Symposium: Torture and the Stoic Warrior

Stoic Warriors and Stoic Torturers: The Moral Psychology of Military Torture

Published in: South African Journal of Philosophy
Volume 25, issue 1, 2006 , pages: 62–76
DOI: 10.4314/sajpem.v25i1.31434
Author(s): Jessica WolfendaleCentre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics Department of Philosophy The University of Melbourne, Australia


Nancy Sherman’s book Stoic Warriors provides an interesting reflection on how a modified version of the ancient teachings of stoicism may be applicable to the concerns and needs of the modern military. In the course of her book, she explains different aspects of the Stoic teachings, such as the importance of outward comportment and control of the emotions, and discusses how they might be relevant to the modern military. In this paper I will focus on her discussion of Abu Ghraib and other atrocities such as the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War. I argue that her analysis of the contributing factors that lead to those abuses demonstrates a lack of understanding of how systematic atrocities come to occur and how military torturers are trained. In this paper I show that systematic torture arises not only out of unrestrained rage and hatred, but through a training process that builds on many of the features of basic military training and, ironically, incorporates many of the techniques of self-control and detachment that are characteristic of stoicism.

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