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Steven Pressfield

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-Steven Pressfield

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Episode 3: “Tribes Are Different From You and Me”

What qualities define tribes? Warrior pride, hostility to all outsiders, perpetual warfare, the obligation of revenge, suppression of women, a code of honor rather than a system of laws, extreme conservatism, unity with the land, patience and capacity for hatred.

View the credits and transcript for Episode 3.


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11 Responses to “Episode 3: “Tribes Are Different From You and Me””

  1. June 11, 2009 at 4:24 am

    Your fundamental problem here: “tribes have chiefs, and they have indians, there is a pecking order.”

    PLEASE read anthropological research into Pashtun social organization, especially most-1978. That does not describe Afghanistan, nor does it describe the Taliban, nor does it describe post-911 al Qaeda. According to your own definitions, the enemy is NOT “tribes.”

  2. June 11, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Some thoughts on the Citizen-soldier (not “the soldier,” which could be defined differently) in contrast to the Warrior. We all have different definitions for these, but here are mine. I’m borrowing this from a Foreword I wrote for Jeff Falkel’s book, “The Making of Our Warrior,” about his son Chris, a Special Forces sergeant and Silver Star recipient, who was killed in Afghanistan.

    There are two types, at least, of fighting men who serve their nations with honor. The first is the citizen-soldier. The citizen-soldier is, to my mind, the soul and beating heart of a free republic. His type goes back as far as ancient Greece, to the freehold landsman who takes down his shield and armor from above the hearth, kisses his wife and infants goodbye and marches off to defend his city from her enemies. Closer to our era, citizen-soldiers were the “embattled farmers” of Lexington and Concord who took up the same defense with flintlock, powder and ball. The citizen-soldier is a reluctant fighter. War is not his element. When summoned, he rises to the occasion, visits hell upon the enemy, then returns to his true life at home. Probably the most vivid example of the citizen-solider in recent fiction is the character of Capt. John Miller, played by Tom Hanks in “Saving Private Ryan.” The citizen-soldier is the first line of defense of any free society, and the man who, throughout our own country’s history, has preserved her liberty time and again.
    This book is not about citizen-soldiers. Its subject is another type of fighting man, for whom the proper term (overused and misused as it is these days) is “warrior.”
    The citizen-soldier fights to defend his country, his family and the values he holds dear. The warrior fights for the fight itself. A warrior does not participate in the fight; he is a fighter. That’s who he is. It’s all he wants to be. A warrior is not himself, apart from war. Like the priest or the holy man, a warrior is “called” — often at a very early age.
    Warriors recognize one another without words. Their type is ancient; it pre-dates nations. Before there were civilizations, there were warriors. The Warrior archetype arose out of and is only a half-step removed from the Hunter, which is the most ancient archetype of all, excepting only Eve. The warrior has not changed in fifty thousand years. His skills are primordial. His being is tribal. His calling transcends patriotism. His love is for his brothers of the group, the clan, the band. He lives and breathes honor and fears only one thing — that he will prove unworthy of his comrades-in-arms. He will die first, gladly. A flag doesn’t mean so much to a warrior, nor does the identity of his enemy. Any enemy will do, as long as he has inflicted harm on those of the warrior’s blood. The warrior respects his foe, even honors him, but he lives only to kill him.
    The warrior’s mythology is not really Christian. His gods arise from cultures like the Lakota, the Native American; from the ancient Spartans, Macedonians and Romans; and from the Vedic precepts expressed in the Bhagavad-Gita. His spiritual home lies in those warrior societies in which the acts of killing and being killed were viewed from a sterner, and some would say more profound, perspective than in our own.
    A strong father-son bond is common among warriors. The love flows both ways. Pride is a huge part of it. The father reveres the son and vice versa; each burns to live up to the other and to make the other proud of him.
    Warriors inhabit this material sphere differently from the rest of us. Their life unfolds on different planes simultaneously. Death is ever-present to them. They live on this side of the curtain and on the far side too — sometimes they live more vividly on the far side than they do here, in life. A warrior looks into the eyes of his brothers and sees their deaths, as he sees his own. Death doesn’t mean that much to him. Those who love warriors must make their peace with this. No brother-in-arms can ever die, a warrior believes. The spirit of a fallen comrade remains vivid and communicates continually from the other side.

    This is a deep subject. Victor Davis Hansen has written eloquently on the pyschology of citizen-soldiers, tracing the type back to the ancient Thebans who fought under Epaminondas and carrying the type through to Sherman’s men on their march through Georgia. His bottom line on citizen-soldiers: you don’t want to piss them off! The same is true for warriors, I believe–tribal or otherwise.

  3. June 11, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Steven,

    That’s a very clever way to ignore all of the objections I’ve raised in this series. You asked for negative feedback, if we felt you were out on a limb. You’re ignoring that.

    It’s also telling that your only example of this ethic appears to be fictional. A counterfactual would be Jessica Lynch. She joined the Army to pay for school. I can point to dozens of others I’ve deployed and worked with who are in similar circumstances. There is more to being a soldier or warrior than you allow for here, just as describing a Pashtun who wants a better future for his son as “tribal” is badly missing the point.

    Steven, it is very bad form to ask for objections to an argument then to ignore them. That is not the hallmark of a serious person. You’re working off racist stereotype, and ignoring when people point out just how racist and stereotypical it is.

  4. Extr
    June 12, 2009 at 2:46 am

    Excellent work on the episodes, I hope decision-makers and foot-soldiers alike learn something from watching the series. Just a few words on episode 3 :

    I disagree that the Taliban is itself a tribe — origins outside pakistan, in India –
    Taliban is composed of converts to Deoban Islam who are mainly tribesmen –
    but to say the Taliban are tribesmen is not correct – their behavior and structure is expressed in a tribal mentality, which is itself interesting since Islam is against tribalism. What the Taliban do, beyond exporting their ideology and support jihad causes, is grant a new type of legitimacy for tribes based on their history during and after the war against the Soviets – the Northern Alliance, non-Taliban
    was another source of legitimacy to tribalism in the area, they ‘lost’ before 9/11 will the murder of their leader.

    • June 13, 2009 at 3:13 pm

      Extr, must say you make a very valid point. I would change that if I were doing these videos over. Thanks for the astute observation. I would say, though, that the Taliban, though not a tribe, certainly espouse tribal virtues/vices–hostility to outsiders, respect for traditional ways, passionate resistance to modernity, code of revenge, suppression of women, etc. Would you grant that?

  5. June 14, 2009 at 8:11 am

    Have you seen Johnthan Haidt’s work (Haidt and Graham 2006) about about the moral psychology underlying the values of liberals and conservatives? His idea is that there are five foundations of morality (harm, reciprocity, ingroup, hierarchy and purity) and that liberals adhere to the first two (that it’s wrong to hurt innocents and that it’s important to be fair) but largely ignore the other 3; whereas conservatives believe in all five,including the idea that you must be loyal within your own group (‘thou shalt not criticize conservatives’, RR), that you should obey your superiors and that you should not violate your body with drugs and other things.

    This suggests somewhat that conservatism is somewhat tribal (with respect to ingroup and hierarchy traits). Also it suggests that these things are psychological and don’t know what their root causes are.

    Gully Burns

  6. Steve Graves
    June 15, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Mr. Pressfield:

    I was forwarded to your website by BLACKFIVE’s Blog. What serendipity. I have a son that is presently halfway through TBS at Quantico, and have consequently spent a great deal of time reading and thinking about what exactly he will be fighting for and against during his career in the Marine Corps.

    After voluminous reading over the past 6 months (Kilcullen, Hammes, Fick, Campbell, Niemeyer, Barnett, etc.) I am slowly putting together a pretty good map of where our military is headed, and your 5 minute video lectures are very helpful in taking me further along this path. I certainly hope that you can continue to post your thoughts and premonitions on this very important topic.

    I would very much like for you to post your personal thoughts on where our military is presently situated vis a vis the war in AfPak. I am quite encouraged by the recent appointment of LtGen McChrystal to head up our operations there – and his request to select his own staff as well as his recommendation that all of their tours of duty last at least 3 years. These decisions seem to dovetail quite nicely with some of the recommendations that you made about “How to fight the War” in Episode 5.

  7. Mark Harrison
    July 3, 2009 at 9:04 am

    I don’t get the concept that Osama bin Laden is a member of a tribe. There are certainly Arab tribes in Saudi Arabia (who were first unified by Muhammad, and later by Saud). Goodness knows the bin Laden family is big enough to be a tribe of its own. There are certainly tribes in Afghanistan. The Pashtuns were not originally a tribe, but a group of tribes unified under Durrani. Other references refer to the Pashtuns as a “people” or an “ethnic group” composed of several tribal groups componsed of many tribes, and are not a tribe on in and of their own (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashtun_Tribes). So that suggests the very definition of a tribe can change over time. Or are you using your own, different, modernized definition of tribe? Can a tribe be a group of tribes? Can there really be a tribe of 42 million? That is how many Pashtun people there are in the world. That is certainly more people than a mafia family, who you also call a tribe. When does an tribe end, and an ethnic group begin? Maybe there are multiple levels of tribalism. Maybe sometimes an ethnic group, with the lack of identity, devolves into a tribe. I would suggest that has been happening to impoverished segments of ethnic groups in America.

    The Taliban is primarily Pashtun, but also invited “foreigners”, i.e., Arabs, such as bin Laden and the other Arab fighters, into their lair. The Tajiks were the tribal foundation of the Northern Alliance. Al Qaeda is primarily an Arab organization, with no tribal relationships with the Pashtuns of the Taliban.

    While I agree on the concept and role of tribalism, the first question has to be, if the tribe is all powerful, how were Muhammad, Saud and Durrani successful in unifying tribes? The second is, if the tribe is all powerful, how did extra-tribal hierarchies such as the Taliban and Northern Alliance take control? Finally, if the tribe is all powerful, how did a non-tribal organization such as Al Qaeda find success in the Islamic world? Of for that matter, how did a broad based religion, delivered by a ethnic Arab prophet, from a distant tribe, gain favor in an area of the world defined by tribalism? If outsiders are an anathema to the tribalist, why did they welcome being conquered by Arab Islamists, being unified by Durrani, being dominated by the Taliban, and welcoming in a distant, foreign group of mujahideen to the point of Mohammed Omar, a Pashtun Afghani, marrying the Arab daughter of Usama bin Laden?

    It suggests while tribalism may indeed be the defining force in Afghanistan, any internal adherence to tribalism by the Taliban and Al Qaeda has been thrown over the rail in search of a nirvana beyond tribal existence, that nirvana being a primitive Islamic based society.

    So when you say bin Laden’s “tribe” has not sold him out, to what tribe are you referring? His original Arab tribe? A “Greater Arabian” tribe? His pseudo-tribe of Al Qaeda? His adopted tribe of the Taliban?

    You also mentioned tribal justice in two areas. The first is honor killings. The second is what is might be considered religious law (amputations and executions for crimes). Obviously, these ancient punishments pre-date the religions laws which carried them forward, but what is the history of amputations and executions in the Pashtun people? These are Koranic punishments imposed on the Pashtuns by their Arab conquerors, are they not? Either there is a coincidence of similar historic criminal punishments between Arabs and Pashtuns, these Koranic laws became tribal artifacts over time, or the tribal nature of the Pashtun people made it easy for them to adopt Koranic law?

    Other questions to consider:

    Is Israel a state, a nation, an ethnic group, a religion, or a tribe? Or “all of the above’?

    Why did Japan evolve from an ethnically pure (probably genetically purer than the Pashtun people, as ancient Afghanistan was a crossroads), island culture of clans and tribes into 1,000 year monarchy, which evolved into a 1,500 year constitutional monarchy, which retained tribal artifacts (shoguns, etc.), and later, as a result of war, had liberal democracy imposed on it, and has not regressed into tribalism? Remember, Japan was not always part of “The West”. Until 1945, it was part of “The East”. Does fundamental, monotheistic religion form a “glue”, which makes tribalism sticky in the Middle East? Does the lack of Abrahamic religion make tribalism less sticky in the Far East?

  8. USAF Pilot
    July 9, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    I definitely agree with the statement, “they would rather die than lose their pride.” Many times on raids against them, Taliban/Haqqani Network fighters will essentially commit suicide fighting against overwhelming odds rather than allow NATO forces into their compounds for questioning.

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