THE UNTOLD WAR by Nancy Sherman


Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers
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Cogent, scholarly essays on moral conflicts soldiers have faced throughout history but especially today.

Philosopher, psychoanalyst and ethicist Sherman (Philosophy and Ethics/Georgetown Univ.; Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind, 2005, etc.) marshals all three specialties to explore a subject often passed over by traditional philosophers, who focused narrowly on the justice of going to war, and contemporary experts, who emphasize its psychiatric trauma. The author emphasizes that soldiering is less a career than an identity, different from but never detached from civilian life. Military leaders throughout history have worked hard to inspire a warrior attitude in their troops, who rarely hesitate to display intense comradeship and eagerness to fight. Sherman adds that, until the Vietnam War, experts ignored the painful moral burden soldiers feel when exposed to battle, a feeling they often bring back to civilian life and never escape. Seeing comrades die through no fault of their own can trigger a persistent “survivor’s guilt” as soldiers struggle to recognize that luck, not skill or teamwork, has preserved them intact. Despite the universal acceptance of post-traumatic stress disorder, which has always existed, the Pentagon refuses to grant victims a Purple Heart, so many still consider PTSD a shameful affliction. According to the author, one culprit is stoicism, an ancient philosophy that, in the oversimplified version popular among officers, teaches that a truly wise man is indifferent to suffering. Sherman fills her academic study with interviews, anecdotes and historical examples in an often successful effort to make it accessible to general readers.

A dense but ultimately illuminating inquiry into the psyche of our fighting men and women.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-393-06481-0
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2009