Achilles and Odysseus Today: 
What Homer Can Tell Us About Military Leadership

By Jonathan Shay, M.D., Ph.D., D.V.A.
Outpatient Clinic and Tufts Dept. of Psychiatry, Boston, MA


Thank you for that very kind introduction, Dean Hoskins, it is an honor and a pleasure to give the Rouman Classical Lecture here at the University of New Hampshire.

For the last sixteen years I have served American combat veterans as a psychiatrist in the VA clinic in Boston. For roughly ten of those years, I have traveled widely in the US armed forces as the veterans’ missionary on prevention of psychological and moral injury. They don’t want other young kids wrecked the way they were wrecked.

After ten years as a missionary, I cannot complain of having been thrown in any bubbling stew pots. The response has been more positive and welcoming than I could ever have predicted. Possibly it is the authority of the veterans message itself, and possibly it is the privilege of riding on Homer’s shoulders. I cannot say. At Professor Smith’s suggestion, I have adapted one of these talks to military professionals for you this evening. Much of what I’ll say to you tonight I said to a room full of admirals and Marine Corps generals in the Naval Command Center Auditorium in the Pentagon for the Secretary of the Navy’s Guest Lecture in February of 2000. Your handout is one from the sheaf of handouts I distributed that afternoon.

Imagine a rather odd, small auditorium, with strange thick walls and a thick door like on a walk-in freezer. I presume this is to permit classified briefings to be given in the room. As much security as I had to go through to get into the Pentagon, I had to go through another layer to get inside the Command Center. Most of the seats filled with flag and general officers in uniform and a sprinkling of civilian Department of Defense and Department of the Navy officials. They have all come to hear talk of Homer, at Secretary Danzig’s invitation.

Now isn’t that remarkable….Isn’t that remarkable. They didn’t come to hear Shay—who’s he? They came, these admirals and generals, to hear talk about poems composed twenty-six or so centuries ago in another land in another language.

I’ll try to step back into my dramatic persona of that day…

Who won the Trojan War for the Greeks? Which of the human players deserves the credit?

Now it’s not nice to pop a quiz on an audience kind enough to invite me to speak with them, so I’ll try to answer the question myself.

Homer’s fictional history offers us only three choices: Achilles, Odysseus, and Agamemnon. To refresh your memory: Achilles was the most formidable Greek warrior and CO of the maneuver force; Agamemnon was supreme commander of the coalition army and CO of the static force laying siege to Troy; Odysseus was Agamemnon’s deputy and the army’s best strategist and intelligence officer.

These three are together on-stage in Odyssey 8 where we hear—quote—

The quarrel
Odysseus once had with Achilles,
Going head to head…
With violent words, and Agamemnon,
The warlord, rejoiced that these two,
The best of the Greeks, were at each other’s throats.
(8:75ff orig. Lombardo trans. p82)

Ancient scholia—that is, marginal explanatory notes, mainly by scholars in Alexandria around the time of Jesus—explain that Achilles and Odysseus were arguing whether Troy would be defeated by bíê, “might,” or mêtis, “artifice,” strategy, cunning tricks.

So I ask you, who won the war for the Greeks?

Was it Achilles’ powerful body, the aim and kinetic energy of his Pelian ash spear that brought down Hektor, the Trojan’s main man? When Hektor fell, Troy was doomed. At least his father, King Priam, and his wife, Andromakhe, thought so. The gods discuss it and think so, too. I know that when I finish the Iliad I am certain that it was Achilles’ raw firepower that conquered Troy.

Or was it the Hollow Horse that Odysseus devised? Hektor was down, but Troy hung in there. Its walls and its alliances held after Achilles himself died in the fighting. Troy held out for maybe a year after Achilles killed Hektor. Only Odysseus’ deception of the hollow horse filled with picked fighters breached its defenses. I know that when I finish the Odyssey I am certain it was Odysseus’ strategy and cunning tricks that won it for the Greeks.

Bíê or mêtis, which is more important in war? This is not an academic question about long-dead antiquity. It is a subject of ongoing struggle right here in the Pentagon today. What is more important, fire superiority or information dominance? Firepower or maneuver? Heavy armor or small, agile, special ops teams? Survivable redundancy or stealth technology? Crushing the enemy or surprising the enemy? Read both of Homer’s epics and you’ll find the answer to this generic military question, “bíê? OR mêtis? Which one?” The answer is…..“Uh—yes!”

I’ll give you leadership portraits of these three officers, Achilles, Odysseus, and Agamemnon. As you’ll see later, this also fits my prevention agenda, since leadership is one of the triad that protects the troops—the other two being cohesion and training.

Your handout is a table comparing Homer’s portraits of each of these three leaders.

Homer shows each of them to be personally strong and skillful in a fight. Of course Achilles is a standout for his physical endurance, strength, speed, and spearwork. Odysseus is good with the spear, but outstanding as a bowman. Agamemnon’s no slouch, though he doesn’t excel in any fighting skill. However he has real personal courage. He takes a wound and shares the hazards of war with the rest of the army; we may find him self-indulgent in many destructive ways, but he does not shun the danger and wounds of battle simply because he can do it as the CINC. Homer gives him credit for that, and we should too.

Beyond this one shared military virtue of personal courage, the three leaders diverge.

Why did the siege commander Agamemnon and the maneuver commander Achilles quarrel so disastrously in the opening book of the Iliad? Homer lets us in on the explosive history that they have with each other. Both Achilles and Agamemnon refer to this baggage early in Iliad 1. Achilles snarls:

“I have seen more action
hand to hand . . . than you have,
but when the time for sharing comes, the greater
share is always yours.”

To which Agamemnon hurls back:

“No officer
is hateful to my sight as you are, none
given like you to faction. . . .” (1:190ff)

They couch their exchange of blows in terms of a common past, but what is that past?

The new five-volume Iliad commentary from Cambridge University summarizes Achilles’ operations as extending over Lesbos 9:129, Skuros 9:668, Tenedos 11:625, Lurnessos 2:690, 19:60, 20:92, 191, Pedasos 20:92, Thebe 1:366, 2:691 and concludes that, “All the booty in the Greek camp seems to have been captured by Akhilleus….” In Book 9 Achilles recalls that he has captured 23 cities in the years before our Iliad begins.

The Greek expeditionary force had arrived at Troy with overwhelming numerical superiority, greater than ten to one, with technological parity, and with all the logistical worries of any amphibious operation. Foraging and pillaging were one traditional solution to the logistical problem; commercial contracting, with goods paid for by booty yet another. Getting booty to pay the contractors appears to have been the main point of the raids that Achilles led.

However, the Greeks failed to tie a tight blockade around Troy while solving their own logistical problems. Famine never torments Troy during nine long years of war, so the siege must have been extremely permeable. The text gives direct evidence of a more important military failure: Agamemnon has allowed so much coming and going from Troy that King Priam can assemble a formidable alliance, whose troops are now quartered within the town. Beat that! Agamemnon himself admits:

“…If we Greeks and the Trojans
should hold a truce and tally on both sides,
on one side native Trojans, on the other [side]
Greek troops … in squads of ten,
and each squad took one Trojan for a steward,
then many squads would go unserved. So far
Greek men outnumber those
whose home is Troy!
But the allies are there.
From many Asian cities came these lances,
and it is they who hedge me out and hinder me
from plundering the fortress town of Troy.” [2:141ff, emphasis mine]

“But the allies are there.” Agamémnon speaks like they were some natural phenomenon, perhaps a submerged reef his ships have struck. He takes no responsibility. This is the “history” of Achilles’ hair-trigger anger at Agamemnon in Iliad 1. How could Agamemnon allow this to happen?

We can imagine Achilles’ earlier reproaches. He has returned to the beachhead after every raid to discover that Agamemnon has allowed even more enemy forces through the blockade. Tempers run high among commanders in the field if they have fundamental military differences. The stakes are mortal.

Let’s turn now to cunning Odysseus. The Iliad paints him as a capable staff officer who gives blind obedience to his Commander-in-Chief, Agamemnon. He’s eloquent and forceful in carrying out his boss’ bidding, and not especially slippery, as he often is later in the Odyssey. Except once he shades the truth a bit carrying Agamemnon’s buyout offer to Achilles in Iliad 9. Achilles sees through it and ends up mad at both Odysseus and Agamemnon, instead of just the latter.

Odysseus is too much of a yes-man, a courtier, to serve his boss really well. The Athenian tragic theater—Sophocles especially—detested Odysseus for this. Except for once in Iliad 12, the only thing we ever hear Odysseus say to Agamemnon is, “Yes, sir! Three bags full, sir!”

In Iliad 2, Agamemnon tells his officers he’s going to pretend to give up. Let’s look at this episode for a clearer picture of Agamemnon as a leader.

It’s the day after Agamemnon has dishonored Achilles in front of the troops by seizing his geras, his Medal of Honor, fatally weakening his own alliance. Remember that Achilles was the independent leader of his own national contingent and was free to withdraw. No one could arrest Achilles for desertion, any more than Westmoreland could have arrested the head of the Australian contingent in Vietnam.

So now it’s this next day, and Agamemnon does one of the nuttiest things in the annals of military leadership, real or fictional. He says to his officers—

We’d better move if we’re going to get the men [ready].
But I’m going to test them first with a little speech,
The usual drill—order them to beat a retreat in their ships.
It’s up to each one of you [officers] to persuade them to stay. (Lombardo translation 2:77ff)

Apparently he has done it before enough times that it seems normal, and nobody says to him, “That’s a really bad idea!” Odysseus never says, “Boss, you sure you want to do that?” Then, with the whole army mustered, Agamemnon stands before them and says that even though they came ashore with a 10:1 advantage over the Trojans, Zeus has decreed their failure after so much struggle and sacrifice.

Now this is what I say, and I want us all to obey:
Let’s clear out with our ships and head for home.
There’s no more hope we will take Troy’s … town. (Lombardo 2:150ff)

There’s a stampede for the ships, a mad rush that takes everyone by surprise. Apparently in the past, when Agamemnon had pulled this dumb trick, the troops had stood fast and said, “Hey, we’re here for the duration.” Agamemnon is surprised; the Greek officers are surprised—even the gods are surprised—when they bolt for the ships.

But should we be surprised? No, we should not be—because this is the predictable result of Agamemnon’s betrayal of “what’s right” the day before with Achilles. Motivation, loyalty, and perseverance go whooshing out of the troops like air from a balloon. In the modern world they desert psychologically, even if they don’t feel able to desert physically. We have yet to take in the full meaning of an all-volunteer force.

This little-discussed scene in Book 2, the stampede to the ships, carries one of the Iliad’s most important lessons for military leaders. “Command climate” is not the weather report of atmospherics and mood; it is the observed trustworthiness of how power is employed. What Agamemnon did to Achilles was no private wrong. There are no private wrongs in the application of power in a military organization. Everyone is watching the trustworthiness of those who wield power. If anyone dared to ask, Agamemnon would have said that what went between him and Achilles was none of their business. When a military leader violates “what’s right” in the use of power, the injury afflicts everyone. Agamemnon caused Achilles desertion and caused the stampede to the ships—in our terms, the rush to find the quickest way out of the active component, National Guard, or Reserve.

When I speak of preventing psychological and moral injury in military service, the “moral injury” part has mainly to do with how power is used in high stakes situations. The effect on active service members is immediate and devastating: like Achilles and the stampeding soldiers, they desert. Today, the desertion is mainly psychological and motivational, and at the next possible separation point, the service member attrits. If the stakes have been life and death, and the betrayal bad enough, the service member then enters civilian life as a veteran whose capacity for social trust has been destroyed.

The three Homeric leaders contrast sharply in their relationship to their troops: Achilles has broad, other-regarding care for all the troops, not just his own. He is famous among them for his skill and interest in treating wounds. When a plague ravages the army, it is Achilles who steps in to end it. He leads by example and is lavish in his generosity to both peers and subordinates. He shows moral courage as well as physical courage.

Homer gives us every reason to think that Achilles, had he lived, would have brought most of his troops home alive and in sound heart.

As the commander of Greek maneuver force, he has taken twelve cities by sea and eleven by land, making him the most admired fighter and troop commander in the Greek army. He is habitually blunt and truthful to the point of being tactless. What you see is what you get; he speaks the same to everyone. When angry his language gets ungrammatical and somewhat coarse. He is idealistic, passionate, and energetic, letting his emotions show. He is also perfectionistic and given to self-righteousness, which makes other people not want to upset him.

Achilles died in the final year of the war, so we know nothing of how he would have conducted himself during the homeward trip with the Myrmidons, the contingent he brought with him to Troy.

Odysseus motivates troops through a mix of eloquence and physical coercion. Later, in the Odyssey, we see that he trusts no one but himself to do things right, even the simplest things. We see him habitually lie to and withhold information from his troops, and we watch him take them into needless danger for personal gain. And in the most catastrophic episode of the Odyssey, where 11 of the 12 ships in his flotilla are destroyed, he has taken steps to protect himself, but has not lifted a finger to protect them. When he returns from Troy, all 624 of his men are dead.

During the Trojan War (in the Iliad), we hardly see Odysseus with his men at all.

Unlike the tongue-tied Ajax and the unadorned Achilles, Odysseus in the Iliad is eloquent in his persuasion and artistically scathing in his ridicule. He was mainly on stage as Agamemnon’s principle staff officer, or as a fighter on the battlefield where he related almost exclusively to other Greek leaders or to Trojan adversaries, but hardly at all to his own men. Agamemnon gave him the task of returning the captive woman Chryseis to her father in Iliad 1; Odysseus stopped the stampede to the ships in Iliad 2, which Agamemnon caused, saving his neck. In Iliad 2, Odysseus took the initiative as Agamemnon’s deputy to humiliate the critic Thersites and to give him a public beating. Odysseus functioned as Agamemnon’s representative where “the General’s” presence was not required, such as pacing off the dueling ground with Hector in Iliad 3. In the “Embassy” to buy out Achilles in Iliad 9, Odysseus was clearly Agamemnon’s negotiator, with Ajax and old Phoenix along to soften Achilles up. In Iliad 14, we find the only occasion where Odysseus did anything but agree with Agamemnon. With his boss in a terminal funk, ready to bolt for his ship, Odysseus said to him,

Hell's misery!
Would you, then
quit and abandon forever the fine town
of Troy that we have fought for all these years,
taking our losses? Quiet! or some other
[Greeks] may get wind of this. No man
… could ever
allow that thought to pass his lips—no man
who bore a staff, whom army corps obeyed,
as [Greeks] owe obedience to you.
Contempt, no less, is what I feel for you
after the sneaking thing that you propose.
While the two armies are in desperate combat,
haul our ships into the sea?…
As for ourselves, sheer ruin is what it means.
While our long ships are hauled down, will the soldiers
hold the line? Will they not look seaward
and lose their appetite for battle? There
commander, is your way to wreck us all." (Iliad 14:95ff Fitzgerald)

Agamemnon was as much a failure as the commander of the static siege force around Troy as Achilles was a success as the commander of the mobile strike force. The whole tragedy of the Iliad was kicked off by Agamemnon’s breathtaking twin violations of his army’s moral order, first by impiously refusing to ransom the captive girl Chryseis to her father the Priest of Apollo, and then by publicly dishonoring his most esteemed, most effective subordinate commander, Achilles. The next day, Agamemnon was so obtuse that he demanded the bizarre demonstration of the army’s loyalty that triggered the stampede to the ships.

Achilles stands out as a paragon of leadership, up to the point that Agamemnon’s disastrous misuse of power destroys him. Achilles was an almost perfectly good leader; Agamemnon was an almost perfectly bad leader. Odysseus was a mixture of extremely good and extremely bad military traits. Homer may have given us a basic message on military personnel management—“Put the right person in the right place. In the wrong place, he’ll do harm.” As a staff officer, strategist, independent intelligence operative, and solo fighter, Odysseus was brilliant. As a troop leader, he was a catastrophe. Homer’s great epics show him in full depth and perspective.

Everywhere I go in the armed forces, an invisible community of the veterans I serve walk with me. Despite their terrible injuries, they remain proud Americans who want the armed forces to attract the best young people in the country, and for those young people to flourish. I cannot speak for all veterans, but I know that I speak for the men I work with.

Long-lasting psychological injury after combat comes in two forms: Simple combat PTSD and complex combat PTSD. The best way I know to explain simple PTSD after combat (or other life-threatening situations, like a submarine flooding, or ordinance exploding on a carrier deck) is that it’s the persistence into civilian life of valid adaptations to survive lethal danger. So the infantryman’s caution about bunching up and making a target for enemy snipers and mortarmen may persist into civilian life as a non-negotiable aversion to crowds and open spaces. Likewise, shutting down all emotions that do not contribute directly to survival in a fight, may persist into civilian life as a cold emotional distance that makes family life so much harder. And so on for the perpetual vigilance of the mind and body for danger. For adaptations to persist after danger has passed is biologically very ancient, drawing in brain capacities inherited from our vertebrate ancestors to learn about predators and other dangers in the environment. Much evidence shows that simple PTSD changes the functioning and even the anatomy of the central nervous system and the interaction between the brain and the endocrine systems.

Simple combat PTSD is a war injury. As long as humans engage in war, it will cause simple PTSD, just as it will always cause physical casualties. And like physical wounds, severity can range from light to devastating. Like physical wounds, their long-term result depends critically on nutritional status and how early and how well they are treated. This influences whether complications set in. The complications can be more destructive than the original injury. A flesh wound that is not promptly and properly treated will become infected—a complication—and eventually kill the sailor or soldier, especially if malnourished. The same applies to simple PTSD. The nutrition that counts here is social nutrition, coming back with your buddies and having time with them to talk it through.

But just as some physical wounds, such as the loss of an eye, or a spinal cord injury, cause specific disabilities without compromising the veteran’s capacity to lead a good human life, much simple PTSD is endured and worked around by many veterans. They have specific disabilities that change the course of their lives, but nonetheless they are able to make good lives in their families and communities. The more severe the simple PTSD, the harder this is, and the more help the veteran needs, just as with physical wounds.

However, when the injury invades the personality, all chance of a flourishing human life is lost. Complex combat PTSD is simple PTSD plus the destruction of the capacity for social trust. I offer you this as the most compact way to understand the virulent cynicism, the constant expectancy of exploitation and harm, and propensity for violence that blight the lives of veterans with complex combat PTSD.

The difference between simple and complex PTSD, and what can be done to treat them is a large and fascinating subject, but I’ll not go further into it here, where I want to talk about prevention.

Public health concepts give us a straightforward way to think about prevention: Primary prevention gets rid of the thing that injures; secondary prevention creates equipment, practices, or arrangements that reduce the frequency and severity of injury; tertiary prevention is early recognition and treatment of injury before it becomes disabling or permanent or complications set in. So here, primary prevention of psychological and moral injury in military service, is a permanent end to war. Secondary prevention is any military policies, equipment, culture, and practices that reduce the frequency and severity of injury. Tertiary prevention is early, expert, and far-forward recognition and treatment of injuries as they happen.

I hope you can see that preventive psychiatry at the secondary level is and must be in the hands of line leaders, trainers, and policy makers, not in the hands of support personnel like doctors, psychologists, or chaplains. The fire in my belly is for prevention of these devastating injuries. These are things we can do now and need not wait for a future utopia when we have brought war to an end. Likewise they don’t wait for people to be wrecked and then try to pick up the pieces.

Prevention of psychological and moral injury in military service has three axes : cohesion, leadership, and training.

FIRST—and this is the leading preventive psychiatry recommendation for the military and has been since Colonel Albert Glass of the Army Medical Corps made it during World War II—first is KEEP PEOPLE TOGETHER. Train them together, send them into danger together, bring them home together, and give them time together to digest what they’ve just been through. The word “cohesion” gets bandied around a lot—I do it myself. But without stability, there can be no cohesion. Of course there’s more to cohesion than just keeping people together, but stability is sine qua non, a necessary condition for cohesion to develop. We know how to do this, folks. It’s not mysterious. This is not new! I weep, I tear my hair, I gnash my teeth—we know how to do this!

We must renovate our policies and practices to stabilize and improve the face-to-face communities of our military units. We still shuffle and reshuffle units like decks of cards. The only reason we don’t look upon this practice with horror and loathing is that we are used to it and have come to think it cannot be done any other way.

So stability and cohesion is the first axis of prevention.

The SECOND axis is expert, ethical, and properly supported leadership. When I speak of “properly supported leadership,” the most important outcome of such support is truth-telling. You only get this when policies, practices, culture, and command climate reward it, not punish it. They must make it safe to tell the truth. ALL of the services have had chronic trouble with this, especially around readiness scoring and reporting. Inflated readiness reporting, forced from above afflicts ALL the services. Where there is no safety in telling the truth, the most Draconian punishments for lying, the most elaborate “screening” for personal character will not produce military truth-tellers.

Whatever the causes of pressure to lie to make the system look good—call it “risk aversion,” “career fear,” “courtier skills,” “a climate of fear”—I tell you the lack of truthfulness is like a steady blood-loss from everyone in a military organization. Consistent truthfulness makes possible well-founded trust; trust makes possible consistent truthfulness. There is no way out of this circularity.

Our officer career management system systematically weakens expert, ethical, and properly supported leadership. I say this knowing that I risk giving offense here in the Pentagon. It runs counter to the self-validation that all military institutions are vulnerable to. I take no joy in making people squirm or making them mad, but remember the missionary’s job description. I speak for the people who pay the physical and mental butcher’s bill in a fight. I say what I say to reduce the physical, mental, and moral costs of war.

Officer expertise in combat arms reduces physical casualties in their units. We know it reduces psychological casualties. What saves blood, saves spirit. We know this.

Competence is an ethical imperative in the profession of arms. Officers are fiduciaries for those serving under them. When they are not expert in a fight, it’s the enlisted ranks that pay the butcher bill. In aviation units, it’s the junior officers. The officer corps exists to prepare and lead forces, not to provide careers to officers. Careerism is the most potent source of unethical behavior in the Armed Forces, not sexual lust, not financial greed.

The THIRD axis of prevention is prolonged, progressive, realistic training for what the troops have to do and face. It takes time to develop tactical skills. It takes time to develop teamwork, which is another word for unit skills. Average troops can reach elite level skill if you give them the resources of stability, leadership, and training. Elite units are simply fully resourced units.

Our approach to military skills is antiquated, based ultimately on Elihu Root’s importation of Taylorism into the War Department. Unit skills are invisible to the present system, in which only individual skills count. Taylorism is not merely unproductive in the 21st Century, it was lethal to tens of thousands of American troops in the wars of the 20th Century, and will be lethal again if we continue with industrial era practices that treat service members as replaceable parts.

The machine metaphor of a military unit was never apt, especially in a fight—where it counts. When you replace the carburetor of a car, it works from the get-go, if it’s the right part. It doesn’t have to practice stopping and starting with the brake linings, or learn the job of the brake linings so that the brakes and the carburetor say they can read each other’s minds. This is the way members of a tight military unit speak of each other.

What are these three things—cohesion, leadership, and training? They are what create and maintain trust. They form and strengthen character throughout a military career. I want to make these good resources of cohesion, leadership, and training the birthright of every American service member, not just elite units.

Anything that increases trust is a combat strength multiplier. Cohesion, leadership, and training are each separately combat strength multipliers and together they are synergistic. That’s why I refer to them as axes, because they can vary independent of each other.

So cohesion, leadership, and training protect the troops and they’re combat strength multipliers…. So what’s the problem?

The problem is our inherited military manning and personnel system.

It shuffles humans like cards in a deck

It creates a sucking vortex of careerist egoism among our leaders

It produces neither the unit skills nor the leader competence to carry out the services’ warfighting doctrines.

This system embodies a myriad of assumptions that are now obsolete or were invalid from birth in the first half of the 20th Century. These assumptions are so habitual and familiar they are as invisible to us as water is invisible to a fish. The next to last page of your handout lists some of these assumptions.

We need a strategic plan for renovation of the military personnel system. I nominate TRUST as the overarching strategic goal, the desired endstate—trust between the services and the nation, trust of service members in their leaders and subordinates, in each other, and in their own skills. Cohesion/leadership/training are simply the detailed embodiment of this endstate of trust.

Everything we do currently should be critiqued against the endstate, and every proposed change should be carefully and intelligently analyzed, modeled, and wargamed against the endstate.

So how do we get there from here?

We do it as the best example of democratic persuasion, with complete transparency. Civilians often have a distorted notion of military people—you give ‘em an order and that’s that, no persuasion called for. This is not true for a matter such as this.

We do this bi-partisan, non-ideological, and all services. I picture a three-legged stool. One leg is institutional, the services and DoD; the second leg is the Congress; and the third is the public and media. I do not believe that the armed forces can make these self-reforms on their own. Historically, self-reform by military institutions comes after defeat and disaster, such as the Prussian Army after Jena, and the American armed services after Korea/Vietnam. The institutions cannot do this after a triumph, such as the Gulf War, without Congressional support and pressure. The Congress cannot and should not impose personnel reforms from without. To do so would doom those reforms to failure and to a multitude of perverse outcomes. The public needs to be educated, informed, and involved, not manipulated and stampeded. It’s a three-legged stool. Kick out a leg and we all fall down.

Every single person involved in this, in and out of uniform, must look each other in the eye as a fellow citizen and say “I am part of your future, and you are part of mine.”

I foresee a three to five year process of vigorous debate, study, democratic struggle, and deliberation resulting in an omnibus military personnel bill. That would start an implementation period that could last ten years to see that everyone is treated with fairness and generosity, fully acknowledging that we are dealing here with good and devoted people.

Of course it will not be simple or easy—like making major repairs while underway at sea. Without the luxury of drydock, we have to keep the ship afloat while it’s being reconstructed.

The veterans I serve want to protect the young kids coming along. They don’t want them wrecked like they were wrecked. They want to protect them so badly they can taste it.

If we think back to the three Homeric leaders, Achilles, Odysseus, Agamemnon, we have a good idea which would have brought the most troops home alive and morally fit. The fundamental theme of the Iliad and the Odyssey is the human side of war. These are not classics because the professors say they’re classics, but because they are so good at revealing us to ourselves. As long as humans make war and return home afterwards, they will be classics.

The missionary in me thanks you for this bully pulpit. Now I’d like to hear your comments, questions, and criticisms, if we’re not all too breathless from leaping more than 25 centuries.

J
onathan Shay, M.D., Ph.D., D.V.A. Outpatient Clinic and Tufts Department of Psychiatry, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.



(Posting date 28 August 2006)

Read about Dr. Shay.

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