Even the Ancients understood that we send our young men off to battle at the cost of their mental stability. Playwrights and poets like Homer, Virgil, and Sophocles all told of the battle waged within the warriors soul.
After the tragedies at Fort Hood, the U.S. military is finally beginning to assess some of its own damage, and they are turning to Sophocles for help. According to the Times, “The Pentagon has provided $3.7 million for an independent production company, Theater of War, to visit 50 military sites through at least next summer and stage readings from two plays by Sophocles, “Ajax” and “Philoctetes,” for service members.”
On the one hand, I commend the Pentagon for showing more creativity than one could expect (certainly more than one usually finds) from an organization whose job is war. On the other hand, isn’t it interesting that we employ this ancient playwright as a therapist for our soldiers, but do not ourselves reflect upon the accumulation of this unspoken collateral damage throughout human history?
These plays are seen as more pragmatic than philosophical. The founder of the Theater of War, Bryan Doerriesis quoted describing the performances as “a public health project to help service members and relatives overcome stigmas about psychological injuries by showing that some of the bravest heroes suffered mentally from battle.” We don’t want Sophocles to speak to us, in other words, about the state or cost of warfare, we just want to you know that it’s okay that your screwed up for life! It’s normal to be strange. We are a far cry from Plato’s ideal of the Philosopher King when we just send our philosophy down the line to the working class like a pill so they can keep on producing.