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Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind

Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind

by Nancy Sherman

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While few soldiers may have read the works of Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius, it is undoubtedly true that the ancient philosophy known as Stoicism guides the actions of many in the military. Soldiers and seamen learn early in their training "to suck it up," to endure, to put aside their feelings and to get on with the mission.
Stoic Warriors is the


While few soldiers may have read the works of Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius, it is undoubtedly true that the ancient philosophy known as Stoicism guides the actions of many in the military. Soldiers and seamen learn early in their training "to suck it up," to endure, to put aside their feelings and to get on with the mission.
Stoic Warriors is the first book to delve deeply into the ancient legacy of this relationship, exploring what the Stoic philosophy actually is, the role it plays in the character of the military (both ancient and modern), and its powerful value as a philosophy of life. Marshalling anecdotes from military history--ranging from ancient Greek wars to World War II, Vietnam, and Iraq--Nancy Sherman illuminates the military mind and uses it as a window on the virtues of the Stoic philosophy, which are far richer and more interesting than our popularized notions. Sherman--a respected philosopher who taught at the US Naval Academy--explores the deep, lasting value that Stoicism can yield, in issues of military leadership and character; in the Stoic conception of anger and its control (does a warrior need anger to go to battle?); and in Stoic thinking about fear and resilience, grief and mourning, and the value of camaraderie and brotherhood. Sherman concludes by recommending a moderate Stoicism, where the task for the individual, both civilian and military, youth and adult, is to temper control with forgiveness, and warrior drive and achievement with humility and humor.

Here then is a perceptive investigation of what makes Stoicism so compelling not only as a guiding principle for the military, but as a philosophy for anyone facing the hardships of life.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"We would all be better off if this book were discussed in our classrooms, at our conferences, in our book clubs, at our caucuses, and at the highest levels of military rank and public office. So much the worse for academic philosophers if they perceive as backhanded any compliment saying that a book is accessible and could and should be broadly read. I hope that readers of this journal, in particular, appreciate the seriousness with which I commend Nancy Sherman's Stoic Warriors."--Jill Gordon, Social Theory and Practice

"A brilliant exploration of Stoicism in the context of military culture, where honor, endurance, discipline and the control of anger are constantly in mind, and Stoic ideas resonate. Sherman's richly anecdotal account is both riveting and moving as she explores Stoic themes in the lives of soldiers present and past."--Julia Annas, University of Arizona

"Sherman traces the origins of what we consider soldierlike behavior, reaching back to ancient philosophers like Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca and finding echoes of their moral view in later writers, like Emerson, Stephen Crane and even Adm. James Stockdale, whose account of his years in a Vietnam prisoner-of-war camp cites Epictetus as an ethical guide. The essence of soldierliness is a Stoic ideal, as Ms. Sherman explains: discipline, endurance, a can-do spirit, a stiff upper lip. But she is at pains to show, in wonderfully clear prose, that Stoicism is filled with subtleties and nuance. It does not, for instance, deny the rightness of just anger but warns against its self-maiming effects."--Wall Street Journal

"This is an impressive book, and in many ways a moving one, even a personal one (the stories related, occasionally with illustrating photographs, are powerful; some of them involve protagonists she came to know through her connection to the Naval Academy; one story relates her father's experiences as a medic during the Second World War). It offers a valuable treatment of Stoic philosophy, and of military culture, which she clearly understands and respects. Indeed readers will find here not so much groundbreaking research on Stoic texts or their interpretations as something more like a philosophy, or the core of a philosophy, of military service -- a philosophy of one of the fundamental professional roles in our culture, with implications for our most fundamental role of all, human agency."--Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"This is an unusual, ambitious book and Nancy Sherman succeeds wonderfully. Readable and fascinating, the book helps you explore and understand the military ethos through her examination of Stoicism--and the philosophy through her accounts of military life."--Anthony Lake, U.S. National Security Adviser, 1993-1997

"As the war in Iraq produces more combat deaths, Dr. Sherman describes how the importance of collective grief works in war and the appropriate decorum for a leader facing massive losses. This thoughtful analysis, written engagingly, will contribute to our understanding."--Madeleine K. Albright, U.S. Secretary of State, 1997-2001

"Written with grace, insight, philosophical rigor, and a profound respect for military culture, Stoic Warriors is a unique and richly illuminating book."--Martha C. Nussbaum, University of Chicago

"Stoic Warriors is lively and readable, without losing expert command of the original sources that give this book authority. American officers will profit from re-examining their oldest invisible truths."--Jonathan Shay, Chair of Ethics, Leadership, and Personnel Policy in the office of the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army, and author of Odysseus in America and Achilles in Vietnam

"From kings to prisoners of war, military men have often reached for the wisdom of philosophers to help them understand and cope with their professions. Nancy Sherman, an expert in Stoic philosophy, traveled in the opposite direction--teaching and applying her scholarship inside the military world. Here she tests the wisdom of the ages against the experiences of our naval officers. This book is a gift that permits us all to learn as she did."--Richard Danzig, 71st Secretary, U.S. Navy

"A very interesting and valuable insight into the philosophy of Stoicism which appears to guide the actions and influence the culture of many in the military, even those who are not intimately familiar with the philosophy. Of interest to military and civilian readers alike."--Admiral Charles Larson, 4 star and former CINC PAC and USNA superintendent

Publishers Weekly
You don't need a working knowledge of the writings of Cicero, Aristotle, Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius to appreciate this well-researched, in-depth treatise on the history of stoicism in the military-but it wouldn't hurt. Sherman, who taught military ethics in a pioneering program at the U.S. Naval Academy, delves deeply into ancient Stoic theory to shine light on the moral and psychological aspects of stoicism among today's military men and women. Or, as she puts it, the book is about "sucking it up." Sherman at times plunges into dense and arcane areas, devoting, for example, many pages to an in-depth analysis of comportment, manners and emotional bearing in the military, including the psychology of facial expressions and the "ritualized aesthetics of garments." First-person accounts, derived from extensive interviews Sherman conducted, vividly illustrate her points. Retired Adm. James Stockdale, a student of philosophy, used stoic tenets to keep himself from breaking during seven years as a POW (and was awarded the Medal of Honor). During the My Lai massacre, helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson landed between American troops and Vietnamese civilians and ordered his crew, at gunpoint, to rescue women and children who were about to be slaughtered because it was the right thing to do, even though it meant bearing his men's extreme hatred. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
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Edition description:
New Edition
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Product dimensions:
9.20(w) x 6.10(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Nancy Sherman is University Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University and Adjunct Professor of Law at the Georgetown Law School. In 1997-1999, she served as the inaugural holder of the Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the United States Naval Academy.

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