The Warrior Ethos

The Warrior Ethos

Inner Wars

By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 11, 2011

PART THREE

INNER WARS

Chapter 21   Casualties of War

All of us know brothers and sisters who have fought with incredible courage on the battlefield, only to fall apart when they came home.

hurt locker

Jeremy Renner as "Sgt. James" in The Hurt Locker. He had a hard time coming home.

Why? Is it easier to be a soldier than to be a civilian?

For the warrior, all choices have consequences. His decisions have meaning; every act he takes is significant. What he says and does can save (or cost) his own life or the lives of his brothers. The nineteen-year-old squad leader and the twenty-three-year-old lieutenant often exercise more power (and in spheres of greater and more instant consequence) than their fathers, who are fifty and have been working honorably and diligently their entire lives.

Is adrenaline addictive? Is the fight? Are these tours of combat, hellish as they may feel in the moment, the best years of our lives?

Chapter 22   The Civilian World

Spartans and Romans and Macedonians, Persians and Mongols, Apache and Sioux, Masai and Samurai and Pashtun all share one advantage over us Americans:

They were (and are) warrior cultures embedded within warrior societies.

This is not the case in the United States.

The American military is a warrior culture embedded within a civilian society.

This state is, in the American view, highly desirable. A too-strong military, unfettered by civilian restraint, might be inclined to adventurism or worse. No citizen disputes this or wishes to set things up any other way. The joint chiefs answer to Congress and to the president—and ultimately to the American people. This is the state that the Constitution intended and that the Founding Fathers, who were rightly wary of unchecked concentrations of power, had in mind.

But it is an interesting state—and one that produces curious effects.

First, the values of the warrior culture are not necessarily shared by the society at large. In fact, many of their values are opposites.

Civilian society prizes individual freedom. Each man and woman is at liberty to choose his or her own path, rise or fall, do whatever he or she wants so long as it doesn’t impinge on the liberty of others. The warrior culture, on the other hand, values cohesion and obedience. The soldier or sailor is not free to do whatever he wants. He serves; he is bound to perform his duty.

Civilian society rewards wealth and celebrity. Military culture prizes honor.

Aggression is valued in a warrior culture. In civilian life, you can go to jail for it.

DiAnne Cooper

"King Leonidas of Sparta" by DiAnne Cooper

A warrior culture trains for adversity. Luxury and ease are the goals advertised to the civilian world.

Sacrifice, particularly shared sacrifice, is considered an opportunity for honor in a warrior culture. A civilian politician doesn’t dare utter the word.

Selflessness is a virtue in a warrior culture. Civilian society gives lip service to this, while frequently acting as selfishly as it possibly can.

Is it healthy for a society to entrust its defense to 1 percent of its population, while the other 99 percent thanks its lucky stars that it doesn’t have to do the dirty work?

In ancient Sparta and in the other cultures cited, a warrior culture (the army) existed within a warrior society (the community itself). No conflict existed between the two. Each supported and reinforced the other. Remember the stories about the Spartan mothers? When the Three Hundred were chosen to march out and die at Thermopylae, there was weeping and wailing in the streets of Sparta—by the wives and mothers of the warriors who were not chosen. The wives of the Three Hundred walked about dry-eyed and proud.

A hundred and fifty years later, Demosthenes, the great Athenian orator, delivered a series of speeches in the assembly on this very subject—willing sacrifice by all. The orations were called Philippics because they warned Athens against the rise of Philip of Macedonia, Alexander’s father, whose ambition was clearly to bring all of Greece under his heel.

Men of Athens, will you send your sons to contest this monster, Philip? Or have you grown so fat and happy that you care not, and dispatch instead hired troops, who are not of our blood or kin? Will these mercenaries, who fight only for profit, possess the will to hold Philip back? Or will the day come when we awake to discover that we have ceded future liberty to current ease?

The greatness of American society, like its Athenian progenitor, is that it is a civilian society. Freedom and equality are the engines that produce wealth, power, culture and art and unleash the greatness of the human spirit.

What is the place of the Warrior Ethos within a greater civilian society? That question has been asked from the days of the Minutemen through the World War II “Greatest Generation” to Vietnam and, today, to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The greatness of American society is that our citizens are still debating it—protected by those who have freely chosen to embrace the Warrior Ethos. And still debating it freely.

[Continued next Monday. To read from Chapter One in sequence, click here.]

Posted in The Warrior Ethos

6 Responses to “Inner Wars”

  1. Steve Dail
    April 11, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Steve: Perhaps you’ve seen the piece by Bing West in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal? (Page C3) Thirty-three percent text, thirty-three percent photograph, one-hundred percent WHAM! It’s everything you’ve been writing about.

  2. Todd Smutz
    April 14, 2011 at 8:50 am

    I am an officer, and I left the Army after five years of service & two deployments to Iraq. I have often struggled with the lack of gravitas you mentioned in Chapter 21. As a lieutenant, I was put in charge of the defenses of an entire Iraq town with a few thousand residents. I led my men on mounted patrols to keep our airfields safe. I trained the Iraqi army, so that they could do operations independently. After having such authority & meaning in my work, many things I do today outside the Army seem so silly and meaningless. I have difficulties sympathizing with people who have never known real hardship and complain about minor inconveniences. I look at those leaders appointed over me and can hardly fathom how they were promoted and am amazed at their utter lack of leadership. In that regard, living inside the confines of a military culture with less freedom & privileges was easier than living in a civil society where there is a marked lack of resilience, toughness, and leadership.

    • Shawn
      April 15, 2011 at 7:17 am

      Yep.

    • Ayrton
      June 29, 2011 at 8:36 am

      I agree absolutely with Mr. Smutz and the content of this entry.
      The only thing I would like to add or present, is that in my experience I found every day life boring, and every day problems meaningless compared to the problems in crisis. Soldiers put up with some real problems, life and death situations and after that civil issues are just a storm in a can.
      Every day life is too mellow most of the time even for me, and I don’t think that I ever had a real challenge in my life.
      I work in IT, and when people come with their issues totally freaked out, that some application is nut running properly, their are pissed off, they curse and shout and rebel against everything and all I can think of is that how narrow-minded they must be? They are problems, yes, but these things are nothing compared to what people had to endure in the previous centuries. Did our genes change that much in those years? No. Welfare came.
      So to calm myself and to be able to distance my view from these issues my desktop at work has a background of a picture with two galaxies colliding. That’s a real problem.

  3. April 15, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Over the length of two months, we re-watched god of any Rings trilogy, the Godfather trilogy, and approximately twenty various other movies we loved in addition to hadn¡¯t watched in any while.