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Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind 1st Edition

4 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195315912
ISBN-10: 019531591X
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Editorial Reviews

From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

In this age of live combat coverage, war’s ravages are well known. Soldiers witnessing horrendous carnage often become numb and tortured souls, painfully reliving battle moments. Yet these same soldiers must move on, despite psychic trauma. In Stoic Warriors, Nancy Sherman addresses how soldiers gird themselves for combat. "This book is about ‘sucking it up,’" she notes—about the role of Stoicism in modern life. A philosopher at Georgetown University and, formerly, the U.S. Naval Academy, Sherman traces the origin of today’s military training to the Stoics, a group of philosophers who flourished in Athens and Rome more than 2,000 years ago. The Stoics’ core message was that human emotions are not passive reactions but are subject to cognitive control. Thoughts, opinions and interpretations cause, mediate and shape emotions, which the Stoics saw as "something of an act of judgment and will, and a matter of our own responsibility." But Stoicism can also become extreme, enabling individuals to detach themselves to survive or to kill, which sometimes leaves the doer with lasting trauma. Blending analysis of ancient texts with modern history, anecdotes and tales from combat survivors, Sherman delves into soldiers’ hearts and minds, revealing how Stoic thought prepared them for catastrophe, including discipline of mind and body, manners, demeanor, anger, fear, resilience and grief. This issue could not be more pressing, as Sherman writes, "given the U.S. Army’s expansion of ‘stop-loss’ orders to keep soldiers from leaving the service and the general malaise of a war in Iraq." Thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer psychic trauma but feel that not toughing it out signals weakness. Others will fear the stigma of seeking help, worrying about dishonorable discharge or the shame of not bearing up. Sherman argues that toughing it out stoically is both a blessing and a curse. She cautions that in pursuing self-reliance and self-mastery, we must also be aware of the need to fortify and renew ourselves through human fellowship, empathy and respect, while striving to "cultivate humanity." This wisdom, of course, applies just as meaningfully to modern peace as it does to ancient war.

Richard Lipkin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019531591X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195315912
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.8 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #137,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nancy Sherman, a distinguished University Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown,
writes on ethics and military ethics. She served as the first Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy and has been a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. In her new book The Untold War, she argues that the wounds of war are not simply physical or even psychological injuries, but also moral injuries. The book draws on her training as both a philosopher and psychoanalyst, and is based on interviews with some 40 soldiers, most from the current wars. The Untold War was selected as a recommended "pick" by TIME Magazine and as an "Editors' Choice" by the New York Times. Sherman is also the author of Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind as well as Making a Necessity of Virtue and The Fabric of Character.

Sherman's work on military ethics has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, Newsweek, The Boston Globe, The San Diego Tribune, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Baltimore Sun, The Hartford Courant as well as in many other metropolitan and regional newspapers. She has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, PBS, WB11, FOX news and Bob Abernathy's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. She has been a featured guest on over 50 radio stations nationwide, including NPR's "Diane Rehm Show," "This American Life," and the "Kojo Nnamdi Show." She has also been featured on radio stations abroad, including the Australian Broadcasting Company. Sherman lectures widely at universities, institutes, and war colleges here and abroad. She lives in the Washington D.C. area with her husband, Marshall Presser. They have two grown children.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Passing in Review

"Stoic Warriors"

by M. Vince Turner

August 2005

In her recently released book "Stoic Warriors", professor/writer Nancy Sherman unpacks the ethos of stoicism popularized in Ancient Greece and for a time in Ancient Rome, bringing it forward into our contemporary history.

I first learned about Sherman's book when reading her commentary in a recent Boston Globe. Titled "When Johnny comes home" it was a superb piece questioning how do we the citizens and how do the military officers and leaders face and embrace our wounded soldiers returning home from war? How do we make them whole again? That piece so moved me that I immediately got a copy of "Stoic Warriors" completed reading it within a week.

A Vietnam War Era Veteran, I entered the United States Air Force right out of high school. While USAF was not and is not as ground-combat focused as the Marine Corps or the US Army, the Air Force still provided stoicism during boot camp (where most mili-tary personnel get their first lessons on stoicism). At the ripe age of eighteen, I learned and intuited what being stoic was about: rule out the distractions, rule out the pain of grueling exercise and marching. Stay centered and focused. Do not allow the "exter-nals" - those outside forces - to cloud, corrupt or contaminate your sense of virtue. Discipline. Virtue. Honor. Duty.

Sherman focuses on the philosophical rooting of stoicism, that classical Greek attempt to rule out the outside world - the externals - and to find and take hold of one's inner vir-tue, virtue being the highest moral value. Discipline, focus, strength, determination and the capacity to "get beyond" the outer world form the core of stoicism, as we under-stand it.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is interesting, and far more readable than most books on philosophy. But, for those who have actually studied Stoic philosophy, there is a problem. That problem is that the book does not do a very good job of presenting the teaching of Stoicism, and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the author does not much like Stoicism.

A major problem is that the author, Nancy Sherman, is an Aristotelian, and clearly has little sympathy for, or understanding of, Stoic philosophy. For instance, she many times criticizes Stoic teaching on emotions, such as anger, as impossible to apply to the problems of military personal. But she neglects to mention that the Stoics never claimed that Stoic philosophy was a simple pill that could quickly solve problems without the time necessary for real change, and a re-evaluation of values.

It seems, in fact, that Ms Sherman may not have taken enough time to understand Stoic philosophy in depth.
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Format: Hardcover
John Adams once famously wrote that his generation had to study war and politics so that subsequent generations might study Philosophy and Mathematics. Adam's observation had two clear implications: first, that subsequent generations would be free of war, with leisure to study more inviting topics; second, that studying war and Philosophy in the same scope is nearly impossible, sort of like squaring the circle. Ten-plus generations after Adams wrote we know the first implication was wrong -- if we want to study Philosophy at all it will likely be against the background music of artillery explosions and the screams of the wounded. Now, thanks to Nancy Sherman's new book, "Stoic Warriors", we know that Adam's second implication was also wrong, and that a disciplined approach to the realities of war and the deliverances of Philosophy can reveal extraordinary mutual illumination. To be clear: This is not a book about war from the point of view of the state, or the Presidents and Generals who act on its behalf by sorting through issues of foreign policy, developing over-arching military strategies, or engaging in the subtle thrust and parry of diplomacy. Instead, the point of view of this book is down on the ground, where the boots are. Where the killing and the dying and the maiming take place. It asks: What motivates the soldier to fight at all? To fight with integrity or fight with wanton brutality? What values shape a soldier's actions, and what values should shape them? In prose that is elegantly precise, Professor Sherman trains her spotlight on the ancient texts of the Stoic philosophers to illuminate and evaluate modern war-fighting. Then she shifts to a close analysis of the soldier's reality to critique and show the limits of classical Stoicism.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
In a world of modern approaches to resiliency and coping, Dr. Sherman rightly credits and makes accessible the enduring Stoic philosophical precepts which continue to inspire and shape military culture and virtue. Like Sun Tzu's Art of War, or Musashi's Book of Five Rings, certain philosophies are indispensible to modern warriors, and decoding their belief systems. Utilizing original Stoic sources, modern military narratives and current research, this world-class Scholar (Former Distinquished Chair of Ethics at the Naval Academy) dispels many mispercetpions of what real Stoicism is and argues that a compassionate and moderate version of this proven system will continue to protect those who employ it. Particulary fascinating was this author's explanation of military bearing and custom as a form of virtue in action. As a former Special Forces soldier and Army Officer, who is qualified as a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Supervisor, I have used Stoic principles in philosophic counseling successfully for over a decade and find them invaluable as a personal philosophy and as a core element of my counseling approach. There are many applications for military counseling uses as well. I especially recommend this work to any soldier, sailor, marine or airman, who requires greater understanding of virtue and reslience in their personal development. Special Operations warriors will find much that they already relate to, and many rich sources to continue their studies. Sherman's book will remain a classic for years to come.

Thomas A. Jarrett, LCSW/BCD

Stoic Wisdom Counseling and Coaching
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