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To develop the essential trait of Stoicism, the first thing you must do intellectually is to rid yourself of ‘moral relativism’ and embrace some absolutes when it comes to the moral code that you will operate under. A good way to do that is to understand and begin to apply Stoicism in your own beliefs and daily life. Here’s a good link from Wikipedia to give you a general overview of what Stoicism is (if it’s new to you):
The Stoics provided a unified account of the world, consisting of formal logic, non-dualistic physics and naturalistic ethics. Of these, they emphasized ethics as the main focus of human knowledge [this would be what ‘honor’ is built upon – ed], though their logical theories were to be of more interest for many later philosophers.
Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (logos). A primary aspect of Stoicism involves improving the individual’s ethical and moral well-being: “Virtue consists in a will which is in agreement with Nature.” This principle also applies to the realm of interpersonal relationships; “to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy,” and to accept even slaves as “equals of other men, because all alike are sons of God.”
The Stoic ethic espouses a deterministic perspective; in regards to those who lack Stoic virtue, Cleanthes once opined that the wicked man is “like a dog tied to a cart, and compelled to go wherever it goes.” A Stoic of virtue, by contrast, would amend his will to suit the world and remain, in the words of Epictetus, “sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy,” thus positing a “completely autonomous” individual will, and at the same time a universe that is “a rigidly deterministic single whole.”
Stoicism became the foremost popular philosophy among the educated elite in the Hellenistic world and the Roman Empire, to the point where, in the words of Gilbert Murray “nearly all the successors of Alexander […] professed themselves Stoics.”
Why do NPT leaders and members need to become more Stoic?
The reason we must develop stoic philosophy is because we have answered a calling that encompasses the responsibility to make life and death decisions that will be based upon intrinsic values, no matter if the person in question has good or evil values. Therefore, the NPT leader or member striving to improve himself, his values, and his moral code, must rely on logic, reason, and nature’s God (or, for those who are Christian, the moral tenets described in the Bible, both old and new Testaments). Here’s an example of a stoically inspired Christian axiom:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Note the lack of emotion. No blaming, no anger, only acceptance of what is. If we develop that ability to remain calm in the face of what should not be (like a SHTF situation) and accept it as ‘what is’, we are much more able to clearly make decisions for ourselves and our team as well as our families. We can much more quickly get inside the OODA loop of OPFOR, gain the initiative, and come out the other side of the conflict alive.
Emotionally infused reasoning must be strictly controlled and relegated to a far corner of the NCO’s mind when dealing with decisions affecting the lives of his men. That includes the training, discipline, and even interaction in social settings with his men because this is what sets the stage for the men to follow the NPT Leader into battle. The more senior leaders are no less required to do this, because the NPT subordinate leaders follows the senior leader.
Here’s an excerpt from a very long article on Stoicism. Feel free to read the whole thing if you have the time or inclination. I have emphasized various points that apply to the NPT leaders.
Properly studied and applied, Stoic philosophy delivers profound insights into the complexity of military life and offers, in the words of the former US Navy SEAL commando, Richard Marcinko, “a spiritual and moral gyroscope” for members of the profession of arms. As Marcinko puts it in his important 1997 memoir, Rogue Warrior:
it is my unshakeable belief that when . . . two intrinsic values—the total acceptance of death as a natural condition of life, and the total acceptance of an absolute moral code—are combined, the Warrior becomes invincible.
In recent years, the most prominent and systematic advocate of military Stoicism has been the distinguished US naval officer, Medal of Honor recipient and 1992 Vice-Presidential contender, Vice-Admiral James Bond Stockdale, who died in 2005. Stockdale’s 1995 book, “Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot,” is one of the finest introductions to Stoicism and its meaning for the profession of arms. Stockdale’s personal embrace of Stoicism helped him to survive seven and a half years of systematic torture and solitary confinement from 1965 until 1972 as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese in the dreaded “Hanoi Hilton”. More than any other warrior-scholar in the English-speaking West, Stockdale disseminated the value of Stoic philosophy within the US and allied military establishments. In particular, he did much to elevate the writings of the Stoic slave-philosopher Epictetus over those of Marcus Aurelius by turning the former’s Stoic teachings from the Enchiridion into what Stockdale called “a manual for combat officers”. In the pages of the Enchiridion, Stockdale says, “I had found the proper philosophy for the military arts as I practiced them. The Roman Stoics coined the formula Vivere militare—‘Life is being a soldier’.”
[This is more important to you, the NPT leader, because you have chosen to be, literally, a ‘citizen-soldier’ as it were, for the duration of any contingency when joining your NPT.]
What are the central tenets of Stoicism and how do they fit into the cosmology of the twenty-first-century military professional? As a philosophy Stoicism teaches that life is unfair and that there is no moral economy in the world. Martyrs and honest men may die poor; swindlers and dishonest men may die rich. In this respect, the fate of Job, God’s good servant, and of Shakespeare’s King Lear, the devoted father, are reminders of what we must endure from a life that fits the Stoic creed. The spirit of Stoicism as an unrelenting struggle for virtuous character in a world devoid of fairness is hauntingly captured by the Greek poet Aeschylus: “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop on the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
[This is why training must be under, as much as possible, adverse and arduous conditions. Making it easy for your team only guarantees their failure when under fire. THAT fact is why, during all Train the Trainer courses, for example, we make it physically uncomfortable, and we throw ‘audibles’ and change up plans in the order of training and hope for rain. Through shared suffering in a controlled environment men will learn to develop honor and become beholden to each other as well as something larger than themselves.]
In the Stoic catechism there is no such category as “victimhood” because there is no moral economy outside of the workings of our inner selves. Stoicism is thus about empowerment by perception—a cultivation of an invincibility of the will through minimizing personal vulnerability by a mixture of Socratic self-examination and an emphasis on control of the emotions. Stoicism teaches concentration on what individuals can control, what Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations called the “inner citadel” of the soul. Stoicism’s four great teachings may be summarized as the quest for virtue as representing the sole human good; the understanding that external goods do not amount to human happiness; the belief that a good life strives to control emotions to enhance reason; and the conviction that virtue consists in knowing what is in one’s control and what is not. Now, go back up to Marchinko’s quote and understand that you must accept death as part of life. Your death, my death, your NPT’s death. Really understand that. Chew on that for a bit. Then, if you don’t have an absolute moral code, start on it today. Talk with your NPT members. Really discuss this issue.
If you do have an absolute moral code started, or at least have the foundations laid, then build on it. If you’d like, in the comments section, we can also discuss why an absolute is important. No grey areas. Lastly, here’s something that very long article on the moral lessons and choices Stoicism gives us that can be applied to the NPT leader and member:
A Stoic Guide for Military Professionals
How can the demanding personal philosophy of Stoicism work within a Western military profession that is assailed by the prevailing postmodern cults of moral relativism, victimhood and shallow celebrity? In this realm, one can only proceed by selecting enduring moral lessons and choices from the annals of Western philosophy, literature and history that assist in arming the inner selves of uniformed officers as they undertake the process of professional military education. Accordingly, this article summarizes eight moral lessons and seven moral choices that are used in “Captains of the Soul: A Stoic Guide for Military Professionals”, a fifteen-tenet document that I issue every year to those army, navy and air force officers whom I am privileged to teach at the Australian Command and Staff College in Canberra.
Eight Moral Lessons from Stoicism
The first lesson in “Captains of the Soul” concerns the need to develop an understanding of the meaning of a human life that assails us from three directions—the body, the external world, and our relationships. The lesson is drawn from the works of Epictetus and Seneca and emphasizes that life will often resemble a storm-tossed sea, not a tranquil ocean, and that one should seek to live according to moral purpose. Epictetus sums up our parlous condition with precision in his Enchiridion: Life: Duration: momentary. Nature: changeable. Perception: dim. Condition of Body: decaying. Soul: spinning around. Fortune: unpredictable. Lasting fame: uncertain. Sum Up: The body and its parts are a river, the soul a stream and a mist, life is warfare and a journey far from home, lasting reputation is oblivion. For many Stoics, good living is symbolized by Hercules’s meeting with the two Goddesses, Arête (Virtue) and Hedone (Pleasure) each of whom offered him a different path in life. Arête offered Hercules an arduous path with much pain, labor and tumult but also a life adorned with true meaning, moral purpose and enduring honor. In contrast, Hedone offered Hercules a pleasurable path of sensual ease, repose and sumptuous living but an existence without lasting significance. Hercules wisely chose Arête and a life of struggle but one defined by righteous action, fidelity, honor and decency.
The second lesson reflects on how a military professional should face his day and draws upon the writings in Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. The latter, composed in the campaign tent in innumerable frontier wars against German barbarians, have an obvious resonance for those in the profession of arms. For the great Roman soldier-emperor, daily moral life is about honorable action irrespective of the circumstances that an individual must face and, to this end, he offers the following sage advice: When you wake up in the morning tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they cannot tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own … And so, none of them can hurt me; no one can implicate me in ugliness.
The third lesson imparts the central tenet of Stoicism, namely knowing what one can control and what one cannot control. It urges the military professional to take to heart Epictetus’s advice to the effect that we always have a choice about the contents and character of our inner lives and that trying to control or to change what we cannot only results in anguish and torment. As Epictetus puts it: the things within our power are naturally at our disposal, free from any restraint or hindrance; but those things outside our power are weak, dependent, or determined by the whims and actions of others.
The fourth lesson deals with how happiness can only be found within and again makes use of Epictetus’s writings—this time in the form of his teaching that freedom is the only worthy goal in life and that “happiness depends on three things, all of which are within your power: your will, your ideas concerning the events in which you are involved, and the use you make of your ideas”.
The fifth lesson argues that events do not necessarily hurt us but our views of them can. Taking its inspiration from various works of Seneca, Cicero, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, it urges the use of reason to ensure correct perception, since we cannot always choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them. At this point “Captains of the Soul” analyses the Stoic teaching that death is everyone’s fate and should not be unduly feared. As Marcus Aurelius observes, “it is a useful help toward contempt of death to pass in review of those who have tenaciously stuck to life”. The discussion of the Stoic view of death as a natural part of life is reinforced by a recounting of Somerset Maugham’s 1933 fable, “Appointment in Samarra”, about the Arab servant, who in the market of Baghdad encounters the shrouded figure of Death. When Death beckons to him the servant, terror-stricken, entreats his master to lend him a fast horse so that he can ride to Samarra in order to escape his fate. The master agrees and, following the servant’s departure goes down to the market himself. Encountering Death, the master says, “My servant is young and healthy. Why did you beckon to him?” to which Death replies, “I did not beckon. Mine was a gesture of surprise. I did not expect to see him this afternoon in Baghdad, because he and I have an appointment tonight in Samarra.”
The sixth lesson upholds the great Stoic truth that character matters more than reputation. Here “Captains of the Soul” uses Howard Spring’s 1940 novel Fame is the Spur to tell the tale of the rise of an idealistic British working-class politician, Hamer Radshaw, who in pursuit of high office is corrupted, renouncing every principle he ever espoused and every person who ever placed faith in him. Making a cavalry sabre his honour symbol, he gradually allows its blade to lie dormant in its scabbard. At the end of his life, resplendent with accumulated honours and a peerage, he tries to remove the sword but it has rusted in the scabbard—a metaphor for a career in which Bradshaw’s soul has rusted in his body and his moral principles have withered in the face of unrelenting personal ambition.
The seventh lesson is that in the Stoic world, effective leadership and good conduct are always dependent on a conscious decision to renounce self-conceit and arrogance because both inhibit rational thinking. As Epictetus puts it, conceit represents “an iron gate that admits no new knowledge, no expansive possibilities, nor constructive ideas” and leads only to a dishonorable life of self-interest.
The eighth and final lesson in “Captains of the Soul” concerns the question of where the line of goodness may be found in life. Here the emphasis is upon Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s famous book The Gulag Archipelago, in which the author reaches a Stoic consciousness about the essential individual nature of good and evil and the power of personal revelation. As Solzhenitsyn writes: It was only when I lay there on the rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not between states nor between classes nor between political parties but right through every human heart, through all human hearts. And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say … ‘Bless you, prison, for having been in my life.
Seven Moral Choices from Stoicism
The second section of “Captains of the Soul” then goes on to deal with seven Stoic moral choices—all drawn from literature and history—that will, in the course of time and experience, face all military professionals.
The first of these choices is about deciding the kind of officer you want to be and is drawn from Anton Myrer’s acclaimed 1968 novel about the American profession of arms between the First World War and the beginnings of Vietnam, Once an Eagle, in which two officer archetypes are contrasted. The first archetype is the dutiful and Stoic Sam Damon, a moral warrior dedicated to pursuing the profession of arms and to the proposition that the real enemy of the soldier is the beast in man. The second archetype is the Epicurean but brilliantly cynical careerist Courtney Massengale, an officer of silken talent and of many social connections, but whose moral compass is as corrupt as that of Oscar Wilde’s Lord Henry Wotton. As Damon and Massengale rise to become rival American generals their careers are brought into stark contrast. Damon is no match for the ambitious Massengale in the Washington political world of the US Army staff which eventually determines success; Massengale, however, cannot match the moral decency and professional military skill of the Stoic Damon. The book becomes a meditation on the moral choices involved in military officership and on the dangers that the Massengales of this world pose to the Damons. Indeed, the book takes its very title from Aeschylus’s lines:
So in the Libyan fable it is told That once an eagle stricken with a dart, Said, when he saw the fashion of the shaft, “With our own feathers, not by other’s hands, Are we now smitten.”
The second moral choice highlighted in “Captains of the Soul” deals with how the substance of officership is a choice between a quest for status and a search for achievement. It takes as its model the tempestuous career of a brilliant strategist, US Air Force Colonel John Boyd—a man often called “the American Sun Tzu” following his invention of the famous OODA decision-cycle (observe, orientate, decide, act). Boyd’s career was idealistic, idiosyncratic and intellectual; a triumph of perseverance over adversity, the spirit of which is conveyed in his 1974 “to be or to do” speech delivered to his subordinates in the Pentagon: “There are two career paths in front of you, and you have to choose which path you will follow. One path leads to promotions, titles and positions of distinction. To achieve success down that path, you have to conduct yourself a certain way. You must go along with the system … The other path leads to doing things that are truly significant for the Air Force, but you may have to cross swords with the party line on occasion. You can’t go down both paths, you have to choose. Do you want to be a man of distinction or do you want to do things that really influence the shape of the Air Force? To be or to do, that is the question.”
“Captains of the Soul” then presents the third moral choice: the vital need to resist the corrosive influence of bureaucratization on the Stoic warrior spirit. The true combat officer must always keep his intellect focused on the art of war and not upon bureaucratic politics. The example here is drawn from Emmanuel Wald’s 1992 book, The Decline of Israeli National Security since 1967, in which General Israel Tal describes how bureaucratisation and conformity work to destroy the creative imagination that is fundamental to future generals: Officers at the rank of captain or major, naive and full of youthful enthusiasm, believe they will be judged by their achievements. If these officers do not grasp that it is forbidden to damage bureaucratic harmony they will quickly be dropped from the IDF [Israeli Defence Force] system … If they are able to last in an organisation which, by its very nature, enslaves and constrains the thinker, then they will eventually reach the rank of general. By then, of course, not much can be expected from them in terms of creative thinking.
The fourth moral choice deals with the proposition that no individual can be neutral in a moral crisis, and looks at the 1930s “wilderness years” of Winston Churchill when, with Stoic grandeur, he waged a lonely crusade, warning the British people about the mortal threat that growing Nazi power posed to Western civilisation. Churchill’s book The Gathering Storm is instructive, for in this volume of his history of the Second World War, the great statesman writes of the danger of a moral compromise contrived through appeasement with evil, observing: it is my purpose as one who lived and acted in those days … to show how the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous, how the councils of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of mortal danger … and how the middle course, adopted from desires for safety and a quiet life, may be found to lead direct to the bull’s-eye of disaster.
The fifth choice in “Captains of the Soul” revolves around the necessity for a military professional always to make the best of adversity. As Douglas MacArthur once pointed out, suffering is one of the combat soldier’s closest companions. In this respect, the anonymous Soldier’s Prayer from the American Civil War, a prayer that was found scraped on the walls of the dreaded Confederate military prison, Andersonville, by Union troops in 1865, repays reading as a Stoic testament:
We asked for strength that we might achieve; God made us weak that we might obey. We asked for health that we might do great things; He gave us infirmity that we might do better things. We asked for riches that we might be happy; We were given poverty that we might be wise. We asked for power that we might have the praise of men; We were given weakness that we might feel the need of God. We asked for all things that we might enjoy life; We were given life that we might enjoy all things. We received nothing that we asked for But all that we hoped for And our prayers were answered. We were most blessed.
The sixth moral choice is about the terrible price that may be required when choosing to act out of conscience and principle. This section of “Captains of the Soul” explores the moral decision-making of those German Army officers who joined the abortive July 20, 1944, plot to kill Hitler, as recounted in such books as Sir John Wheeler-Bennett’s The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics, 1918–1945 and Joachim Fest’s Plotting to Kill Hitler: The German Resistance to Hitler, 1933–1945. The focus is on the actions of Brigadier General Henning von Tresckow who, along with Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, was the noblest spirit behind the 1944 conspiracy. The two men viewed Hitler as the arch-enemy of both Germany and the world. Following the failure of the assassination attempt, von Tresckow prepared to commit suicide with a grenade in order to deny the SS the opportunity to torture him to reveal the names of other conspirators. As this young general, a devout and cultured German patriot, left his headquarters to take his own life, he turned to his adjutant and said with Stoic poignancy: When, in a few hours, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify in good conscience what I did in the struggle against Hitler. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if just ten righteous men could be found and I hope God will not destroy Germany. None of us can bewail his own death; those who consented to join our circle put on the robe of Nessus. A human being’s moral integrity begins when he is prepared to sacrifice his life for his convictions.
The seventh and final moral choice in “Captains of the Soul” concerns the nature of courage as a conscious choice to submit oneself to the spirit of endurance and is drawn from the 1959 book Man’s Search for Meaning, by the Austrian humanist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, and from the writing of the distinguished American war correspondent and novelist Glendon Swarthout. Frankl reminds us, in true Stoic tradition, that every individual facing danger and adversity has at his disposal the key to courageous endurance in the form of “the last of human freedoms�only at the sacrifice of his own life. His journey has seen him discover the reservoirs of an enduring bravery that he feared he did not possess, and allows him to fulfil a sworn duty to five apparently courageous, but in reality morally unworthy comrades.