Big Think Interview With Nancy Sherman

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Nancy Sherman:\r\nNancy Sherman, author.

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Question: What did your\r\nresearch for “The Untold War” consist of? 

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Nancy Sherman:\r\nWell, I’m a philosopher, so I was thinking of soldiers in terms of the meaning,\r\nthe philosophical meaning of their stories; the emotions and the deep\r\nemotions.  And I interviewed a lot\r\nof soldiers, probably about 30 to 40 soldiers of the current wars including\r\nsome from Bosnia and Vietnam, and my dad, who is a World War II veteran and I\r\nreally wanted to go beyond just stories about trauma, of which many soldiers\r\ndon’t suffer, though of course we know of many who do, but I wanted to talk\r\nabout the feelings everyone seems to come home with of trying to make moral\r\nsense of what they’ve seen and done, even when they do everything right by war’s\r\nbest standards.  So, it was talking\r\nabout the moral weight of war, the moral burdens of war.

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Question: How did your\r\nfather’s war experience inform your war research?

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Nancy Sherman:\r\nWell, my dad actually just died December 15, the days I was putting the final\r\ntouches on the book.  And I always\r\nknew he was a World War II veteran, and a medic.  He never fired a rifle, or gun, during the war, but always\r\nhad this sense that war was hell and he didn’t want to talk about it like many\r\nof his generation, a member of a laconic generation.  And when he died, I was cleaning out his effects and found\r\nin his pockets his dog tags.  And\r\nhe never told me, and I never asked, and so it was 65 years of carrying his dog\r\ntags.  They were an identity to be\r\nsure, but they are also a moral identity, or a moral burden.  And I thought he really carried it\r\nsilently, he thought it wasn’t polite conversation to talk about the war.  When I probed, he would say, well\r\naboard the QE1, the Queen Elizabeth 1st, and the Queen Mary, it was a slaughterhouse.  It was a butcher shop with\r\namputated legs and men that were really, really suffering.  This one would have a leg and that one\r\nwon’t.  And so, it was painful,\r\ntears would come down and I realized that he never wanted to watch footage of\r\nthe war, and he wasn’t traumatized, I don’t think.  He was a very healthy, resilient guy, but if his war was\r\ndifficult it was so for many and I don’t think war should be a private burden,\r\nwhether it’s a draft war or a volunteer force, or you are National Guard, or a\r\nmember—well contractors is another story; a complicated story, but both going\r\nout to war as part of the Reserves. 

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So, he was, I think, the unconscious reason, you might\r\nsay.  I also have an uncle who\r\nfought in World War II as a Marine, bayonet, Okinawa, really ugly.  And he did suffer PTSD, Post-Traumatic\r\nStress Disorder.  But the book\r\nwasn’t really about psychological injuries that we know about that are very\r\nacute.  It’s about the every day\r\nordinary mix of feeling exultant about the battle and exuberant and it’s the\r\ntime of your life to shine, for some. \r\nAnd that’s the only way that you could go in and be a sniper who is\r\ndefending himself and his buddies and for victory or survival.  And then also feeling the shame of\r\ndoing what you do when you do it all right.

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Question: In what ways\r\nhas the average soldier’s war experience changed?

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Nancy Sherman:\r\nWell, it stays constant in the sense that you leave a civilian life, you put on\r\na uniform, you kind of get cut to size, in a way, through boot camp and then\r\nrebuilt as part of a cadre and in a good army you’re really tight, it’s about\r\nsolidarity, it’s about cohesion and you do better if there’s cohesion and if\r\nyou’re not replaced one by one, you’re replaced by units where you go together\r\nand come back together as best you can and know you’re going to bring each\r\nother home, or try to at least. \r\nAnd, of course, now we have women in the forces, a small percentage, but\r\nthey’re trying their best to blend. And in talking to women, it can be a\r\nstruggle.  We don’t think about\r\nships, but in ships, those are tight environments, not a lot of outside contact\r\nand it can be very internal-looking. 

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So, those are some of the continuing factors that you go\r\ninto a place that’s really high stress. But what’s different now, two things\r\nthat come to my mind, one is that we’re fighting counter-insurgency wars.  We had some of that in Vietnam, but we\r\nreally have it now where you can’t tell the difference between the civilian and\r\nthe combatant and the combatant, the insurgent, exploits that and shields, in a\r\nsense, civilians in, or shields themselves in civilian populations.  So, we have right now rules of\r\nengagement that are tight.  General\r\nStanley McChrystal has said, “You don’t fire unless you are really are\r\noverrun.”  And so soldiers are\r\ntrying to hold back their fire if they run a risk of a civilian casualty and\r\nthe preponderance of risk ought to be on themselves as trained soldiers.  I think that’s right, I really do think that soldiers need\r\nto put the risk upon themselves, they’re the ones that are trained to fight,\r\nnot the civilian.  But it’s hard\r\nwhen you know you’re being taken advantage of.  So, that’s a real stress factor. 

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The other stress factor, of course, that makes it different in addition to the counter-insurgency operations, is that we are a thinned out\r\nmilitary fighting for 10 years—longer than the World War II period—with\r\nmultiple deployments.  And I don’t\r\nmean just one and two; three and four and five, and I’ve talked to some that\r\nare in six, with short dwell time at home. And I guess you could\r\nsay a third factor, no front line and rear guard.  You’re always exposed because there’s always an explosion\r\nthat can go off.

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So, those three factors—counter-insurgency operations with\r\nco-mingling of civilian; and combatant, thinned out Army with multiple\r\ndeployments; and no front line, but always exposed—make for a very, very\r\nstressful environment. 

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You could add a fourth factor to that, certainly, and that\r\nis right now the war theater and the home theater are themselves co-mingled in\r\na certain way.  Soldiers can email,\r\ninstant message, cell phone home and vice versa, and the upshot is that the\r\ninsulation that sometimes was so protective isn’t always there.  As a soldier you worry about what’s\r\nhappening with your kids or your spouse, at the same time you worry what’s\r\nhappening with your battle buddy.

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Question: Which stories\r\nfrom your conversations with soldiers stood out?

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Nancy Sherman:\r\nTwo stories—two or three really come to mind.  So, one story is by a guy who I worked with at the Wilson\r\nCenter in Washington D.C., he was a Tech Support and he had just come back from\r\nIraq and found out I was working on this book, and he said he had wanted to go\r\nto Afghanistan in the early part of these wars.  He thought that was a cause he could believe in.  He had fought in Bosnia and really felt\r\nthat that was an important cause. \r\nHe was called up for Iraq. \r\nHe is part of the Reserves, he’s an older guy, he is now in his\r\nmid-fifties.  He’s called “Pop” by\r\nhis troops, but he couldn’t believe in the war, so he said he felt\r\nsuckered.  And that was a really\r\npotent word for me.  One of those\r\nmoral words, it meant betrayed. \r\nAnd he said for your upper echelon to sucker you in that way is a hard\r\npill to swallow.  And he has sad\r\neyes, a bit of melancholic appearance. \r\nAnd I thought about it and what he really meant was that he—and he\r\nsaid, "I’m patriotic, I would go again, there’s no doubt, you don’t let your\r\nother comrades go and you stay back—you go.  And I would do it again.  And I don’t care if it’s a Democrat or a Republican, but to\r\nbe suckered like that.And in his\r\ncase, he was looking for WMD’s or at least part of a war movement, part of the\r\nforces that were there because of them, and he felt it was a story that he\r\ncouldn’t believe.  

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And he would say, “I collected body parts.”  That’s what you hear and we don’t see\r\nit on TV much, or we don’t see the images of charred body parts and our fellow\r\nsoldiers are collecting them and bagging them and smelling it afterward, and\r\nthe sense that—and he said, “I was almost killed.  My buddy was killed. \r\nBut I can’t believe in the reason.”  So that dis-sync, that dissidence between a cause and the\r\nmost upright conduct, and a sense of betrayal I think was really potent for\r\nme. 

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Another story is from a different side of the war; and\r\nthat’s interrogation.  We think of\r\ninterrogation often in terms of torture. \r\nThat’s been a national debate, are we a country that allows our\r\nsoldiers, our military interrogators to torture?  Do we torture? \r\nAnd not only is it useful, which most people say, no, but is it moral,\r\nirrespective of utility? 

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I have a student at Georgetown who I learned was in Abu\r\nGhraib, an interrogator at Abu Ghraib for the Army, in the clean-up act.  And so, I said, did you do anything\r\nthat you felt awkward about, or that you didn’t feel good about.  And I was expecting really quite frank\r\ndiscussion of some things that might have verged on waterboarding, or maybe\r\nsome sleep deprivation.  And he\r\ntold me three things that you might say showed a side of his sensitivity, but\r\nwere things that he really worried about. 

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One was, he would turn the screw on one of his detainees\r\nwhen he couldn’t get him to talk and remind him of his adulterous infidelities,\r\nwhich really made this detainee feel awful.  But it kind of brought him down to feel like he had to start\r\ntalking because he had sort of been—his guard was off. 

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The second case had to do with, he had a Sunni and a Shiite\r\ndetainee and they were both in solitary for a while and they both were dying\r\nfor recreation and he put the two of these to men together out in\r\nrecreation.  It was as good as if\r\nthey were still in solitary confinement. 

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The third incident was someone, a woman, fell in love with\r\nhim, or at least showed signs of falling for him.  And so there was a sense in this case of, he did everything\r\nthe right way interrogators are supposed to build intimacy, build rapport in\r\norder to exploit it, and to exploit it and to manipulate it and to use his\r\npower so, so rawly, just rubbed him the wrong way afterward where it left\r\nresidue, moral residue you might say, or a moral remnant, a remainder.  And he would do it again, and he knows\r\nit was absolutely right as a soldier, or as a military interrogator.  But it’s not something he would ever do\r\nto his friends. 

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And so that dis-sync, lack of synchrony between what you do\r\nin uniform and what you would do as a civilian is often the soldiers I speak to\r\nand in his case, it wasn’t about fighting for survival or victory, which is\r\nwhat a ground soldier might explain, but rather in his case, what he was living\r\nwith was power.  The power trip. And\r\nthat he could reduce someone to a sort of abject servility almost, and then\r\nmanipulate them.  That’s a hard\r\nfeeling to live with.  And yet, he\r\ndid what was required, his duty, and honorable conduct in the military, but\r\nleaves a residue as a civilian.

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Question: Did the soldier\r\nfeel guiltier about psychological torture?

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Nancy Sherman:\r\nThat’s right, it wasn’t physical. \r\nIt was all about emotional manipulation.  Good rapport building is to find the emotional soft spots\r\nand then to just dig, dig, dig and what was fascinating about this individual\r\nis that he has a conscience and he didn’t leave his conscience behind.  He didn’t check it out.  He brought it to the interrogation\r\ncell.  But, you have to leave it\r\nbehind a tiny bit, so there are moments when he said he would come out after\r\neight hours and kind of laugh and say, “I really finally got that guy to talk.”  One case he showed him pictures of\r\nfamily members who had been killed in an explosion by a rival tribe, and upon\r\nreflection he thought, that was an awful way to deal with the hardship I\r\ninflicted on him.  Yes, it’s about\r\nemotional suffering, psychological suffering, but even in the case of extremes\r\nof torture, it’s often about psychological torture, it’s not just about burning\r\npeople, or pulling off their fingernails, old-fashioned style.

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Question: What are the\r\nmajor short-term and long-term traumas of war?

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Nancy Sherman: Sometimes the symptoms don’t show up right away, and there’s a kind of\r\nnatural healing that can go on just like leaving a war zone and sometimes it’s\r\nnot good to talk to people, we think now, right afterward, but rather to\r\nalmost let the wound heal a little bit on its own.  But some of the symptoms that we’re aware of and they will\r\nbe a hyper vigilance, being in a hyper-sensory mode; so walking the perimeter,\r\nlistening with acuteness the way you would in a battle area, or it might also\r\nbe flashbacks, inability to sleep. \r\nOne of my soldiers, Rob Kissler, just found himself in a bar with his\r\narms around someone’s neck.  He\r\nstrangled this guy and then he realized that he had heard something and thought\r\nhe was in fighter mode, and had just slipped into fighter mode\r\nimperceptibly.  And that was about\r\na year after battle.  He was a\r\nlong-term patient at Walter Reed and being treated, by the way, for physical\r\ninjuries, a loss of an arm use,\r\na titanium arm replacement and a leg replacement.  

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Other times it could also just be this numbing that you’ve\r\nhad to—you’re exposed to the sort of stresses that are so superhuman that you\r\nhave to protect yourself by numbing, and you continue to dissociate\r\nafterward.  So those are some of\r\nthe physical—the physiological effects that we are familiar with. 

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But what I’m trying to explore are the spectrum that doesn’t\r\nnecessarily, or may include some of these, but also includes these conflict\r\nfeelings, consensual feelings. \r\nFeelings of guilt for what you did or what you saw and did your best,\r\nbut couldn’t help to do even better than you wished you could have done. To\r\nsurvive a battle when your buddies don’t, to be part of an accident when\r\nthere’s no fault at all, no culpability, but you were implicated, causally\r\nimplicated and you hold yourself really accountable.  Or to love your buddies more than you love your spouse, or\r\nyour family, and one of my soldiers said to me, “You know, I’m in a tent with\r\nsomeone day in and day out and I know when he passes wind at night.  I know that fart.”  You know, and he said, “How can I tell\r\nmy mother that I was that physically close to someone?”  So that feeling of a betrayal almost of\r\nyour home family because you've reattached to others who got you through it. 

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Also feeling that life is darned boring at home when you’ve\r\nbeen so ramped up and revved up and hepped up, and it’s hard to find the same\r\nkind of thrill and adventure, even though it’s filled with danger.

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Question: Do we\r\nunderstand soldiers’ traumas better than we used to?

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Nancy Sherman:\r\nWell we’re doing better in that we’re sending mental health clinicians out to\r\nthe field.  And at Uniform Services\r\nUniversity, which is on the campus of Bethesda Naval Hospital, I sometimes\r\nteach some of these folks who are going out to the field.  So, they’re deploying with the troops\r\nand they’re going to be available, and they make themselves known in advance,\r\nand some of them do like warrior resilience training.  I’m here, this is what a healthy soldier can expect to see,\r\nhelping commanders know that they’re there, so if some of their troops are\r\ninvolved in incidents or they lose buddies or they kill civilians, they know\r\nwhere to go afterward and have touched base beforehand.  So, there’s much more of that.  We have more chaplains going out and\r\nbeing trained in these areas.  We\r\nalso now are using medical corpsmen to help fill these roles, so they’re not\r\njust dealing with first aid and physical wounds, but rather psychological\r\nwounds.  So, we’re doing a lot\r\nbetter.  It’s still stigmatizing to\r\ncome home and seek help and self-medication is one of the first things that\r\nlots of folks do, sadly, which is alcohol or drugs. 

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And what we’re not doing enough of, I think, is really\r\ngetting support to the families. \r\nThe families served too, in a way, as I said, they go to war in a sense\r\nwith their soldiers because they’re in such close communication.  They can email their war theater and\r\nhome theater are not so separated, and when they come home, they’re often\r\nlimited in resources.  How do you\r\ndeal with a soldier, male or female, who comes home and just retreats inside,\r\nor can’t begin to talk, and also unemployment rates are much higher for\r\nreturning veterans than they are for those—for civilians. 

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So, we’re getting better, but we still have this enormous\r\nyawning military/civilian divide. \r\nAnd the families in a sense are civilian families, of course, but\r\nthey’re military families because their loved ones have served and they feel\r\nsociety often isn’t supporting them enough.

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Question: What new\r\nsolutions or interventions would you propose?

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Nancy Sherman: Certainly more money into the VA, stronger benefits, more robust\r\nprograms for seeking jobs, making sure that the military hospitals are not\r\nthemselves shaming places.  Walter\r\nReed had a very big scandal about three years ago in mismanagement and it was a\r\nbullying place where soldiers would come home and they were still kept in\r\nholding units where they would be ready as if to deploy, but most of them knew\r\nthey weren’t because they had such severe injuries, yet they still had to go\r\noutside for 6:30 a.m. formation, and stand in formation and whatnot.  Though many had been on very heavy\r\nmedications at night, or might not fall asleep or drift into sleep until 4:30\r\nin the morning, and if they were on leave for awhile, they didn’t get back in\r\ntime, they were really bullied. \r\nSo, making sure that our environments are healthier.  We’ve done a lot to clean those up with\r\nsomething called Warrior Transition Brigades.  Soldiers themselves helping other soldiers move through this\r\npassage. 

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But I would say, one thing we can do, and I’m involved in\r\nthis to some degree.  If you’re on\r\na teaching campus, talk to those veterans that have come home and try to break\r\ndown the barriers, and make them understand that they don’t have to feel it’s\r\nonly those that have been to war and come home that can really be talked to,\r\nthat we really want to understand and listen.  And similarly those that are about to go to war who are part\r\nof ROTC programs.  Make sure they\r\nare not feeling marginalized in class, or afraid to say that I’m going to be\r\nserving in a year’s time, or whatnot, and really trying on a person-to-person\r\nbasis to break down some of the barriers in our local communities.  I think that’s really critical.  In addition to large scale policies of\r\nmore resources in the VA, having the VA talk to the military hospitals more\r\nsmoothly.  We’re working that out\r\nright now with unified computer systems. 

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And also understanding that multiple deployments have an\r\nattrition; a psychological attrition on the mental health of soldiers.  Resilience is sort of supposed to be,\r\nyou bounce a ball and it for a while continues to hold its bounce, but then\r\nballs after awhile they keep bouncing and bouncing and bouncing and the bounce\r\ngets lower and lower and lower. \r\nAnd a little bit like that with troops.  You send them three and four and five times to war and their\r\nresilience just doesn’t hold up the same way as in the first round.  Stresses on families as a result, high\r\ndivorce rates.

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Question: Are some of\r\nthese stresses unavoidable in an all-volunteer army?

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Nancy Sherman: It’s an Army that wasn’t designed to fight two wars at the\r\nsame time for 10 years.  If you\r\nthink about it, I teach 18- to 22-year-olds, half of their lives have been exposed\r\nin a very indirect way, but nonetheless, that’s the background factor to\r\nwar.  That’s a long time, longer\r\nthan exposure during World War II.  So,\r\nyes, big debate, certainly about draft versus volunteer.  I don’t think we will go back to a\r\ndraft easily.  There’s not enough\r\nsupport for that in Congress.  But\r\nwe certainly could have more service of various sorts, national service and\r\nmaking military service one of those options so that those that go into\r\nmilitary service aren't the only ones who are doing compulsory national service.

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Question:  How did military ethics become a field\r\nof serious inquiry?

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Nancy Sherman: If\r\nyou think about the history and its introduction into the military academies,\r\nit often is indexed or linked to a cheating scandal.  And that was certainly the case of the Naval academy when I\r\nwas brought in, in the mid-‘90s. \r\nThey had taught psychology of leadership and also the law of war, or\r\nthe law of the high seas, that sort of thing, but they didn’t teach military\r\nethics until they had a massive electrical engineering cheating scandal.  And the same, I believe with West\r\nPoint, and I thinking 1959, the Air Force probably was ahead of the curve and\r\ndid it, I think without provocation. 

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But it’s a relatively new field in the way that the ethics\r\nof, these applied ethics are sort of business of law.  Often they come about when there’s a problem and they\r\nrealize that some of us who have been teaching ethics for the longest time and\r\nteach these general issues even though they might not be specifically applied\r\nto a kind of profession.  But it’s\r\nas old—the topic is as old as the ancients.  If you think about it, in the Iliad, Achilles drags around\r\nHector’s body seven times around, desecrating it in revenge, wild revenge for\r\nthe death of his buddy, Achilles’ buddy, Patroclus.  And Homer says finally, he breaks down and says, “Even the\r\ngods cannot sit by quietly and watch this.”  And they protect the face of this desecrated body so that in\r\nfact, because if the gods watch, it’s never really desecrated.  So there’s this important sense of the\r\nugliness of revenge.  Maybe it’s a\r\ncombat motivator, maybe it’s fire in the belly that adrenalizes, we would say,\r\nbut it’s got its really ugly side. 

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And so the Stoics come in later as a comment on the\r\nancients, they themselves, like second century, before the common era, the second\r\ncentury after, and say, you ancients, including Plato and Aristotle, but before\r\nthat Homer and his warrior tradition gave carte blanche, you might say, open\r\nticket to revenge, but revenge knows no limits, knows no excess.  So, event he warrior ought not to have\r\nit.  Do it for its own sake.  Fight in there because the cause is\r\nright, or because you believe in the cause, not for the sake of payback,\r\nbecause you won’t be able to control the revenge.  Once it’s out of the gate, the game is over. 

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So, it’s been around for a long time and that gives you a\r\nsense of... it’s been around as a worry about the inward war, not just what you’re\r\ndoing to other people and whether your conduct is good, but how you can control\r\nyour own inner motives.  So, that’s\r\nwhat I’m fascinated by, it’s not just the limits of just war.  That’s been also a tradition since the\r\nmedieval... since the Crusades.  How\r\ndoes a king get his, or the church get his Army going and have them not have\r\nmassacres?  And how do they\r\nseparate the people that are legitimate targets from those who aren’t\r\nlegitimate targets?  Are the\r\ncivilians, or the folks that aren’t knights in armors, are the legitimate?  No, they’re not legitimate.  But there’s always been rape, pillage,\r\nand plunder.  In the middle ages,\r\nit became a cause célèbre.  Let’s\r\nwrite rules for the church so they know how to fight.  So that’s been about justification.  When can you go to war and how does the\r\nhonorable, chivalrous soldier fight well? 

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What there has been very little discussion of is what goes\r\non in the head of the soldier and how do they conduct the moral debate in side\r\nand live with the moral difficulties and quandaries.  And that’s sort of what I’ve been interested in, and it’s in\r\nthe border between philosophy, that's worried about justification of wars, just\r\ncauses, and just conduct.  And\r\npsychology that’s worried about what goes on in the privacy of a clinician’s\r\noffice and the unloading of the trauma. Between those two goals, there’s a huge area about the moral\r\npsychology in the inner psyche of the soldier.

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Question: Is there some\r\ntruth to the idea that "all’s fair" in war?

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Nancy Sherman:  There’s a real sense that all’s fair in\r\nlove and war, you know, and that all the rules are off.  But since the Middle Ages and the\r\nformulation of just war, however abstractly, the idea has been that there are\r\nrules of permissibility.  Both for\r\nthose in charge of declaring war, what counts as a reasonable cause, a just\r\ncause, a justification for going to war, and aggressing or defending\r\nyourself.  And also for how the\r\nsoldier conducts herself, or himself, justly, honorably. 

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So, there’s that, and then there’s the reality of it, as you\r\nsay, and the concrete cases.  So,\r\nright now, we, with the surge in Afghanistan, are dealing with, or should be\r\ndealing with the real heavy moral implications of the nature of the\r\nfighting.  So, General McChrystal\r\nhas made it very clear that there will be tight rules of engagement on the\r\ntroops, the 100,000 troops that will be fully deployed in Afghanistan.  And those troops will not be able to—if\r\nthey’re mingled civilian and insurgents, the troops need to put the\r\npreponderance of risk upon themselves and take additional risk rather than risk\r\nthe lives of civilians, unless the unit is being overrun, and we’ve sent that\r\nthat is not full proof.   In\r\nMarsiya, there were 12 killings, there have been drones that have killed\r\ncivilians, and now the Special Forces are under the same tight restrictions,\r\nso, unified command. 

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Now the way that—you have to think about that, how does that\r\nplay out on the troops?  Well we\r\nknow a lot of the grunts, the ground troops, are grumbling bitterly on fighting\r\nwith one hand tied behind my back while they get all the advantage because they\r\ncan shield their innocence in... They shield their insurgents in civilian populations and then I as a\r\ncombat troop have to restrict my fire. \r\nSo, you have to say, are they risking troops at the cost of saving the\r\ncivilians in Afghanistan and some will say that.  And we’ll say, oh, it’s just a political ploy.  We need to buy the hearts and minds of\r\nthe population.  But I think it\r\nalso is protecting the hearts and minds of our own soldiers, and that’s the\r\nmilitary ethics really made concrete. 

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The soldiers I have spoken to who have been involved in\r\ncivilian casualties, that’s an awful term, collateral damage.  It makes it—it’s so euphemistic.  But it means not just accidental\r\nkillings of civilians, it’s where you foresee that it might happen, but you\r\ndon’t intend it.  The civilians are\r\nin the periphery of the target area and it’s an important enough target that\r\nyou go for it.  In cases like\r\ncheckpoint incidents in Afghanistan and Iraq where this has happened, and\r\nespecially if the civilian is a child. \r\nThe Marines that I’ve talked to just decompensate almost, they feel so\r\nawful about killing a vulnerable child; it’s like the mythic child that has\r\nbeen killed.  And if you think\r\nabout it, here they are in a place on the Helmand Province we are fighting in\r\nAfghanistan, and they are there not only to be fighters, but they’re policeman,\r\nthey’re community organizers, they’re building a city in a box.  They’re building civic order in a box.  And that’s how it’s been phrased.  And they’re the savior in a sense,\r\nthey’re bringing order.  And\r\nthere’s a lot of idealism about them, but also the sheer reality of what’s\r\nhappening.  And when they can’t do\r\nthat and they fail miserably in the sense of see a kid killed in the midst of\r\nthat operation, I think that really, really plays hard. 

\r\n\r\n

So, I think the restrictions which come from high up and are\r\nimposed through the chain low down by a commander that has to work really hard\r\nto restrain his troops and restrain the fire force, the fire power that’s used\r\nare protecting the hearts and minds of our own soldiers.  They’re reasonable moral\r\nrestraints.  Not just to buy the\r\nhearts and minds of the country we’re in, but to preserve our own souls.

\r\n\r\n

Question: Whom do you\r\nblame for the ethical breakdown at Abu Ghraib?

\r\n\r\n

Nancy Sherman: I\r\nthink it was a breakdown from high up, breakdown from the top down.  There were attempts, we know, from the\r\ntorture memos that came from the Office of Legal Council, Jay Bybee and John\r\nYoo, to figure out ways that we could permissibly, legally, torture by some\r\nother name.  And it was through\r\nCheney and through President Bush that there really was an attempt to do this. And it trickled down.  So, there\r\nwere commanders who gave permission, or turned their head.  And we also used forces in interrogation\r\nthat weren’t fully trained.  Some\r\nof them had been in other environments and they were told to kind of get\r\ncreative.  And also there is a\r\nfeeling of lack of respect for the enemy. \r\nOnce you degrade the enemy to just being a thing, all bets are off as to\r\nwhat you can do to them.  And as my\r\nyoung interrogators told me, the temptation to get information out of someone\r\nwho you’re—when you get so frustrated and it’s been days and days and days and\r\nyou’re not making any breakthroughs and you know that there may be some high\r\nintelligence that may be gathered. \r\nYou run the risk of harming this person, of doing something you ought\r\nnot to do.  

\r\n\r\n

And in his case, he said there was a moment where he saw a\r\nfellow U.S. officer, who was a woman, a woman pilot who had been mangled by the\r\nenemy, and that really got his ire up, and he really wanted to do something to\r\nbe able to prevent that kind of incident in the future.  And that’s when he knew that his\r\nconscience really in high gear, hold back.  That’s the temptation you have to be prepared to fight\r\nagainst. 

\r\n\r\n

And I don’t think—that’s a very reflective, conscientious,\r\nvery humanistic interrogator.  Not\r\nall are like that.  I went to\r\nGuantanamo as part of the medical observer team, not a physician, but we were\r\nlooking at psychiatric and psychological conditions of the detainees from the\r\nside of care and also from the side of interrogation and also for hunger\r\nstrikers.  And there was an attempt\r\nto even then when they wanted to bring an observer team out to ask us to try to\r\nfind a legal loophole for separating the kinds of professionals, the\r\npsychologists who were involved in the interrogation from the kind of\r\npsychiatrists clinicians involved in treatment.  And if the one is involved in an interrogation never do the treatment,\r\nthen maybe they could be a little bit more aggressive or don’t have to worry\r\nabout the same restrictions as the ones on the treating side.  And that, you could already see, that’s\r\na way of eroding the responsibilities we have to the care of the detainees who\r\nwere supposed to be treated as if they were American forces when they are in\r\nPOW situations.

\r\n\r\n

Question: What ethical\r\nloopholes still need to be closed in the war on terror? 

\r\n\r\n

Nancy Sherman: Oh\r\nwell, the legal situation is very complicated.  As you know, Eric Holder is really, the Attorney General, is fraught and there’s lots of internal debates in the Obama Administration\r\nthat I can’t begin to chronicle about whether there are military tribunals or\r\ncivilian sorts of tribunals and where to have the trials, as you know, New York\r\nor other places, and who should be released and who not.  But there is certainly a commitment, I\r\nbelieve, to efficiently closing Guantanamo, and also a sense that torture is a)\r\nwe know it’s not effective, it’s not instrumental.  It does not get you the information you want.  And b) it’s just flat out wrong.  And so there is that recognition I\r\nthink.  How it gets played out,\r\nespecially when you have TV programs like “24” making it very real, or making\r\nthe notion of “no holds barred” in interrogation, that’s really rough. 

\r\n\r\n

And I know cadets at West Point and my young interrogator\r\nwatch these in amusement and voyeurism and whatnot, but I also know that the\r\nSuperintendent, or the Commandant of West Point have gone out to speak to the\r\nproducer of this program and say, this isn’t how it works, we don’t want this\r\npropaganda, you’re really making it harder for us because these aren’t the\r\nrules that we are telling to abide by. \r\nAnd so that’s really tricky. \r\nSo, it certainly an awful education that we’ve had to go through, but I\r\nthink we’re coming out of it.

\r\n\r\n

Question: What can\r\nAristotle teach us about ethics?

\r\n\r\n

Nancy Sherman:\r\nAristotle is one of my heroes, as you say, so who’s a lifetime companion for\r\nyou?  Sure, it’s my husband and my son\r\nand daughter, but it’s also Aristotle, he’s with me all the time.  And we have kind of imbibed his\r\nlessons, as you say, but we’ve also—he sort of teaches us that, well one\r\nthing he teaches us is in contrast to the Stoics.  I’ve also written—the last book was called "The Stoic\r\nWarriors," about the Stoic ethos of the military.  And they say no place for anger, no place for grief, no\r\nplace for the kinds of feelings that make you vulnerable; detached, detached,\r\ndetach so that you can become strong and self-sufficient.  And so you know what’s in your power\r\nand if those things are not in your power, let them go, leave them alone. 

\r\n\r\n

And that’s great news for a soldier because there’s so much\r\nthat is not in your power.  When\r\nyou’re coming home, when are you going to redeploy, will your wife still love\r\nyou?  Will your boyfriend be there\r\nwhen you come home?  All of those\r\nare so risky.  So being in charge\r\nis an amazing thing.  Suck it up,\r\nsuck it up, suck it up was the mantra of the Naval Academy when I was there,\r\nand always is.  But Aristotle is\r\nthe counter-voice and he’ll say, “It’s important to grieve because you are, by\r\nnature, a social creature, and you’re attached to other people and you are... you know, virtue is in your capacity... in the matter of your effort and in the\r\nmatter of your resolve, but a lot of whether you’re going to do well in this\r\nworld has to do with luck and has to do with people that are outside you.  So, Aristotle reminds us of that.  He reminds us also that anger is a good\r\nthing because... the right kind of anger. \r\nBecause if you never felt righteous indignation, you would never record\r\nthe injuries and indignities that people suffer.  You would be indifferent to them.  So, you should feel some anger, the right anger, the right\r\ntime, toward the right people. 

\r\n\r\n

Similarly, don’t feel anger so much that it makes you\r\nservile that you are a slave to your own anger, but in a right way.  So he’s very sensitive to the role of\r\nemotions in the good life.  And\r\ncertainly I think and have been arguing in the past 10, 15 years through my work that\r\nthe role of emotions in a soldier’s life can’t be emphasized enough.  They need to grieve; they need to\r\nrecognize that they may feel betrayal, and that they have to reconnect with\r\ntheir families when they come home. \r\nOne of my soldiers said, “No one ever told me how hard the war after the\r\nwar would be.”  Meaning, the inner\r\nbattles he has to face. 

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n

So, accepting and owning and working through the positive\r\nand negative emotions of war I think it an Aristotelian kind of lesson. And I’m\r\nvery sympathetic to the Stoics, and the Stoic warriors.  I felt myself talking to them the whole\r\ntime and I’d interviewed Admiral Stockdale, who was a Senior POW along with\r\nMcCain, John McCain, in the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam, North Vietnam.  And he had memorized Epictetus, the\r\nStoic philosopher, in order to get through—he resonated with it and it\r\nbecame his consolation in 7 ½ years of prison, 2 ½ in solitary.  And I think that’s an important voice,\r\nthe idea that you will never be a "slave to your passions," let’s say, Epictetus, or "Only those things\r\nwithin your willpower can you really claim as your own.But it does have a downside of thinking\r\nthat you can really be unaffected, that you can be invulnerable.  And I think that’s a real, real\r\nhazard.  It’s a moral hazard.  A real moral risk. So, Aristotle would correct us on that one.

\r\n\r\n

Question: What’s the\r\nbiggest challenge you face in your work?

\r\n\r\n

Nancy Sherman:  I’m a parent of two amazing kids\r\nand—adult kids now, and a spouse, a wife, and an academic and a writer, and it\r\nmay sound trivial, but being able to do well in all of those things all the\r\ntime, or most of the time, some of the time, is always before me.  And it’s not just about juggling, but\r\nit’s about being there.  When my\r\nchildren were little, my son Jonathan would sort of catch on when I was playing\r\nLegos and I really wasn’t there, there with him.  You know, I wasn’t in the game and empathically involved\r\nbecause my head was thinking about some paragraph on the fabric of character\r\nI was about to write, or a lecture I had to give in the morning.  So, I think for me, the challenge\r\nis—and I feel this with my students too, to always remain empathically\r\nconnected to the people that I’m with and \r\nnot be so busy... \r\nBut I think right now, I feel is the challenge and I share this, I’m\r\nsure with many others, I think we are about to implode because of being plugged\r\nin.  Everyone on the street has got\r\ntheir head in some little device, electronic device.  And my students feel guilty that they’ve been in a lecture\r\nfor 15 minutes and someone might have been texting them and they haven’t been\r\nable to answer in the 15 minutes. \r\nSo, this sense of—you might say there’s a flip side of what I was\r\nsaying, of being over-connected. \r\nBut it’s over-connected in an insidious way.  So, I’d say, go off to the mountains and smell and breathe\r\nand workout hard and attach to people in the real, physical, concrete,\r\nemotional way, and not just through cyberspace.  That would be the—that’s the instruction we have and the\r\nchallenge to realize as well.

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n

A conversation with the Georgetown philosophy professor and author of "The Untold War."

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