By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 14, 2011
[Last week we introduced this new series, The Warrior Ethos, posting the introduction and Chapters One and Two. Today’s post is Chapters Three, Four, Five and Six. The Warrior Ethos will continue in this space every Monday. To see prior posts, click on the “Series” bar above. Let’s resume!]
CHAPTER 3 EAST OF EDEN
Where did the Warrior Ethos come from? Why would anyone choose this hard, dangerous life? What could be the philosophy behind such a choice?
An answer may come from the Garden of Eden (which is an archetypal myth common to many cultures other than our own Judeo-Christian).
God sets up Adam and Eve in paradise, where all their needs are met without effort. But He warns them, “Don’t go near that tree in the center of the garden.” Of course, they do. The mother and father of the human race choose to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
In other words, they choose to become human. They acquire a quality of consciousness that, before then, had been the possession of God alone.
God kicks them out—into the land of Nod, east of Eden. And here is the curse He lays upon Adam and Eve (and by extension upon the human race forever):
Henceforth shalt thou eat thy bread in the sweat of thy face.
In other words, from now on you humans have to work for a living.
No more picking fruit for free from the trees. From now on, you have to hunt. You have to chase wild animals and kill them before they kill you.
Adam and Eve became the primitive hunting band. The hunting band became the tribe. And the tribe became the army.
The Warrior Ethos evolved from the primary need of the spear-toting, rock-throwing, animal-skin-wearing hunting band—the need to survive. This need could be met only collectively, as a group working in unison. To bind the band together, an ethos evolved—a hunter’s ethos.
Every warrior virtue proceeds from this—courage, selflessness, love of and loyalty to one’s comrades, patience, self-command, the will to endure adversity. It all comes from the hunting band’s need to survive.
At a deeper level, the Warrior Ethos recognizes that each of us, as well, has enemies inside himself. Vices and weaknesses like envy and greed, laziness, selfishness, the capacity to lie and cheat and do harm to our brothers.
The tenets of the Warrior Ethos, directed inward, inspire us to contend against and defeat those enemies within our own hearts.
CHAPTER 4 LORD OF THE BATTLEFIELD
Alexander the Great, toward the end of his life, frequently stayed up all night, sacrificing to the god Fear. Why? Because the ancient way of war was characterized by fear.
The Warrior Ethos evolved as a counterpoise to fear.
In the era before gunpowder, all killing was of necessity done hand to hand. For a Greek or Roman warrior to slay his enemy, he had to get so close that there was an equal chance that the enemy’s sword or spear would kill him. This produced an ideal of manly virtue—andreia, in Greek— that prized valor and honor as highly as victory.
Be brave, my heart [wrote the poet and mercenary Archilochus]. Plant your feet and square your shoulders to the enemy. Meet him among the man-killing spears. Hold your ground. In victory, do not brag; in defeat, do not weep.
The ancients resisted innovation in warfare because they feared it would rob the struggle of honor.
King Agis was shown a new catapult, which could shoot a killing dart 200 yards. When he saw this, he wept. “Alas,” he said. “Valor is no more.”
The god who ruled the battlefield was Phobos. Fear.
CHAPTER 5 THE INSTINCT OF SELF-PRESERVATION
Some say that self-preservation is the strongest instinct of all, not only in humans but in all animal life. Fear of death. The imperative to survive. Nature has implanted this in all living creatures.
The Warrior Ethos evolved to counter the instinct of self-preservation.
Against this natural impulse to flee from danger (specifically from an armed and organized human enemy), the Warrior Ethos enlists three other equally innate and powerful human impulses:
CHAPTER 6 RIGHT AND WRONG
Concepts of shame, honor and love imply moral judgment. Right and wrong. Virtues and vices.
The natural, evolution-spawned instinct of self-preservation becomes viewed within the context of an ethical code—and indicted as wrong, evil, cowardly, depraved.
Its opposite—courage—is judged by that same code and declared to be good, brave and honorable.
The Spartan king Agesilaus was once asked what was the supreme warrior virtue, from which all other virtues derived. He replied, “Contempt for death.”
Courage—in particular, stalwartness in the face of death—must be considered the foremost warrior virtue.
A detachment of Romans was cut off in a waterless place. The enemy commander demanded their surrender. The Romans refused. “You are surrounded,” declared the enemy captain in exasperation. “You have neither food nor water. You have no choice but to surrender!” The Roman commander replied, “No choice? Then have you taken away as well the option to die with honor?”
The dictionary defines ethos as:
The moral character, nature, disposition and customs of a people or culture.
Ethos is derived from the same Greek root as ethics. The Warrior Ethos is a code of conduct—a conception of right and wrong, of virtues and of vices.
No one is born with the Warrior Ethos, though many of its tenets appear naturally in young men and women of all cultures.
The Warrior Ethos is taught. On the football field in Topeka, in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, on the lion-infested plains of Kenya and Tanzania. Courage is modeled for the youth by fathers and older brothers, by mentors and elders. It is inculcated, in almost all cultures, by a regimen of training and discipline. This discipline frequently culminates in an ordeal of initiation. The Spartan youth receives his shield, the paratrooper is awarded his wings, the Afghan boy is handed his AK-47.
To be continued …