In her 1996 book Toxic Leaders : When Organizations Go Bad, Dr. Marcia Whicker coined the term “toxic leaders” to describe leaders who were essentially poisonous to their organizations.  Of course, she was addressing the problem in the corporate world, but the problem of toxic leaders is commonplace in the military as well and has been studied and reported in numerous military venues such as this March 2, 2013, Army Times article.  Also, Dr. Jonathan Shay addressed the subject in his groundbreaking book on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Vietnam veterans, Achilles in Vietnam.  Dr. Shay had worked for years as a psychiatrist and therapist for the VA, dealing primarily with Vietnam veterans.  In his book, he wrote about the connection between his veteran’s PTSD and the over-the-top rage of Achilles in the ancient Greek epic poem, the Iliad.  If you’ve read the book or seen the 2004 movie Troy, starring Brad Pitt, you know about the source of Achilles’ rage, the death of his beloved comrade and brother-in-arms Patroclus at the hands of Hector.   

In the rage of his grief, Achilles viciously slaughters Hector in one-on-one combat and then humiliatingly drags the lifeless body of Hector across the Trojan plain in front of the city walls to the horror of the Trojan citizens and Hector’s family.  Just as with Achilles in the Iliad, Shay’s Vietnam veterans were witness to, victim of, or had participated in tragic and horrendous moral violations.  Shay argues quite convincingly that it is this moral injury that is the key to the depth of their pain, the height of their rage, and the decades-long suffering that they endure from their combat experiences, some never completely recovering from it.  But it was not just the blood and gore that affected them so thoroughly and deeply.  It was primarily the egregious moral violations of their leaders.  The widespread corruption of leaders and the violation of their sacred trusts to their men in Vietnam have been well documented and written about in many books over the years.  In an organization that is so immersed, so saturated with commitment to moral values, the highest moral violations are those of its leaders who hold the sacred trust of authority and responsibility for the lives and welfare of all the men and women given to their care, the sons and daughters of America.  

The U.S. military is nothing if not a moral organization.  It lives and breathes moral codes, constantly reciting them in oaths (for enlistment, for reenlistment, for promotion, for commissioning, etc.) and persistently discussing them in training, mentoring, awards ceremonies, counseling, trials, non-judicial punishment, and speeches (duty, honor, country – supporting and defending the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage).  Moreover, all soldiers know that they may be required to commit the highest, most costly moral act possible for a human, to sacrifice their lives, willingly laying down their life, giving that “last full measure of devotion” (Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”).  And in this profoundly moral environment, the deep moral obligations between brothers-in-arms, sisters-in-arms and between subordinate and leader are held to be sacred.  This is why the violation of that sacred trust by a leader has such a deep and lasting impact on the men and women who bear witness to the violation or who suffer from it.  Furthermore, the moral implications of the violation are greatly magnified in the harsh, chaotic, and cruel environment, the life and death struggle, of combat.

I pray that the Lord bless you and keep you in His protective arms. 


06/14/2017 11:39pm

I have read many similar books which are based on the trust and value of relationships. In any leadership the trust is the main source. I am glad to read this blog and this is inspirational too.


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    I'm a retired soldier, having spent 23 years of my life serving our country, actually 30 years when you count the reserve and National Guard time as well.  I believe in servant leaders, following the example of our Lord, and I believe in giving back to the troops once one has attained a certain status or level of success in life.  But I also believe in fighting back against corruption and incompetence wherever you find it if it hurts people.  Our national values were worth dying for.  They are also worth living for.  A man or woman can actually live a life by these principles of humility, service, love, duty, and honor, and have a significant impact on the world around them...if you have the dedication to see it through. 


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