Stoic Warriors – The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind by Nancy
I bought this book some time ago because I thought it could help me with my last Masters dissertation. It certainly looked the part. So I skim read it for an hour or so and came up blank. Slightly disappointed it went back on my Philosophy bookshelf and I moved onto the next volume in my reading list. Finally I picked this back off the shelf and gave it a good cover the cover going over.
On the face of it this seemed like a good read in waiting. I’ve been interested in the military mind for quite a while now and have an almost as long interest in Stoic Philosophy. Unfortunately this turned out to be a very disappointing book indeed (and not completely because of my initial high hopes). Some parts of the book did actually interest me. The author related several stories, in particularly about US Navy pilot James B Stockdale who was shot down over
captured, imprisoned and tortured before finally being released much later.
Part of what kept him both physically and mentally alive was his strong Stoic
sensibilities. So far so good I thought. But when she moved onto other
militaristic themes I grew less and less enamoured by her arguments and her
general portrayal of applying ancient philosophy to modern combat situations. I
lost count of the number of times Sherman outlined the Stoic stance on say
Grief, attempt to apply it to the real-world situation of military men and
women put in that position and then saying how basically inappropriate it was.
Time and again, despite the fact that she was a supposed expert on the subject
I found myself strongly disagreeing with her interpretation, or even her
understanding, of what the various Stoic authors meant. Now I would hardly call
myself an expert on the subject but I found myself continually reading between
the lines of the text and uncovering much more about the authors beliefs rather
than, as I expected, her understanding of the Stoic mindset. Two examples I
think will suffice. Firstly she built up the idea of the Stoic Sage – not too
dissimilar it seemed to the Nietzschean Superman being beyond Good and Evil –
being detached from the world and yet still interacting with it. This Sage-like
figure could literally soak up the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
without so much as a raised eyebrow – in other words Mr Spock. Such distance,
the author maintains is both impossible and would make the person for all
intents and purposes inhuman. I disagreed. Secondly she harped on (and on)
about the need to cultivate moral indignation, and indeed righteous anger, as a
healthy motivator to go out into the world a right its wrongs. I really didn’t
know whether to laugh out loud at this point or simply stop reading.