix itself once blame has been established and that assumes we have the competence to establish blame in the first place.

      Whatever the ultimate truth, callous attitudes won’t help matters.

    • In reply to #13 by Timothy McNamara:

      Roedy’s last paragraph Isn’t without food for thought. Like mother always said, “If there were no soldiers, there’d be no wars.”

      ” Like mother always said, “If there were no soldiers, there’d be no wars.” “

      There would be slavery and dishonor though. Consider that food for thought.

  6. Before also jumping self righteously on the Roedy bashing bandwagon you might want to consider the following facts: military’s stock in trade is the delivery of death and destruction or at the very least the threat thereof. Soldiers are the front line of that delivery. They have been highly trained and equipped to kill and destroy, that’s what they are supposed to do.

    Concerning Hecht’s article, which she shamelessly employs to showcase her pseudo literary pretenses, what typically always goes missing from these “woe is me” mainstream media treatments of the veterans issue is mention of what got them into that situation in the first place. That would be our power elites who wage war on behalf of the interests of big money, corporations and the military-industrial complex who treat soldiers as cannon fodder. How many sons and daughters of the members of Congress served in the line of fire?

    Those trotting out the US war on Afghanistan as a just and necessary war ought to look a little bit deeper and further back into the history of the area.

    • In reply to #15 by godsbuster:

      Before also jumping self righteously on the Roedy bashing bandwagon you might want to consider the following facts: military’s stock in trade is the delivery of death and destruction or at the very least the threat thereof. Soldiers are the front line of that delivery. They have been highly train…

      Hi, this may surprise you, but I largely agree with your analysis.

      I’m not the sort of person who thinks everyone in uniform is wonderful, humanitarian, blameless servant of the people. I’ve known too many soldiers and ex-soldiers to have a rosy idea of them; but that doesn’t mean they can’t suffer unjustly and can’t be exploited by corrupt politicians or manipulative religious zealots. Thus I can be offended by Roedy’s glib attitude to PTSD, while remaining quite ambivalent to military charities.

      • In reply to #17 by Ian:

        In reply to #15 by godsbuster:

        ‘m not the sort of person who thinks everyone in uniform is wonderful, humanitarian, blameless servant of the people. I’ve known too many soldiers and ex-soldiers to have a rosy idea of them; but that doesn’t mean they can’t suffer unjustly and can’t be exploited by corrupt politicians or manipulative religious zealots. Thus I can be offended by Roedy’s glib attitude to PTSD, while remaining quite ambivalent to military charities.

        I think my point is still being missed. The character of the soldier is irrelevant. Just as in the civilian world there are those that are depraved, there are those that, in spite of the absurd circumstances they’ve been forced into by their country, display an uncommon degree of honour, decency, loyalty, bravery and principle. Of course they have been and continue to be subject to unimaginable suffering and exploitation.

        But don’t you find it problematic or at least peculiar if not questionable that none of these articles, interviews, documentaries in the mainstream media by and about them ever discuss the big picture, the originating cause – the mechanism of what creates these scenarios time and time again? Not even simplistic finger pointing, blaming one administration, one set of politicians or the other. Perhaps a service person occasionally does go off the reservation and launches into a Chomskian analysis but it gets edited out as a rant and we never hear it?

        Listen to interviews on Veterans Day and it’s the same thing.

        • In reply to #20 by godsbuster:

          In reply to #17 by Ian:

          In reply to #15 by godsbuster:

          But don’t you find it problematic or at least peculiar if not questionable that none of these articles, interviews, documentaries in the mainstream media by and about them ever discuss the big picture, the originating cause – the mechanism of what creates these scenarios time and time again?…

          Thanks for your comment, Godsbuster. Yes I do find it problematic how poorly informed people are, that’s why I have such a problem with them being so judgmental. I haven’t seen a decent piece of political analysis on TV in decades. It’s very hard to find the sort of political and historical insight necessary to form mature opinions. I agree that vested interests including: businesses, political parties in and out of government, and religious organisations have used propaganda techniques to make populations more pliant and easy to manipulate. And I agree that media organisations have failed to oppose this because largely, they are the businesses with vested interests.

          I however do not agree that individual character is irrelevant to justice. In my view justice is about balance and reparation for individuals, because if you start treating people wholesale you start rewarding bad actions by people on the ‘right side’ and punishing right action on the ‘wrong’. Without the recognition of individual action there can be no justice. It is the riding roughshod over legitimate individual interests, first by tyrants – often supported by the West – and then by religious zealots, that makes situations like Iraq and Syria so bad.

          On the other hand, backing political Islam is like backing the Nazi party and it’s done for many of the same reasons. If you want to be on the ‘right’ side, then you’re stuffed I’m afraid; but if you want to be on the less absolutely awful side West is less disgusting.

    • In reply to #15 by godsbuster:

      Before also jumping self righteously on the Roedy bashing bandwagon you might want to consider the following facts: military’s stock in trade is the delivery of death and destruction or at the very least the threat thereof. Soldiers are the front line of that delivery. They have been highly train…

      ” Before also jumping self righteously “

      Try righteously!

      Both you and Roedy share the same confusion between what one sees as one’s duty and the particular duty that one has to do.

  7. Roedy may be glib and dark, but makes a few great points.

    Moral ambiguity is a factor in PTSD. Invading armies suffer higher rates than defenders. If one kills in self-defense, the system is less conflicted than if one murders for ignoble reasons. I disagree that PTSD is a suitable punishment. It’s torture. It indicates our soldiers are kinder and gentler than any soldiers before, and thus incapable of committing senseless horror without consequesnce. I assert this is part of the trend espoused by Stephen Pinker (History of Violence). For instance, 500 years ago a man would eviscerate an enemy at close quarters, go home and eat dinner. Now our soldiers fall in love in high school, listen to music, and develop their (for lack of a better word) souls, and this is an entirely different animal. They pull a trigger once, and blackout for two weeks.

    The Huns would slash the faces of newborns to prepare them for a life of pain, and they were effective warriors. A few centuries later, the Nazi soldiers were incapable of committing such atrocities without PTSD, hence the need for automated genocide. The quality of the German character at the time should have precluded such acts, but technology and drugs sidestepped the obstacle of an enlightened, nurtured individuals. Civilized people are neurologically incapable of committing certain horrors without falling down and crying until they die. The high rates of PTSD are a sign we are improving as a species.

    • In reply to #22 by This Is Not A Meme:

      Roedy may be glib and dark, but makes a few great points.

      Moral ambiguity is a factor in PTSD. Invading armies suffer higher rates than defenders. If one kills in self-defense, the system is less conflicted than if one murders for ignoble reasons. I disagree that PTSD is a suitable punishment. It’s…

      Wonder what the PTSD rate is amongst drone operators who zap their victims very remotely indeed.

  8. The old truism from mother was meant to be taken as such, Neodarwinian. And thank you Ian. Of course I am to be placed 100% in Roedy’s camp, because I wrote the first comment trying to perhaps ease the relentless bashing of his clearly ill thought out piece. Anyone would think war were a religion and this thread populated by its congregation. Honestly, being told on RDFRS “YOU should consider yourself lucky YOU don’t have PTSD!” (an assumption) for saying one paragraph of one post wasn’t without food for thought. That ISN’T even an endorsement!

    • In reply to #24 by Timothy McNamara:

      The old truism from mother was meant to be taken as such, Neodarwinian. And thank you Ian. Of course I am to be placed 100% in Roedy’s camp, because I wrote the first comment trying to perhaps ease the relentless bashing of his clearly ill thought out piece. Anyone would think war were a religion an…

      You seem Tim, to have taken a wrong turn and landed in a completely bizarre dimension in which merely criticizing someone for being glib marks someone out as a war-mongering neo-con. This is what happens to you when you try to defend the indefensible.

      PTSD, like Alzhiemers, is a fate so awful that to wish it upon someone is completely beyond the pale. Whatever salient or interesting points you may also be making simply flee the area, rather than be associated with such an appalling proposition. It’s like making perfectly salient points on sexual politics and then suggesting some victims of rape are to blame. That suggestion calls everything else into question.

      So if you or Roedy want to make salient points about the illegality of the war in Iraq or bias in western news reporting, do it – just don’t lose sight of decency or compassion on the way.

    • In reply to #24 by Timothy McNamara:

      The old truism from mother was meant to be taken as such, Neodarwinian. And thank you Ian. Of course I am to be placed 100% in Roedy’s camp, because I wrote the first comment trying to perhaps ease the relentless bashing of his clearly ill thought out piece. Anyone would think war were a religion an…

      ” ease the relentless bashing of his clearly ill thought out piece. “

      He got off lightly and so did you. Some did not get off so lightly as you two did.

      So, stop whinging!

  9. 26 Ian, I was, and remain pro-Iraq II. Neodarwinian #27, I got off lightly? I GOT OFF LIGHTLY for calm remarks in an idiotic chain of comments? should I be bashed? slandered? penalised legally? Who the hell are you people?,This thread has become a torrent of abuse that has no place on this website. I imagine most of its pundits to have feverishly glanced two or three words of a post before firing off what they had planned to say anyway. I’ve taken a note of some names, and am getting out of here. Utterly ridiculous conduct. It would be in the best interest of RDFRS to erase this farce. Will flag the topic for moderators attention. Absurd chain of text. Certain individual posts have been flagged as well. I have no idea why logic and courtesy never entered this thread. Hopefully it will be dealt with to avoid bringing the site into disrepute.

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