Killing them Softly: Warriors Lost in a Twilight of Sentimentality and Nostalgia

Selfish bastard


Don’t ask me why I read this.  But having read it, I cannot refrain from commenting. 

Messenger spends some time looking at the death of Marcel Bigeard and finds in his passing an occasion to indulge in some, well, indulgent sentimentality about the ‘Twilight of the Warrior’.  Using Bigeard as both an archetype and a springboard, Messenger laments the death, not of an individual, but of an idea: 

Bigeard thrived in the dirty war (guerre sale) of the postcolonial era, amassing an extraordinary combat record at the head of paratroop units he trained to fight in his image and helping to develop the most successful counter-insurgency strategies of the postwar era. Yet his obituaries this summer were dominated by a continuing dispute within France over the use of torture during the Battle of Algiers in 1957—action sanctioned by the French government of the day. Such is the fate of even the greatest warriors in the West’s post-military popular culture. 

Gone are the days of the butch hero, who took names and kicked ass.  Gone are the days where the ends justified the means.  Gone are the days of the true warriors…almost: 

What Bigeard…did at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu should be remembered in the way that the 300 Spartans’ defense of the Hot Gates has stirred boys’ dreams for 2,500 years. Few do so remember it, but among their number are the American generals who have been prosecuting our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Like who, you ask?  Messenger gives us a clue by opening with a quotation from Stanley McChrystal’s farewell address: 

Caution and cynicism are safe, but soldiers don’t want to follow cautious cynics. 

(McChrystal’s idea of someone whom soldiers would want to follow is perhaps better left to a more apt publication…like Rolling Stone.) 

Aside from these few tortured, unappreciated souls, the rest of us, well, we ‘just don’t get it’.  This is the familiar trope found in so much of the current jazz about the ‘warrior caste’ in America.  I find the whole thing a little predictable, to be frank, and more than a little pathetic, as my previous posts on this subject on KOW can attest. 

But, for the sake of argument, let’s look at the idea of the warrior for a moment.  I want to postulate that despite the veneer of self-sacrifice, the Warrior is actually a narcissistic, self-obsessed figure. (Ed: note that the ‘W’ in Warrior is capitalised, to denote the ideal-typical Warrior.  This is an editorial change from a previous version of this post, added for clarity’s sake.

Achilles, one of the original heros–and perhaps the model for our concept of the heroic warrior today–is portrayed by Homer as a sulking, spoiled, vainglorious prat who refused to fight because he felt under-appreciated and slighted by his king, Agamemnon.  It was not until Hector killed his companion Patroclus that Achilles, fuelled by personal feelings of revenge, entered the fray.  Alexander, a slightly more historically realistic character, but a stylised warrior hero nonetheless, likewise fought for personal glory:  he is purported to have whined to his father that by the time he was old enough, there would be nothing left of the world to conquer.  The Spartan 300 did not die at Thermopylae for the sake of others. They fought to avoid shaming themselves. 

Morris Janowitz, writing in 1964, follows this line of thinking.  He states that the biggest obstacle to the ‘constabulary concept’ (essentially, a model of warfare that incorporates what we would now label ‘stabilisation’ operations) is the particular ‘tastes’ of the self-styled warriors in the professional military: 

Heroic leaders…tend to thwart the constabulary concept because of their desire to maintain conventional military doctrine and their resistance to assessing the political consequences of limited military action which do not produce ‘victory.’  [Morris Janowitz, “The Future of the Military Profession,” in Malham M. Wakin, ed. War, Morality, and the Military Profession. 2nd ed., (London: Westview Press, 1986): 59] 

I find it fascinating that ‘heroic leaders’ feel that it is legitimate for them to ‘thwart’ anything.  They appoint themselves as the guardians of what is ‘proper’: the proper role of the military; the proper kind of fighting; the proper size of the military budget, etc.  Just as Achilles feels that he can pick and choose his battles according to his own preferences, so does the contemporary warrior hero.  McChrystal’s words in his French hotel room, as reported in Rolling Stone, are reminiscent of the cossetted Achilles in his tent. 

Perhaps the contemporary warrior believes that the Greek notion of the warrior hero, as exemplified by Achilles, is so powerful that it is deserving of the Roman epithet ‘quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est’.  To think so would be to ignore an important aspect of the Greek hero.  His role was not immortal and everlasting; indeed, quite the contrary.  He was the exemplar of a particular image of Greek society at the time.  He is an idealised creature tied to the particular values esteemed by those in Greek society who held ideological or normative power and could set the agenda, with regards to meaning, norms, and practices.  Just as Zeus knew that he would eventually lose his position as the king of the heavens, so too the Greek hero’s days were numbered. 

There is no global, objective definition of what it means to be a warrior, despite the existence of a persistent Classical narrative, largely based on readings of Greek epics. As Christopher Coker admits, “morality is embedded in a social context. Ethical codes are not arrived at by universal agreement any more than they are discovered by universal reason.” [Christopher Coker, The Warrior Ethos: Military Culture and the War on Terror. (London: Routledge, 2007): 146.] 

But, the hero’s defenders would cry, that is just the problem.  There is nothing wrong with the hero, it is the society that is flawed.  Messenger reminds this in his article when he says: 

As so often when political issues are intertwined with military, hindsight is blind. 

Now, dear reader, you know where this post is headed, don’t you? 

Just as the Greek hero did not exist solely on the battlefield, but also in the agora, the contemporary soldier cannot retreat from reality into the cocoon of rock’em sock’em action.  He, too, must exist in the real, shabby world of workaday normality: with mortgages, MTV, and misaligned morals.  Clausewitz (of course!) entreated us to bear this in mind: 

War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of politics by different means…According to this point of view, there can be no question of a purely military evaluation of a great strategic issue, nor of a purely military scheme to solve itNevertheless, it has not yet been fully accepted, as is shown by the fact that people still like to separate the purely military elements of a major strategic plan from its political aspects, and treat the latter as if they were somehow extraneous. War is nothing but the continuation of political efforts by other means…It is this principle that makes the entire history of war comprehensible, which in its absence remains full of the greatest absurdities. [See this familiar message stated not in On War, but in Clausewitz’s private correspondence here.) 

Even if it worked for Achilles and Alexander, it cannot work today.  Soldiers do not fight the wars they want, the way they want.   They must fight the wars their masters want, the way their masters want.  As one military observer noted, after interviewing officers returning from operations in the Balkans in the 1990s: 

What it means to ‘feel good’ about being a soldier should now have an expanded dimension. The traditional warrior ethic and the comments of ‘wasting their time with peacekeeping’…must change. The soldiers who complain of not ‘feeling the hero’… as a result of humanitarian service must not be encouraged to cling to…obsolete expectations. 

As Janice Gross Stein observed, as she confronted foreign policy makers reluctant to make policy in the topsy-turvy post-Cold War world: 

Well, get a life! Frankly! [The world] is disorderly, messy and disorganized, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have policy.   [Janice Gross Stein, “Policy Is Messy Because The World Is Messy. Get Used To It.” Policy Options.  January-February 2001: 73.] 

We cannot afford to allow ‘warriors’ fight the wars that make them ‘feel good’.  In the West, as Michael Mann points out, we moved, long ago, from a schema were the military is an “insulated caste” to one where it is a “political institution…answerable to parliament” [Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power.  Volume II.  CUP, 1993: 62.] 

Where does that leave the warrior?  His choices are two: 

1.  Stay in his tent, like Achilles, waiting for his moment, defeated by his own hamartia, Aristotle’s tragic flaw. 

2.  Disappear altogether, replaced by a new ideal-type, one in keeping with the contemporary values operant in our societies. 

Perhaps the problem, and not the solution, are the Greeks.  The Talmud, for instance, adopts the inverse position to that of the Greeks: it defines a hero as one who conquers his urges, rather than giving in to them. 

Now that would be heroic.


41 thoughts on “Killing them Softly: Warriors Lost in a Twilight of Sentimentality and Nostalgia

  1. Formerly Grant says:

    I find it interesting that you bring up Alexander. It seems to me that you could replace the word ‘warrior’ with ‘militant leader’* and you could add in names such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolph Hitler**. All three of them focused heavily in my opinion on glory and military ventures and none of them built an institution that survived them.
    With that in mind perhaps the best leaders for a military would be ones that consider violence to be an option for policies, but an option that should only be used when absolutely necessary.

    *By that I do not mean terrorists, partisans or guerrillas. I mean leaders who are guided by an ideology focusing heavily on idolizing the military and quickly resorting to war. For an analysis of the tendency for military states to go to war more often I believe Daniel Slater wrote a good article on the matter.

    **By no means am I equating Napoleon’s morality with that of Hitler’s. I simply consider both to be leaders who built up tremendous power and then squandered it by not knowing when to be cautious and diplomatic (ironically in two similar situations).

    • frenchconnection says:

      You are wrong about Napoleon. Even if his Empire fell with him, he created institutions and structures (prefectures), besides a whole legal civil code (Code Napoleon) that survived him and still plays an important role in everyday life in countries or states (besides France) like Louisiana (USA), the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden, to name some.

    • Formerly Grant says:

      I’ll agree that it was through Napoleon’s actions that nationalism, civil law and systems for organizing states were spread throughout Central and Eastern Europe but we could say the same thing for Alexander. As a result of his actions Hellenistic ideas spread into the Middle East and Central Asia.

      However I concern my self more with the lasting effects of the decisions both leaders made on their respective states. In Napoleon’s case his heavy reliance on military action to achieve his policies led to his defeat and the loss of France’s position on the continent while Alexander’s failure to build a good system of succession (as well as his untimely demise) led to the destruction of the state he built. To me it’s all well and good to create a system that will help a continent thirty years later but that isn’t the task of a whoever leads a state. Their duty is to do whatever they can to preserve and increase the the strength and prosperity of their state.

    • Ed says:

      I don’t have easy access to the book to be able to give the edition, publisher or the writer, but my recollection of a rather superb introduction to my copy of Clausewitz’s “On War” included the idea that while the result of a war comes from the results of a series of battles, the result of a series of wars can only end in final defeat. It also featured different views of war, including combinations of messianic, eschatological, defensive, and various other ideas. It strikes me that the “Warrior” sees war as an end in itself.

    • Cincinattus Jr. says:

      As to this:

      “It strikes me that the “Warrior” sees war as an end in itself.” it again depends on how one defines the term.

      As I have suggested there is a very wide variance in definitions whether “Warrior” or “warrior” (and I confess I am not sure I fully appreciate the difference that some have urged), especially when comparing the US military’s perspective with that of many of our allies. I do not believe a survey of the literature as to the “US” (I recognize there are gradations even in the US) will support your contention.

    • Formerly Grant says:

      To me at least the word ‘warrior’ has the implications of a focus on military action over diplomatic, glory through military accomplishments and a view that sees people who fight you as definitely your enemies.

      I mentioned earlier in the debate on the greatest strategist of the past few hundred years that words have great importance. To me the word ‘soldier’ is preferable to that of ‘warrior’ because in common usage it implies following orders, training and reliability. To give an example Achilles in antiquity would be an example of a warrior while someone like Doris Miller of Pearl Harbor fame might be considered a soldier.

    • Cincinattus Jr. says:

      Again, it much depends on one’s definition and this in turn is clearly colored by one’s cultural, societal, educational etc. roots.

      I will say, however, the the use of “soldier” as a universal term will never do. Perhaps that is one reason why we Marines prefer the term “Warrior.” ;-)

      Furthermore, as to some posters distinction between “teeth” and “tail” and your comment about “enemies” being those we fight, I think this suggests another disconnect. I suppose it is not surprising given the myriad “irregular” tasks we have given our military forces in recent decades (peacekeeping, disaster relief and the like) that we may have lost sight of the raison d’etre of a military–to close with and destroy its “enemy” by close combat.

    • Ed says:

      I humbly yet violently disagree. The raison d’être of the military is not to fight. It is to preserve national security and protect the national interest.

      Closing with and destroying the enemy is a sign that things have gone horrendously wrong; both deterrence and diplomacy have failed, and people will die before their time, and much treasure will be wasted.

      Preparing and training to close & destroy is a means to the end of preserving & protecting.

      ps If you want a better generic term than “soldier” to assuage the ever-fragile egos of your marines, call them “citizens with military training”.

    • Cincinattus Jr. says:

      I hope you have by now calmed down. Perhaps we need further clarification of terms in the context of “our” Constitution and history. By “military” (since we are talking about “warriors” in this thread) I intended by my post to mean uniformed forces–not the entire defense establishment. If you will peruse both the doctrinal and historical record, I think you will find that my assertion is correct–if I understand my French correctly. I specifically stated the “raison d’etre” of the military is for the purpose stated.

      Obviously and appropriately, the overall Department of Defense of the US has myriad responsibilities, missions, tasks etc. that go beyond combat but I think it is actually dangerous if we lose sight of the fact that “military” forces have a unique and exclusive (except for the increasing issue of PMCs at the margins) role in this larger function of sovereignty.

      This does not mean, as is evident in the nuanced campaign now ongoing in Afghanistan that kinetic force is the only role of military forces but I still maintain the principal role of “military forces” or in the context of this thread, “W/warriors” is that very thing whether we want to recognize it or not.

      I do not believe we have evolved to the point, nor (given my view of human nature as demonstrated consistently over human history) can ever do so, that a nation can wholly forgo the need for and when needed the resort to, military force–and by that I mean the most basic kind–kinetic, steel on flesh or whatever term is then in vogue.

    • Cincinattus Jr. says:

      I meant to include this from the official US JP-1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, “The purpose of the Armed Forces is to fight and win the Nation’s wars.”

      Note the key words–“fight,” “win” and “wars.” Those are “W/warrior” words in my lexicon.

    • Ed says:

      And I respectfully submit that US JP-1 has got it wrong: the purpose is to protect and preserve, as above. Deterrence is a perfectly respectable means to that end. Or are you expressing a preference for fighting over deterrence?

    • Cincinattus Jr. says:


      If you will ask most “W/warriors,” especially those who have experienced “war,” of course they prefer deterrence or other means of avoiding “war.” On the other hand, unlike some who have the luxury to kid themselves into thinking “war” must be avoided at ALL costs, “”W/warriors” also know that there will be times when this is not possible and thus they must be ready and able to wage it when directed by competent civilian authority. This also requires an attitude of aggressiveness that is tempered with professionalism and that is what I think typifies the vast majority of what I consider to be “W/warriors.”

    • Chirality says:

      I make no claim to be an expert but I believe ‘doctrine’ (from the Latin ‘Doctrina’, to Teach) refers more to the body of principles taught to the armed forces. In which case Cincinattus Jr is correct regarding US JP-1 doctrine.
      However, ‘raison d’etre’, is the reason or justification for existence of something or someone. Here I believe Ed is nearer the point. Any military (at least in the trinitarian model) is a tool of grand strategy. In that role the reason for their existence is not necessarily just “to close with and destroy its enemy”. Si vis pacem, para bellum.

    • Formerly Grant says:

      I’ll agree that the first and foremost task of any military force is to defend the existence of its state, the institutions of that state and the people of that state (not necessarily in that order). However usually the ideal method of doing that through the use of the military is to engage hostile forces and to destroy their capacity to threaten the state, the institutions and the people.

      That’s the classic use anyway and perhaps the most vital of them all. However once the security of the state becomes probable there are other uses for a military, including peace keeping and force multiplication for allied forces. For me the United States armed forces are more than capable at this time of guaranteeing the security of the three aforementioned areas and so should make at least some effort to grow into gaining sensitivity of different cultures and work more suited for a gendarmerie (which is where I desperately wish the United States had one).

    • Ed says:

      It brings tears to my eyes that (some of) the wise, academic minds here actually seem to think deterrence inferior to actual warfighting. I wonder how such keenness correlates with support for the attack on Iraq back then. I wonder whether the last 7 years of continuous glorious victory in that land has changed any minds on the relative merits of deterrence vs warfighting.

      ps For the avoidance of doubt: warfighting is sometimes unavoidable. I believe it to be avoidable a lot more times than it is in fact avoided. “Old soldiers never die. Young ones do.”

    • Cincinattus Jr. says:


      Without shifting this thread to a semantical debate, I stand by my use of the phrase in the context of this thread that I thought was regarding “W/warriors.” Your point about the “military” in the context of a tool in the Grand Strategy toolkit, at least to me, introduces an entirely new discussion.

      Formerly Grant:

      As to your second paragraph this is not new of course as I can recall many spirited discussions of the points you raise back in the days of “MOOTW” in the 1980s.

      These issues have not gone unnoticed over the intervening years and have waxed and waned with the varying situations in which US forces have been involved in the full range of capacities other than pure close combat in their “war fighting” mode. I think it is always an issue as to how much and how well these forces do these other things depending on the situation and the perspective and biases of the observer. The reality is though, as we are now finding in nearly every aspect of national activities of the US, even the vaunted US is limited in its resources. This is perhaps most dramatically shown in the super-heated operational tempo experienced by US forces since 9/11 that leaves precious little time or other resources to allocate for these other things beyond “merely” providing the forces and equipment actually needed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The dwell time for such forces is also stressed to the point that providing the additional training and education required for these other roles and missions is problematic.

      Even so, that is not to say US forces are not doing some things in these other directions. Whether it is “enough” again depends on the perspective and biases of the observer.

      For example, the recently announced initiative of the US Marines, in spite of their ever-fragile egos as Ed has described them, to require cultural training ( has already been met with criticism that it is not enough, superficial yada yada yada by some who apparently would have the force completely restructure itself to suit their particular view of how it should function–as an gendarmie for example. At least for my service we have done that in times past and in the spirit of the sardonic phrase “No good deed goes unpunished” would suggest that few Marines at least have any desire to ever return to that role.

    • Chirality says:

      I fully respect your opinion, very much concur on the risks of this debate spiralling into ever more detailed semantics, and am genuinely interested to hear your thoughts. I am in no way connected to the military, merely an interested citizen, so keen to hear, understand better and learn from those perhaps nearer to the cutting edge.

      Referring back to the article I think grand strategy is very pertinent to the discussion. Although superficially about Warriors, does the article not lean towards questioning the role of a state’s military? How we define the warrior surely leads to us defining the roles or environments in which the warrior operates. Asking if it should perhaps change to incorporate policing, stabilisation, peacekeeping, which does not necessarily fit comfortably with a cursory definition of a warrior caste.

      …”The traditional warrior ethic and the comments of ‘wasting their time with peacekeeping’…must change. The soldiers who complain of not ‘feeling the hero’… as a result of humanitarian service must not be encouraged to cling to…obsolete expectations….”

      Does this not beg the question of the role of the armed forces in modern society / globalised politics? I always come back to Clausewitz, a continuation of politics by other means. The projection of one state’s will over another i.e grand strategy.

      I find it interesting – from where I sit (a civilian, no academic or political input) I always ask, “what is the point of ‘X’ from a grand strategic perspective?” Why are we doing this? Whether X equals foreign aid, diplomacy, fiscal policy or military activity. However, and I admit I may be way off and grossly generalising here, but those involved in the forces seem to really struggle in seeing arguments above the level of military strategy when a military discussion pops up. (I apologise if this sounds condescending, it is not meant to be. I am genuinely interested. Please see this as an opportunity to put me right!!).

    • Cincinattus Jr. says:


      Far be it from me a mere poseur on these august fora to be so presumptuous as to try to put anyone “right.”

      I defer to my more learned fellow posters to weigh in as they feel led. As to your last point I would but add that in the context of this thread, other than at the highest levels of the US military command structure where there is a specific statutory role under the 1947 National Security Act for those very senior flag officers to provide their professional judgments as to possible courses of action to their civilian political masters. These options range from those sorts of deterrence roles (I hesitate to call them “missions” given my natural revulsion ingrained from the bitter USMC experience of being given the “mission” of “presence”–by the hawkish Reagan administration– in Beirut in 1982 that led to the meaningless deaths of 241 American servicemen in early 1983) that Ed seems to think should be the primary role of military forces to the other extreme of conventional “war fighting.”

      Ultimately, it is for the civilians to make the decision as to what course(s) of action the uniformed military will then execute. Thus, once such a decision is made it then falls on the military forces to carry it out and , again other than at the highest levels, the role of the remainder of the chain of command is not to “question why but to do and die” if necessary.

      As a consequence, some of the comments made in this thread that suggest the operational levels of the chain of command should be deciding “grand strategy” in the sense of whether violence is to be used at all are misplaced. Of course, there are still situations where an operational commander must make decisions about how a mission is to be accomplished that will include choosing among a range of options that may reach from non-kinetic to kinetic. I suppose this is the point of intersection with the notion of “W/warrior” to which the original post of this thread was directed. While there are always as in any human enterprise the outliers and exceptions, I do not think it fair or accurate to suggest that the prevailing or even the general approach of those professionals who consider themselves (either individually or as in the case of my service, institutionally and doctrinally) “W/warriors” are as one dimensional or egocentric to allow their view of themselves as “W/warriors” to drive them to perform their duties in the manner suggested by the original and some subsequent posts.

      But again, what do I know?

    • Chirality says:

      Cincinattus Jr., Thank you for your response. I appreciate your viewpoint. Perhaps the strength of the article is that it makes us reconsider our views and tests our ability to defend long held belief…?

      I don’t wish to prolong this discussion further, but would like to make a few final comments if I may.

      1.) I agree that operational levels of the chain of command should not necessarily be ‘deciding’ grand strategy (regarding the use of violence). But I do believe they should be firmly ‘aware’ of the implications of its use within the realm of grand strategy.

      Like it or not we live in a globalised and media savvy world where the smallest of actions can have profound affects on the stage of grand strategy. One small media report of a pastor burning the Koran may soon balloon into a major incident, affecting diplomacy, religious tolerance, and forces engaged operations.

      2.) In your third paragraph you raised an important issue, that civilians make the decisions as to course of action and the role of the military is to carry this out – ‘not to reason why, but to do or die’.

      Although to some extent true I think there clearly is a role for the military to reason why. We cannot rebuke the likes of Erich Von Manstein, Erwin Rommel, and others lower down the chain of command who made the path of Nazi atrocities easier by decrying politics/policy as nothing to do with them; then on the other hand not be receptive or tolerant of ‘loyal dissent’ from within our own military now.

      This is clearly a very grey area – perhaps demonstrated by (from my civilian viewpoint) the lack of effective dissent/tolerance demonstrated by recent U.K. Gov’t’s & U.K. armed forces.

      Finally, I would like to observe that I believe most western military organisations are incredibly adaptable. Able to create top down indoctrination far quicker and more effectively than large independent private enterprise. So perhaps if we have a problem with the W/warrior it is because we have not re-designated what we expect our forces to do (grand strategy again I’m afraid). If we want peacekeepers we should not send in personnel recently indoctrinated in aggressive conventional green warfare. We saw the effects of that error in the early days of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

      Is the problem here, not that we have Warriors or warriors however defined, but a lack of strategic awareness by politicians and a need to adapt teaching at staff colleges ?

    • Aaron says:

      The legacy of both Alexander and Napoleon transcends any notion of a nation state or of a kingdom, the legacy was imprinted on western and indeed global civilisation itself. This one glaring flaw topples your ‘lasting’ argument completely. Yes, the immediate and local effects were detrimental and disastrous, but that would seem inconsequential one measures the true effects in millenia and centuries.

  2. Gunrunner says:

    Okay, I’ll rise to your baiting—with this one post, because, frankly, what your naval-gazing tome proves is that you don’t get what it takes and means to be a warrior and further engagement would be pointless.

    To begin: I would be absolutely astonished if you said to a warrior’s face he is nothing more than a “narcissistic, self-obsessed figure.”

    Have ever delivered your deep thoughts in the belly of the “beast” (on a base, at a PME college, basically in the face of the very warriors you attempt to diminish)?

    If not, why not? If so, where?

    In my case, I engage regularly in the civilian academic arena, domestically and internationally, sparring with many self-identified “elites” that sneer at the very attributes they obviously lack; courage, selfishness, self-sacrifice, honor and a personal dedication to something greater than self. Not all that disagree lack these qualities, for sure, but the one’s with honorable qualities debate in a way that recognizes and respects, rather than attempt to insult and tear down. Those academics are respected.

    Offer to lecture at a PME course, as I am sure they would welcome you. Seriously. They would. Report back on your experience.

    Read about and speak with these men about their heroism and warrior ethos. Feel free.

    Or, contact the Warrior Games officials and participants and argue your case with them, face to face. Let us know how you get on.

    Officials announce WARRIOR GAMES 2011 By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden, American Forces Press Service

    WASHINGTON (AFRNS) — Some 200 disabled active-duty members and veterans will compete in the 2nd Annual Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 16 to 21, officials announced Sept. 20.

    The U.S. Olympic Committee will host the games at the Olympic Training Center for the second year. The events will include shooting, swimming, archery, track and field, cycling, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.

    The Army will be represented by 100 competitors chosen out of a pool of more than 9,000 active-duty Soldiers recovering in Warrior Transition Units. The Marine Corps will send 50 competitors, the Air Force will send 25, and the Coast Guard and Navy will combine to send 25.

    The Defense Department, USOC and the USO hope to build on the inaugural games’ success, helping to prove to even more wounded warriors the true healing power of sports, said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a Pentagon news conference.

    “When we focus on ability, rather than disability, we see that physical fitness and sports can have a healing effect on the mind and on the body and on the soul,” Admiral Mullen said. “The athletes that compete in the Warrior Games demonstrate that regardless of circumstance, physical fitness and a passion to win remain at the core of our military culture.

    “And while these values are certainly important on the battlefield, they’re certainly important in the recovery process of our wounded, ill and injured troops,” he continued.

    Admiral Mullen said he hopes more wounded warriors will compete for a spot in Colorado Springs.

    “We encourage our wounded warriors with a desire to compete to notify their own squad leaders, [noncommissioned officers] or leading petty officers to get the application process started right away,” the admiral said. “The response to our inaugural Warrior Games was truly outstanding. We look forward to an even better experience next spring.”
    Charlie Huebner, chairman of USOC’s Paralympics Committee, echoed Admiral Mullen’s remarks, saying the competition and drive the athletes showed at the inaugural games in May was an inspiration to all athletes and disabled people.

    “I’ve been to a lot of sporting event …, but I’ve never felt more intensity, more emotion and more competitive spirit in my life at a sports event,” he said, recalling an Army-Marine Corps sitting volleyball match that came down to the wire. “We see it every day in the Paralympics movement, the incredible power of sports.”

    Sports, Mr. Huebner said, give those who have suffered disabilities a “second chance,” whether it is pursuing Paralympics dreams or simply playing basketball with friends in their community.

    “Some 200 injured servicemembers who came to Colorado last year got to feel that magic; the power to heal, the power to compete and the power to dream,” he said. “They were touched by that at the inaugural warrior games, but the impact of these games, more importantly, is what happened when they went home.”

    Stacy Pearsall, a retired Air Force staff sergeant who was injured in Iraq, found inspiration in her fellow competitors at the inaugural games. She recalled the efforts of retired Marine Lance Cpl. Chuck Sketch.

    Lance Corporal Sketch lost his sight in August 1997 from a brain tumor, and then had to be amputated from the waist down in January 1998 because of complications from the same tumor. His inaugural game events were swimming.

    “The one thing that really got me going was seeing a Marine, blind and a double amputee, swimming,” Sergeant Pearsall said. “I thought, man, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ It made me much more motivated in my recovery.”

    Warrior Games 2010 was so successful and had a such a positive effect on the wounded warrior community that the field of athletes next year is likely to be even more competitive.

    The competition is open to military members and veterans with bodily injuries as well as mental wounds of war, such as post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

    Like the inaugural games, athletes will be recruited from each of the military services, including the Coast Guard, through an independent selection process. The games itself will not be much different than last year, but the competition may be a little more challenging.

    The Army and Marine Corps are already holding preliminary competitions, surely to strengthen their chances at gold.

    The inaugural games was sort of a “feeling out” process, said retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. William “Spanky” Gibson, who lost his lower left leg in Iraq just more than four years ago.

    “A lot of the athletes will come out in broader spectrum this time,” Sergeant Gibson said. “That’s what the Marine Corps is going to do.

    We’re going to have competitions leading up to this stuff. We’re going to do what we naturally do. We’re going to train to compete.

    “We want our best athletes out there, but we want more athletes to come out of the wood works and work their butts off to get there,” he said.

    • Daniel D says:

      Hi GR

      It seems to me that your equating warrior with being able to complete an obstical course, or competeing in sporting events. No doubting the determination of those involved but thats not anything to do with a warrior ethos. What about any sports person in the para olympics?

      And the qualities you mention “courage, selfishness, self-sacrifice, honor and a personal dedication to something greater than self” are not specific to the military, or that just because you are in the military does it mean you have them. My friend who has cancer has all the above and he is not a warrior. Whats your point?

      If the OP did go in front of a room of “warriors” and said what he did, would they really tear him apart or would a lot of hurt egos protest? Would they lack the manners to hear a disenting opinion? The OP was not attacking you but you have sown a lot of vitirol in your post. Are you really that upset over what has been said?

      And what exactly does anyone in a modern military, minus the people out on the front line who are doing the job that is always been done, know about warriors or warrior values. Lets face it the 10% teeth might have an idea but the 90% tail would not, soldier and warrior are two different things. Having fought in battle doesnt make one a warrior either, and nor does being a killer make one a warrior.

      Are you a warrior? Do you consider yourself a warrior? If so I respectfuly ask you to explain why you do so without simply saying you have the qualities listed above. What other things have you done that show us you are entitled to get upset?

      And having been in the militry and seen how quickly egos get inflated with all that talk about being a warrior, with all the fighting talk that you have displayed in your post, I am reminded that another quality that a warrior should have is respect, for both themselves and their opponent, you dont display much of that in attacking the OP.

      In this day and age I dont think that anyone who posts on this blog (myself included) could claim to be a Warrior, small w yes but the big W, no. Which is what the author is getting at. You seem to have missed the point.

  3. John says:

    Gunrunner, when I read your response the word which immediately sprung to mind was incommensurability – which is interesting, since I’d never even heard the word a couple of months ago. Yes, the post is provocative, but you don’t refute the argument that the ‘warrior ethos’ is outdated or perhaps redundant in the modern age by saying ‘yeah, but these guys are really brave and sacrificed themselves, are you willing to tell them that was for nothing?’.

    Perhaps the warrior ethos is (or at least can be) self indulgent in a high ranking leader, whilst remaining both useful and admirable amongst soldiers in the field?

    Maybe it is a question of what you are willing to sacrifice on the altar of your principles – yourself, someone else, or the general prosperity and good of your nation?

    What other relevant ideal types are there? Soldier-statesman, perhaps like Eisenhower, or Soldier-Philosopher? These are hardly archetypes we would reject as being unworthy of our admiration.

    • John says:

      Hmm, couldn’t get the edit function to work. To continue …

      What other relevant ideal types are there which could replace (have already replaced?) the warrior? Soldier-statesman, perhaps like Washington or Eisenhower, or Soldier-Philosopher like Xenephon? How about Soldier-Philosopher-Statesman like Marcus Aurelius? These are hardly archetypes we would reject as being unworthy of our admiration. ‘Peacemaker’ does not have to imply a lack of courage or an aversion to necessary violence, as evidenced by the Corsair B-36 or the colt hand gun of the same name.


  4. Cincinattus Jr. says:

    I agree largely with Gunrunner’s observations and will add a few of my own. Your concluding choice:

    “1. Stay in his tent, like Achilles, waiting for his moment, defeated by his own hamartia, Aristotle’s tragic flaw.

    2. Disappear altogether, replaced by a new ideal-type, one in keeping with the contemporary values operant in our societies.”

    is both telling as to your apparent view (assuming you are actually serious) of the subject and (purposely?) constraining to lead one hopefully to the second and ever so more enlightened choice.

    I contend there is at least a third choice (and probably more but I am short of time here) that I think is actually the one most US and even some UK officers embrace. That is being a “warrior” but not motivated as you cynically posit by pure self interest or other base motives and also not as one-dimensional as you suggest in terms of the intellectual acumen capable of the nuanced thinking needed in “modern” warfare. Indeed, I do not think we have ever seen such a high standard of both warrior characteristics and capabilities matched with intellectual and moral strength.

    If it were not so serious I would find laughable your description of the second choice you offer that military officers should embrace the “contemporary values operant in our societies” when one considers the true nature of such “values,” many of which are anathema to a professional military officer.

    I shudder to think where we would be militarily if the officer corps actually did as you suggest such that it would be typified by the lack of “values” that at least IMHO are more the norm in our contemporary society. Call me a dinosaur but I do not believe attributes of our “contemporary society” such as the usual “blame game” where people will not take responsibility for their own actions and all “ethics” are situational since any absolute values are unwelcome in our post-modern sophistication are the kind of “values” that are needed in a warrior.

    While we are of course ultimately “controlled” by civilians under our Constitutional republic, it does not (and should not in my view) follow that we adopt all aspects of the civilian society from which we come.

  5. The Faceless Bureaucrat says:

    “But, the hero’s defenders would cry, that is just the problem. There is nothing wrong with the hero, it is the society that is flawed.”

    I have the utmost respect for soldiers, for what they do, and what they have obtained for us all. Soldiers are not the topic of conversation in this post, though. If you read what I wrote, you will see them mentioned only once, in contradistinction to the ideal-typical Warrior/Hero.

    • Cincinattus Jr. says:

      As I suppose one who clings to his warrior roots more than my academic limbs (sorry) I see nothing wrong in the quote.

      As to the point you are apparently making in the second paragraph I think it is a distinction without a difference. IMHO, all those in the military, regardless of rank, should share a common “warrior ethos.” Obviously their respective job descriptions, positions in the chain of command and resulting responsibilities may vary but the common denominator should be a recognition of and appreciation for the fact they are warriors with the heavy responsibility of doing their nation’s bidding for purposes unique to their society. As such, again IMHO, they should be called to a higher standard of integrity, competence and, (with apologies to our post-modern readers) honor than that prevalent in the society they are sworn to protect and serve. As this society becomes more and more self absorbed and decadent, this becomes even more important to maintain.

      I am aware of the (need I say it, postmodern) school of thought that this “moral” divide is a dangerous thing. I believe the alternative is even more dangerous in that, as is apparent in the arguments advanced in this regard, the idea that a military force can adhere to such “higher standards” yet still be subordinate to their civilian masters is inherently difficult for those observing from without to understand for the very reason their context is one of moral relativism.

  6. Cincinattus Jr. says:

    As to the military-civilian divide, Lindsey Cohn of Duke University has an interesting piece:

    The Evolution of the Civil-Military —Gap“ Debate
    Paper prepared for the TISS project on the Gap Between the Military and Civilian Society, 1999.

  7. The Faceless Bureaucrat says:

    Perhaps the conflict we are having is precisely about definitions.

    You believe that ‘all those in the military, regardless of rank, should share a common “warrior ethos.”’

    The Classical definition of a Warrior is somewhat more selective. Heraclitus believed that there might only be 1 Warrior in every 100 fighters.

    (Note: I am now using a capital W to denote this idealised/mythical Warrior, as opposed to other images/definitions in my piece.)

    • Cincinattus Jr. says:

      Indeed so. Silly me. I had assumed from the context of your original post that we were talking more about here and now “warriors.”

      Your definitional point is well taken however as I have noticed with some slight humor the pained reactions on faces in conferences where our UK and other European friends are in attendance and the word “warrior” is used in some positive sense by an American military speaker.

      In discussing this phenomenon, I find that the term apparently evokes images of Ariovistus, Attila, Alaric, Maroboduus, Chnodomar et al. among our allies whereas it is seen in a much more positive light in the US military.

      In my own service, for example, we are quite unabashed in inculcating the “warrior” image and ethos in the chivalric tradition, recognizing of course that our view of this is highly stylized and ignores the inconvenient reality of “chivalry” more often being honored in the breach. This is a good example:

      But of course this variance from the reality of history is largely lost on an American audience of one-dimensional military leaders.

  8. Pericles says:

    There’s a big debate to be had here, but surely part of the issue is that ALL militaries, even within their own functioning, no longer correspond to the ‘warrior ethos.’ They are closer in certain respects to Weberian bureaucracies than any society that the Spartans or Homer would have recognised. So whilst the ‘warrior ethos’ might remain a useful semi-myth for the ‘teeth’ arms, it no longer accurately reflects how militaries in all modern states actually work-with all the associated crudesence of corruption, pork barrel politics etc. If one were to look at it philosophically, we have idealism out of kilter with the material reality. This isn’t some kind of ‘post-modern’ perspective-look at the knifefight in a phonebox currently occurring in the UK SDSR process, or the recent (neglected) story about massive corruption in the supply chain for US arms sales to Georgia:
    Idealism can be useful therefore if onlyfor promoting an ideal (i.e. chivalry), but the other issue which of course has been raised by the ‘warrior’ debate is the manner that it not only fails to reflect a more grimy reality, but also the manner in which it may foster a culture of front-line unaccountability-see the comments thread on the following piece, with which I am not saying I myself concur:

    • Cincinattus Jr. says:

      Good points. I would merely note that, while obviously more “newsworthy” than the countless patrols and other activities of our forces that do not involve murder or mayhem, this most recent revelation of the American soldiers accused of such crimes can hardly be taken as a legitimate barometer of the overall military effort.

      With that said, all such incidents must be rigorously investigated and dealt with in accordance with established procedures. In addition, since these things rarely occur in a “vacuum” an honest assessment of leadership responsibility must be made to root out any systemic contributors that may have been involved.

      I would also argue that if such depraved conduct is proven to be true, any “culture of front-line unaccountability” associated with it would actually be wholly antithetical to the “warrior ethos” to which I have alluded rather than be a cause for it. I suppose this gets backs the issue of definitions.

  9. The Faceless Bureaucrat says:

    Let me stir this up a bit more. When I use the term Warrior, I mean the model of a Classical hero. What I am saying is that using that as a model seems a bit silly to me, given the fact that, in my reading, Warriors were ‘in it for themselves’ striving, above all, for glory and honour. By contrast, today’s soldiers (whether on land, air, or sea) have been professionalised, and do not, cannot, and should not, get to ‘pick and choose’ the kinds of fights in which they want to take part.

    Moreover, it seems silly to me to call everyone a warrior. Not everyone is a Warrior. Perhaps they can all aspire to a ‘warrior’s ethos’ but that, despite the name, is not about glory and virtu, as Classically defined, but rather about service to society, etc.

    Perhaps what needs to change, then, is the model/defininition. If not, then stop using the term ‘warrior’. It just doesn’t make sense.

    By the way, offering violence as a way of winning an argument is really quite naf. I have tangled with the ‘airborne debating society’ before, and it is really quite camp.

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  11. Jagatunde says:

    I wonder why in our context of W/warrior and juxtaposed with soldiers or military I have seen little reference to real modern models of warrior in person (I have only seen references to achilles and alexander) but I want to add something little. The concepts of human values and values are always dynamic, so also will every other paradigm attached to it. I believe that soldiers ( or should I say armed forces) are (should be) clearly different from warriors even though every one of them must have their quality. All the same the concept of a warrior is an ideal one and we should know everybody strives for it though nobody ever gets there. Please leave the idea of a warrior in the mind of a soldier, you really should not have one without the other it is self deceit.

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  14. The very core of your writing while sounding agreeable at first, did not work very well with me after some time. Somewhere throughout the sentences you actually managed to make me a believer unfortunately only for a very short while. I however have a problem with your leaps in logic and you would do nicely to help fill in those breaks. If you can accomplish that, I could surely end up being impressed.

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