Inspector-general files show, for example, that Army officers described the working atmosphere under Joyce E. Morrow, a powerful civilian official at Army headquarters, as “toxic,” corrosive” and “like you were in a prisoner of war camp.” Officers complained of menial servitude and said they were forced to fetch Morrow’s iced tea, which she would refuse to drink if it was not served in a cup with a lid and a straw, but no ice.

Most military commanders are upstanding and well-respected by their troops. Many are hailed as heroes, particularly after more than a dozen years of war. But in recent months, the armed forces have been shaken by an embarrassing number of generals and admirals who have gotten into trouble for gambling, drinking and sleeping around, among other ethical lapses.

Some current and former officers say those cases are symptomatic of a more damaging problem: a system that promotes and tolerates too many lousy leaders.

“This is a larger issue of not only officer misconduct involving ethical issues, but let’s call these guys for what they are: toxic leaders,” said Christopher Walach, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and battalion commander who served two combat tours in Iraq.