Ethical Standing for Commander Self-Care: The Need for Sleep 


© 1998 Jonathan Shay

From Parameters, Summer 1998, pp. 93-105.

Sleep is an emblem for the personal needs of the commander. Caring for these needs is significantly within the realm of the commander's choice as an ethical actor in situations when pressures are on him or her to choose to do other things. Because commanders can never delegate someone to sleep for them, choosing to fulfill this personal need is self-care.

Long-accepted research has shown that no act of will or ethical passion, no degree of training will preserve the ability to discriminate friend from foe, armed enemy from noncombatant, or a militarily useful target from a distraction after 96 hours of sleep deprivation. Well-conceived and executed scientific research has produced insights into the function of sleep in combat. Everyone can relate to the personal need for sleep regardless of service, function, rank, or geography. This article examines the ethical standing of a commander's own legitimate physiological and emotional needs when they collide with claims by the commander's subordinates, peers, or superiors. It does so by inquiring into the reasons why self-care by commanders has not been incorporated into the officer corps' common sense, habit, and standard practice.

Recognizing Conflicting Goods

For a very long time we have understood the deleterious effects of sleep deprivation on individual performance, social judgment, and indeed sanity.[1] Disciplined scientific study of the topic may be relatively new, but thoughtful and observant leaders have generally understood sleep deprivation and its effects on individual and unit performance in combat.

Consider the situation of a mechanized infantry battalion commander, 36 hours without sleep, deep inside Iraq. He has decided to rest his unit, and is about to lie down for some sleep. The artillery liaison officer now asks this commander to approve the fire plan for the next 24 hours of the operation. The commander's operations officer, whose acuity of judgment and discrimination are only slightly less critical than his own, and who in the commander's absence would approve the plan, is asleep, because he's supposed to be asleep.

Here we are in a circumstance of conflicting goods, what ethical philosophers call conflicting incommensurable goods. The situation opposes the commander's sleep (one good) and the operational claims made by others, in this instance the artillery officer's very legitimate request (another good). This conflict cannot be measured with any common yardstick, reduced to any common coinage. They're both good, they're both needed, and they cannot both be fulfilled simultaneously.

In theory, an entirely detached and omniscient being could solve the problems raised by this collision of incommensurable goods. That detached player theoretically could reduce the time required to review planned artillery fires and the commander's need for sleep to some common measure of military effectiveness. Within the trade-off would be the ability of a potentially sleep-deprived commander to perform complex cognitive and social tasks, during an enemy counterattack that could come at any time. From such a god's-eye perspective, especially with advance knowledge of what actually will happen, the goods are commensurable. But from within the situation, that battalion commander will be unable to carry out a utilitarian calculation of the greater good in this conflict of goods--not in real time and in a state of exhaustion and anxiety.

Our recent philosophical tradition is weak in its ability to deal with the problem of competing, incommensurable goods.[2] Utilitarian ethics, institutionalized in modern America as cost-benefit analysis, is genuinely helpful when we can use a common yardstick of outcomes to meaningfully measure competing goods, provided we have the time and resources to make the measurement. But considerations of costs and benefits leave us at a loss when a common measure doesn't exist or cannot be found in time. In contemporary American military culture, the good of the commander's sleep usually loses out in collision with any other good.[3]

We would benefit from a dignified vision of the ethical standing of the self of the commander. In combat or on extended operations the commander is always concerned with the balance between mission requirements and the well-being of his subordinates. But the commander's willing neglect of his own need for adequate sleep can harm others--sometimes disastrously. It has long been known that there is a strong correlation between rates of psychological injury and of physical injury.[4] Catastrophic operational failure due to leaders' insufficient self-care, including sleep deprivation, can translate into wounds and deaths.

A Short History of Sleep as Self-indulgence

Why do the needs of the self of the commander have so little standing in our military ethical tradition? The following stories suggest that there is something indelibly heroic in the Western tradition about going without sleep.

Plato asks a brilliant commander, Alcibiades, to recall a scene from Socrates' military service. Unfortunately Alcibiades was as fatally flawed as our own Benedict Arnold; but as you read his account, bear in mind that this is a witness competent to talk about military things:

We were both sent on active service to Potidaea, where we took mess together. Well, to begin with, [Socrates] stood the hardships of the campaign far better than I did. . . . And if . . . we were cut off from our supplies, there was no one who put such a good face on it as he. . . . Socrates . . . made less fuss about walking on the ice in his bare feet than we did in our shoes. . . .

And now I must tell you about another thing . . . in the course of the same campaign. He started . . . about sunrise one morning, . . . and by about midday the troops noticed what was happening, . . . and began telling each other how Socrates had been standing there . . . ever since daybreak. And at last toward nightfall, some of the Ionians brought out their bedding after supper (this was in the summer, of course) . . . to see whether he was going to stay there all night. Well, there he stood till morning, and then at sunrise he said his prayers to the sun [and went about his duties].[5]

Alcibiades, a cavalry officer, continues with an account of how Socrates, an infantryman, saved his life by refusing to leave him behind, wounded, when they were overrun.

What Alcibiades admires are Socrates' immediately recognizable military virtues of fortitude in the face of physical adversity, steady self- control, mental clarity, mind over matter, self-sacrifice, and courage. His apparent immunity to fatigue and sleepiness are made an emblem of this larger constellation in Socrates' character. What is displayed as admirable in Socrates is his ability to go without, his self-denial.

When it comes to role models, few are more prestigious than Socrates, hardly less so in the modern world than in the ancient. He is one of Nietzsche's heroes, an Übermensch, who "overcomes himself" in a manner generally called stoic. While Socrates was an ancient Greek pagan, the equation between sleep and self-indulgence that Jesus makes in the Garden of Gethsemane implicitly comes to have cosmic significance for a Christian audience:

Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. . . . And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time. . . . And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.[6]

In this particular version, there is the hint that the Disciples' self-indulgent sleep is somehow the cause of Jesus' betrayal.[7] In Plato's story, we hear nothing but praise for Socrates, with no monitory examples of people who lacked his fortitude. The Biblical account is more balanced between praise and blame, showing us the Disciples' shortcomings in this situation, as well as Jesus' merit.

The ethical position of self-care only got worse with the introduction of Stoic precepts, which then merged very powerfully with the stream of "shalts" and "shalt nots" from the Hebrew Bible. Maimonides, a 12th-century Jewish Bible commentator and Aristotle scholar who strongly influenced St. Thomas Aquinas, scarcely mentions self-care among the 248 positive and 365 negative commandments adduced from the Five Books of Moses.[8] These commandments are almost all duties toward God or toward other humans. Very few, such as commandments to rest on the Sabbath and on festivals, to rejoice in the festivals, to prohibit self-mutilation and tattooing, explicitly have the self as both moral agent and object. While the whole civilizing code of justice, compassion, and civic responsibility carries enormous benefit, the benefit is mediated by others fulfilling their duties.

In modern times Immanuel Kant set the question of personal duty at the top of everyone's agenda, reviving the Stoic and rabbinical emphasis.[9] In the Kantian universe, we lack confidence in our capacities for practical ethical deliberation in situations of conflicting goods, particularly when one of the conflicting goods is self-care.

Professional philosophers should not bridle at this account. For example, from a recently published symposium of ethical philosophers: "Over a large range of cases our ordinary thinking about morality assigns no positive value to the well-being or happiness of the moral agent of the sort it clearly assigns to the well-being or happiness of everyone other than the agent."[10] Similarly: "If I am faced with someone who has a valid claim of need, I cannot appeal to facts of self-interest in deliberating whether I should offer help, because self-interest per se cannot rebut a moral presumption."[11] Self-sacrifice is idealized to the point of becoming a duty. The Army's core values of Duty, Loyalty, Selfless Service, Honor, Courage, Respect, and Integrity do not appear to leave any standing for the preservation of a leader's own physiological or psychological capacity to lead.[12]

Perverse Outcomes of Overvaluing Self-denial

What is notably absent today is calm, assured, affirmative respect for the self of the commander that the same commander routinely accords to others. Respect for both contributes to prevention of psychological injury in war.[13] Conversely, lack of a decent respect for commander self-maintenance can lead to destructive outcomes, all of which contribute to greater or lesser degrees to psychological injury. Some of the perverse outcomes from misdirected self-denial include:

Sleep deprivation, in particular, promotes:

The ethical vacuum around the self of the commander promotes these perverse outcomes. We cannot successfully reduce such outcomes simply by redoubling rules and admonitions against them. To illustrate, let's consider instances of catastrophic operational failure.

Catastrophic Operational Failure

. Naval warfare example. On 9 August 1942, Japanese warships off Guadalcanal attacked and sank the cruisers USS Vincennes, Quincy, and Astoria, and HMAS Canberra, killing more than 1000 and leaving almost 700 wounded. Few American weapons of any kind were fired at the enemy during the engagement, resulting in negligible damage to Japanese ships and personnel. This episode, known as the Battle of Savo Island, has been studied extensively. My intent here is not to second-guess those analyses.

The enemy had substantial land-based air assets in the vicinity, which, according to the Navy Department's classified Combat Narrative of 8 January 1943, caused the aircraft carriers Wasp, Saratoga, and Enterprise to be withdrawn from the area. Crews of all vessels remaining in the area were placed in a state of continuous alert for air attack. The possibility of a surface threat had been fully recognized in the operational plans and ship deployments, but had received little command attention during three days of ship-aircraft engagements. A painfully simple explanation may account for the tragic outcome of the ensuing surface battle: severe sleep deprivation.[14]

The following quotations are from The Shame of Savo by Bruce Loxton and from the 1943 Combat Narrative.[15] To an observer alerted to the possibility, they have the earmarks of sleep deprivation:

No one on watch in Blue [one of the destroyer screens, about 30 minutes before the Canberra was attacked] saw, at a range of about a mile, a column of eight ships, five of which were about 10,000 tons, moving across the line of sight at high speed, and this on a night when Chokai's [the lead Japanese cruiser] lookouts could see a single destroyer, proceeding at 12 knots, at eight miles. . . . Blue's failure to see the Japanese is inexplicable and inexcusable.[16]

What is difficult to understand is why no signs of the battle to the south [attack on the Canberra and Chicago, star shells fired by the Patterson] were seen or heard by lookouts [on the Astoria], but the analysis suggests that they were distracted from their surface searches by looking for aircraft.[17]

No one has ever suggested that the lookouts on either the destroyers or the Astoria were asleep. Instead, they may have moved to the condition that Army Ranger School Candidates call "droning." It is a condition in which the candidates can put one foot in front of another and respond if challenged, but have difficulty shifting from one cognitive framework to another, or acting on their own initiative. The sailors and officers of the ships patrolling around Savo Island had been on anti-aircraft watch for three days and nights; perhaps failure to perceive the Japanese ships arose from the lookouts' inability to make the cognitive shift to surface search.

The account of the destroyer Patterson's captain getting it right, but to a heartbreaking lack of effect, similarly reveals the footprints of sleep deprivation among his officers. Patterson officers did in fact send an enemy sighting report to the other ships by blinker and by voice radio around 0143. The message was received in the Vincennes and Quincy, which were completely surprised by the Japanese attack that started at 0155, approximately 12 minutes later.

The Patterson's captain did turn to position his ship in perfect angle for a torpedo attack on the column of Japanese cruisers, but his order to launch the spread of eight torpedoes "was apparently not heard by the Torpedo Control Officer," supposedly because of the masking noise of distant gunfire.[18] One must consider the possibility here that the Torpedo Control Officer was "droning," and that the order to launch the torpedoes arrived during a random period of "micro-sleep" that someone standing upright and eyes open may slip into while droning.

The following narrative pertains to the Astoria:

The general alarm was still ringing and Capt. William G. Greenman, who had just been called, was astonished to hear the main battery as he awoke. . . .

Capt. Greenman's first impression on seeing the flares and searchlights inside the bay was that our ships had sighted a submarine on the surface and that we were firing on our own ships. Lt. Cdr. Topper, who was on the bridge, reports him as asking, "Who sounded the general alarm? Who gave the order to commence firing? Topper, I think we are firing on our own ships. Let's not get excited and act too hasty. Cease firing."

Upon this order, firing ceased. Someone on the port wing of the bridge reported searchlights illuminating our ships, while the word came from the main battery control that the ships had been identified as Japanese cruisers. . . . Then the JA talker reported, "Mr. Truesdell said for God's sake give the word to commence firing." The Captain then ordered, "Sound general quarters,"--it was in fact sounded this second time, --and almost immediately, "Commence firing," with the remark, "Whether our ships or not we will have to stop them."[19]

Signs of the corrosive effects of sleep deprivation on Captain Greenman in this account include impairment of the captain's capacity for trust in his subordinates to have done the right thing, and impairment of his ability, once he had arrived at an (incorrect) assessment of the situation, to take in new data and revise his assessment in the light of the new data. Note his perseverance. Having once formed an impression that he was in a friendly fire incident, he had great difficulty rearranging the data at hand into a new configuration, i.e., the enemy is here and firing on us.

This interpretation is not offered to disparage conclusions reached by others about such diverse matters as communications, training for night actions, the need for a flag officer on the Vincennes so that its captain was not overloaded, undue reliance on radar, or Admiral Turner's refusal of a Japanese language communications intelligence team. A New Zealand cruiser captain who served a year later in the Solomons wrote, "The reader who feels strongly about the unreadiness of the ships, the failure of communications and the poor lookout maintained, should himself experience the strain of trying to remain alert for several consecutive nights."[20]

. Land warfare example. The tragic, one-sided battle in the waters around Savo Island was selected to exemplify catastrophic operational failure because it has been so thoroughly studied and is so well known, not to reflect unfairly on the sea services. A retired Army officer with considerable operational experience provided the following example that is almost equally disturbing. Fortunately, because this operational failure occurred in a training context, lives were not lost.

The example is from a two-week, division-level, force-on-force exercise in 1986.[21] The field artillery battalion commander who was being observed was an outstanding leader by anyone's measure, not only in his technical skills but also in his ability to create a "band of brothers" among his officers. His development of subordinate leaders was so successful that many of these were taken from his battalion to be put in places where they were thought to be critically needed. This commander was a perpetual spring of enthusiasm and never spared himself. Following his model, his subordinate commanders drove themselves mercilessly, as did his staff officers.

It was about ten days into the exercise, and everyone was very tired. The battalion commander, being security-minded, wanted to be sure that despite their fatigue, all his batteries were guarding their perimeters against infiltration. Because of one of the ideals that this commander held himself to--take care of your people--he did not want to cut into anyone else's sleep to test his units' alertness. Consequently he spent five hours that night trying to sneak into positions occupied by his own batteries.

The battery in question was the most distant from the battalion command post and it was the first one he tested. The battery commander, Captain X, had just gone to sleep when the battalion commander, having infiltrated the position unchallenged, entered his tent and whispered "BOOM!" in his ear.

Captain X remained awake the rest of the night. By morning he had resolved to "make an example" of the lieutenant who was his second in command for failing to keep the perimeter secure, and he theatrically humiliated him in front of the whole battery.

A couple hours after this public humiliation, at about 0800, a platoon of five "aggressor" tanks was spotted on a rise some four kilometers from this battery where the observer was making his notes. The tanks were moving at patrol speed, not firing, apparently not aware of the battery, but trying to find and destroy the division's artillery.

Certain things need to be mentioned here: the battalion had tank-killing air assets available; the battery had anti-tank rounds; the gun crews had drilled in anti-tank direct fire; and the sergeants who were the section chiefs all knew how to use direct fire to defend against ground attacks on their position.

As soon as the tanks were spotted, the appropriate report was telephoned to the battalion command post. However, the battery commander, Captain X, did nothing more, apparently awaiting orders. Neither did the section chiefs. Captain X gave no orders, took no initiative to engage the slowly moving tanks at the range of three to four kilometers. At about 500 meters the tankers saw through the battery's camouflage and attacked, making repeated passes firing blanks from their machine guns at a range of about 50 meters.

Organic fire support that was supposed to be provided by this artillery battalion was lost to the infantry brigade.

This example illustrates the probable occurrence of "droning," both by the battery commander and in the battalion command post up to and including the battalion commander. The battalion commander, and apparently everyone else in the command post, had simply ceased to function. Had anyone functioned sufficiently to say "Fire!" to the battery commander, he would probably have said "Fire!" to his section chiefs, who would have used their training to good effect. But for sleep-deprivation, whatever the battery commander's overall quality as a leader, he might well have taken the initiative to say "Fire!" on his own.

The passivity of the section chiefs is a more complex matter. The section chiefs and gunners were not particularly sleep-deprived. But their initiative had been destroyed by the battery commander's lack of self-restraint and social judgment. His public mistreatment of his lieutenant had destroyed initiative at all ranks below him. Had this not happened, the observer conjectures that the section chiefs might have taken the initiative, at least to say "Sir! That's the enemy! For God's sake, give the order to fire," not unlike Mr. Truesdell on the Astoria. The higher level of command seemingly was paralyzed by sleep deprivation; the lower ranks, however, were paralyzed by the predictable moral damage inflicted by the leader's lost balance, which could possibly have been due to sleep deprivation.

Empirical sleep studies of a force-on-force exercise at the National Training Center bear on this case:

Whereas the personnel at the squad and crew level averaged between 7-8 hours of sleep each night, those at battalion and brigade level averaged little more than 4 hours of sleep each night. Thus, from the perspective of sleep and its effects on performance, we would expect personnel at lower echelons to be more effective than personnel at higher echelons. Our observations confirmed this prediction--we saw the more junior personnel improving their performance over the course of the exercise and the more senior, higher echelon personnel "droning."[22]

More History--The Doolittle Commission Report

One of the institutional legacies of World War II, embodied in the deceptively insipid 1946 Doolittle Report on officer-enlisted relations,[23] was a much-needed reaction against abuse of position that characterized the behavior of a distressing number of newly commissioned or rapidly promoted officers during World War II: "Rank has its privileges." Reforms following the Doolittle report were mainly cosmetic, and many were subsequently abandoned. But since Vietnam, leaders in the US armed forces have made a vigorous effort to rebuild a sense of duty, obligation, and responsibility, and to restore a balance between the privileges and responsibilities of rank, with the emphasis on responsibilities.[24] In this highly desirable climate of reform, commander self-maintenance is unfortunately prone to be equated with self-indulgence.

It is apparent that the civilian sector today may be in even greater need of its own Doolittle Report. The civilian sector has not yet begun the self-reforms that the armed forces have gone a good distance in implementing. "Rank has its privileges" has gone wild in corporate executive suites, manifested by inflated and demoralizing executive compensation and corporate-headquarters luxuries. Economic theorists tell executives that it is not only legal but also virtuous to jump from company to company in search of marginally better compensation, virtuous to destroy thriving and profitable communities of work in quest of abstractions such as "market share." Much of corporate America is stuck in 1946, while the armed forces have significantly reformed themselves. The phase difference between the moral cycles in the civilian and military sectors is at present distinctly to the credit of the latter. The risk is that the armed forces may have swung too far in the other direction, in the direction of perfectionism bordering on moral hypochondria, an airless perfectionism that can cause tragic outcomes.

A Decent Respect

Prevention of physical injury in military operations, to the maximum degree possible without compromising other legitimate goals, is not controversial. It is part of the common sense of military officers to take care of their troops. But the author's work to repair the psychological wreckage of war suggests that we need to nudge prevention of psychological injury into the common sense of the officer corps as well. Counterintuitive as it may seem, commander self-maintenance is the place to begin if we wish to reduce the incidence of both physical and psychological injury in the services. For a leader to take care of his or her people, this leader must start with the self and work outward. It should be evident that this is neither a call for restoration of "Rank has its privileges," nor the culture of narcissism. Building self- maintenance into formal leadership doctrine, no less into our military folk culture, requires fresh philosophical work.

It is clear that an adversary, whether in combat or a high-stakes armed intervention, will play a role in all this. Staying with the example of sleep deprivation, the opponent will attack both the commander's and the troops' capacity for cognitive discrimination and judgment by harassing fire and probes, by psychological operations such as blaring loudspeakers, by feints, by surprise, by deception. The enemy attacks sleep; the enemy aims at creating sleep deprivation. Tough, realistic training can prepare troops and leaders alike for the deprivations that the adversary will attempt to impose on them. If the more extreme forms of this training get across the message, "There are no supermen," so much the better. But earning the coveted green tabs should not leave the officer or senior noncommissioned officer with illusion. Practices that assume sustained superhuman effort plant the seeds of operational failure.

It is not rational to valorize resistance to deprivation to the point that we create such dangerous illusions as believing that "real tough guys" can go without sleep or that the commander's crushing personal fatigue somehow translates into safety for the troops. Officers able to resist the blandishments of the "macho" illusion sometimes fall prey to the altruistic illusion. This article has pointed out some of the cultural and religious background that makes self-denial seem valorous and makes these illusions so attractive and hard to resist.

The ethical standing of the self is an unresolved issue in our philosophy, an invisible gap, if you wish. Commander self-care most readily acquires a positive ethical standing if it is strongly valued and supported by a community--in particular, the community of the commander's peers and superiors. If seniors were to say to their subordinate leaders and peers, "In order for me to do my job, I need to know you are taking care of yourself," the cultural basis for denial of self-care would slowly but steadily begin to change. One needs to imagine such a voice saying, "It's your duty to take care of yourself, including getting sleep when I myself may be awake and aware that you are asleep. If you fail to maintain yourself, I will feel you are letting me down and will think less of you as an officer." Decent self-care can become so much a part of the military culture that even the most senior officers will feel that they are letting others down if they neglect themselves.


The only place that decent and legitimate self-care can reliably be taught is within the officer corps itself, by a leader's own bosses over the course of his or her career.[25]

Pretending to be superhuman is very dangerous. In a well-led military, the self-maintenance of the commander, the interests of his or her country, and the good of the troops are incommensurable only when the enemy succeeds in making them so. It is time to critically reexamine our love affair with stoic self-denial, starting with the service academies. If an adversary can turn our commanders into sleepwalking zombies, from a moral point of view the adversary has done nothing fundamentally different than destroying supplies of food, water, or ammunition. Such could be the outcome, despite our best efforts to counter it. But we must stop doing it to ourselves and handing the enemy a dangerous and unearned advantage.


The author gratefully acknowledges encouragement, critical comment, and suggestions from the members of the panel on "Commander Self-Care" at the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics, January 1997, at Fort McNair: Brigadier General Thomas Jones, USMC (Chairman); Colonel Gregory Belenky, USA; and Lieutenant Colonel Faris Kirkland, USA Ret.--and from many others, including (in alphabetical order) Lieutenant General John H. Cushman, USA Ret.; Lieutenant Commander Rabbi Robert Feinberg, USN; Dr. Davida Kellogg; Professor Jennifer Radden; Professor Amélie Rorty; Captain Tony Pfaff, USA; Joseph M. Rudolph; Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, USMC; Dr. Ernie Wallwork; Professor Charles Young.

1. I am grateful to Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, USMC, for copies of his file of papers on the deleterious effects of sleep deprivation on the performance, social judgment, and sanity of both troops and leaders. The earliest paper in his collection was published in June 1964.

2. This is one of the major themes of Martha Nussbaum's The Fragility of Goodness (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986), particularly chaps. 2, 3, and 10. Eugene Garver, in Aristotle's Rhetoric: An Art of Character (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1995), makes the fascinating and highly leadership-relevant claim that Aristotle was addressing the question not of how to manipulate people in general, but how to lead fellow citizens through arousal of common civic emotions and a shared ethos in situations of conflicting goods.

3. See Colonel Gregory Belenky's paper, "Sleep, Sleep Deprivation and Human Performance in Continuous Operations," presented at the "Commander Self-Care" panel, Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics, January 1997, Fort McNair, for empirical evidence of this. There is, with increasing rank, a consistent decline in the amount of sleep that officers take during operations.

4. G. W. Beebe and M. E. DeBakey, Battle Casualties (Springfield, Ill.: Charles C Thomas, 1952), p. 28.

5. Specifically what Socrates was doing during this vigil is neither significant to Alcibiades, nor to us--the point is Socrates' self-denial and self-control. Plato, Symposium, 219e-220d, trans. by Michael Joyce in Plato: The Collected Dialogues, ed. E. Hamilton and H. Cairns (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, l961), pp. 570-71. Alcibiades sets the context for this story with another anecdote of Socrates' self-control and self-denial. Emphasis added.

6. Matthew 26:38-45, KJV. Emphasis added.

7. I am grateful to Captain Tony Pfaff for pointing out to me that several aspects of commander self-care have traditionally been not only permitted, but encouraged, under the rubric of prayer. Not only have solitude and meditation been available through this route, but if the commander was also lucky in the chemistry with the chaplain, he or she could get considerable social support from the chaplain that might not have been available through any other relationship. Mutual support, respect, education, and adherence to Woody Allen's Law ("Showing up is 90%.") are critical between mental health troops and the chaplaincy if psychological injury and damage to good character are maximally to be prevented.

8. Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon), The Commandments, trans. C. B. Chavel (London: Soncino Press, 1967).

9. Kant himself wrote, "There is no question in moral philosophy which has received more defective treatment than that of the individual's duty towards himself. No one has framed a proper concept of self-regarding duty." (Emphasis mine--still true!) Immanuel Kant "Duties to Oneself," and "Proper Self- respect" from his Lectures on Ethics, excerpted as "Dignity and Self-respect" in Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, ed. C. H. Sommers (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1985), pp. 390-91. As suggested in the quote below by a professional Kantian, Barbara Herman, Kant did not succeed where others had failed. In "Proper Self-respect" he makes a heroic but unsuccessful attempt to harmonize the Gospels with Aristotle's account of megalopsukhia in Nichomachean Ethics, IV:3, 1123a-1125b, apparently. Kant does not footnote the sources he is alluding to.

10. Michael Slote, "Some Advantages of Virtue Ethics," in Identity, Character, and Morality: Essays in Moral Psychology, ed. Owen Flanagan and Amélie O. Rorty (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993), p. 441. Emphasis added.

11. In the same volume, Barbara Herman, "Obligation and Performance: A Kantian Account of Moral Conflict," p. 319.

12. In the civilian professional world, it is only when we perceive some threat to health or safety in a claim made upon us by another that the self rises above the ethical horizon for the first time. Here at last Kant offers us some license for self-care in ''5 and 19-20, The Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Mary Gregor (Cambridge, Eng.. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991), pp. 218, 239-40. Even this limited ethical standing for the self is dubious for the military professional. A civilian who knowingly places himself in immediate danger to his life could be subjected to involuntary psychiatric hospitalization in most of the United States. Under some circumstances a commander who fails to place himself in danger may be condemned as a coward and relieved. It should be obvious that the account of self-maintenance offered here does not include avoiding all the dangers of battle that the commander's subordinates must face.

13. The best brief survey of the factors exacerbating or protecting against psychological injury in war is Colonel Franklin D. Jones (USA Ret.), "Psychiatric Lessons of War," in Textbook of Military Medicine, Part I, War Psychiatry (Washington: Office of the Surgeon General, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, 1995), chap. 1. More detailed single-topic chapters that offer insights for commanders and for those who may be called upon to consult with and support commanders are chaps. 1-6, 10, 11, and 19 of War Psychiatry. Its companion volume in the same series, Military Psychiatry: Preparing in Peace for War, also contains highly illuminating and informative material, particularly chaps. 1-3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 13, and 19.

14. Credit for this insight belongs entirely to Lieutenant Colonel Faris Kirkland (USA Ret.), Ph.D.; any errors of historical fact or analysis belong entirely to me.

15. Bruce Loxton, The Shame of Savo (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1994); Winston Lewis, The Battle of Savo Island (Washington: Naval Historical Center, 1994; reprint of 1943 Combat Narrative).

16. Loxton, p. 175.

17. Ibid., p. 221.

18. Ibid., pp. 206-07.

19. Lewis, p. 21.

20. Quoted in Loxton, p 171.

21. My source was an observer from the Department of the Army. He was not an umpire, and knew the division, battalion, and artillery battery where he stood this day extremely well.

22. Belenky paper, pp. 3-4. Emphasis added.

23. United States War Department Board on officer-enlisted men relationships. Report of the Secretary of War's Board on officer-enlisted man relationships to Hon. R. P. Patterson, Washington, D.C., 1946.

24. James Kittfield, Prodigal Soldiers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.)

25. The constellation of leadership practices frequently called Auftragstaktik accomplishes many of these things to a significant degree.

Jonathan Shay, M.D., Ph.D., is a psychiatrist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Boston whose only patients are combat veterans, and is the author of Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1994). His book is part of the Marine Corps professional reading program under the heading "Character, Values, and Ethics." In addition to clinical work, he speaks frequently with active duty military audiences on prevention of psychological and moral injury in military service.

Reviewed 26 May 1998. Please send comments or corrections to