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Epictetus taught his students that good and bad exist only in our moral character, will, choice, or inten- tion and never in an external thing. We did not intend on leaving those people to suffer on that street, but we did so by only engaging and killing a couple of insurgents from one or two blocks back while we continued our mission. In the neighborhood’s eyes, does that make us evil? As we drove down that street eight months later, I watched as they rebuilt their section of the city and glared at us with what felt like hatred and disappointment. Epictetus’s words, “Individuals, however, are responsible for their own actions,” thicken my shame towards my decision. I feel that Epictetus, like many other philosophers, organized and clarified pieces of a puzzle that have bothered me for years. He offers an explanation for why things happen, from over 1,000 years ago. Epictetus’s hope that we “fully understanding that we should not be affected by the external objects of our lives, because they are exclusively not up to us” tells me that I am not ready for his state of mind. The external objects—the blood-soaked old man, the black smoke from the buildings, and the gunshots echoing through the city as we exchanged small-arms fire—lead me to feel otherwise. I believe what makes the difference between a wise and an ignorant person is knowing when to act or, in this case, when to follow orders. The following quote is what people say is the essence of Epictetus's philosophy: “We are disturbed not by events, but by the views which we take of them.” The one thing I’m sure of is that the event did not upset me, but how I viewed my actions in that situation keeps me up at night. How many new insurgents for future generations did we create on that day when they were being slaughtered and the Americans turned their backs on them? Sometimes the idea of one crisis at a time just isn’t enough; after all, at the end of the day we are all responsible for our own actions. 14
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