According to the World Health Organization, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is out of control, with number of deaths increasing exponentially. This woeful prediction was enough to move the US president to make a pledge of helping contain this epidemic. On Spt. 16, President Obama announced that US would be sending 3,000 troops and this would cost US more than 300 million dollars, in order to stop and contain this outbreak. He said: “This is an epidemic that is not just a threat to regional security, it’s a potential threat to global security …” This speech echoed his announcement made on Sept. 10, only 6 days prior, regarding US intention to destroy ISIS. Ebola and ISIS probably occupy the similar space in the US government’s policies with regard to foreign affairs. And thus these announcements made me think of Albert Camus’ novel The Plague that I read many years ago.
In 1948, Camus published The Plague about the people of Oran, “a large French port on the Algerian coast,” who were suddenly attacked by an infectious disease epidemic and quarantined to one isolated place. The novel itself can be read at least on two levels: on one level, it was a novel that dramatized how people react to an utterly hopeless situation caused by impersonal calamity such as micro-organic pestilence; on another, the plague was a metaphor for the evil ideology such as Nazism. The narrator-protagonist Dr. Rieux exemplifies the attitude of humanity that Camus approved as sound and admirable at the time of pestilence: he does “struggle with all [his] might against death,” even when he knows ultimately it would end in defeat – because it is his job. Another character Tarrou suggests the metaphorical theme of Camus’ novel. Toward the end of the fiction, he says: “each one of us has the plague within him; no one, no one on earth is free from it. And I know, too, that we must keep endless watch on ourselves lest in a careless moment we breathe in somebody’s face and fasten the infection on him. That’s natural is the microbe. All the rest – health, integrity, purity (if you like) – is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter. The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention. And it needs tremendous will-power, a never ending tension of the mind, to avoid such lapses.” This is how this novel offers practical as well as moral resonance to our time.
Finally, I want to express my hope that the members of the troops as well as the personnel, who would be sent to engage in the two anti-pestilence missions in West Africa and Middle East, will be thoroughly educated and trained to accomplish the goals they are set out to do for their own sakes as well as for the sake of their families, their neighbors, and the world.