'Suck It Up'

Stoic Warriors
The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind
Nancy Sherman
Oxford University Press, $26, 242 pp.

In July, news accounts reported the death of retired Navy Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale. Known to the public as Ross Perot’s ineffectual 1992 vice-presidential running mate, Stockdale deserves to be remembered for his courage and leadership during nearly eight years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, four of them in solitary confinement. Stockdale underwent fifteen rounds of torture in prison. Later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Stockdale attributed his fortitude as a POW to the intellectual and spiritual strength he had gained from studying Stoic philosophy. Georgetown philosophy professor Nancy Sherman devotes the first eight pages of her inquiry into Stoicism and the military mind to Stockdale, characterizing his POW experience as “an extreme application of Stoicism [that] is literally about empowerment in enslavement.”

Sherman has demonstrated considerable philosophical expertise in her previous books on the virtue ethics of Aristotle and Kant. She was the inaugural holder of the Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy (1997–99). In 1994, following a major cheating scandal at the Naval Academy, the Navy took the unprecedented step of naming a four-star admiral, Charles Larson, as academy superintendent. Influenced by Stockdale and the course in moral philosophy Larson had introduced as president at the Naval War College (1977–79) at Annapolis, Larson instituted a character-development...

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About the Author

Gregory D. Foster, a professor at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, Washington, D.C., is a West Point graduate and decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. The views expressed here are his own.