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Ethicist Examines Modern Soldiers' War Within

Book Release: Nancy Sherman

20091102 Nancy Sherman_0018

November 3, 2009 –In her latest book, philosophy professor Nancy Sherman examines an aspect of war that soldiers don't usually discuss – morality.

The Untold War: Inside the Hearts and Minds and Souls of Our Soldiers (W.W. Norton, 2010) is based on interviews with 40 American soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. It explores the emotions and moral dilemmas of modern-day warriors, including feelings about killing and guilt about going home while comrades remain, or die in battle.

"These ought not to be private burdens," says Sherman, who taught at the U.S. Naval Academy and has consulted for the U.S. Armed Forces on issues of ethics, resilience and post-traumatic stress. "The public needs to better understand the interior landscape of fighting a war."

Sherman says devotion to war pals often competes with love of family. These feelings, often kept private, get lost in political debates on the justness of war.

Soldiers Reluctant to Discuss Combat Experiences

Sherman says her father, a World War II veteran, opened the door to her current research.

While she was writing Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind (Oxford University Press, 2005), her father finally opened up to her about his experiences in combat. She then realized the impact of telling these stories.

"These are legitimate feelings of war," she says. "We need to let [veterans] speak more in depth, tell their stories and expose their private burdens."

Focusing on the ‘Soul of the Warrior’

William Quinn (SFS'10), one of the returning soldiers Sherman interviewed for her upcoming book, says Sherman's work helps soldiers better evaluate their own emotions and the difficulties they may face in life.

"It is unusual to find a scholar whose work has such a tremendous impact on those about whom she writes," says Quinn, an international politics major who was a detainee interrogator in Iraq.

Sherman's work is exceptional because she focuses on the soul of the warrior, says Law Center professor David Luban.

"Where many other philosophers debate what military tactics are morally justified, or when a state is morally permitted to use force, Nancy writes about the inner life of soldiers and their families," Luban says. "… [Her] writing is at once analytical and deeply humane."

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