WARRIORS, the Army Ethos, and the Sacred Trust of Soldiers

By Fromm, Peter D. | Military Review, September 2010 | Go to article overview

WARRIORS, the Army Ethos, and the Sacred Trust of Soldiers


Fromm, Peter D., Military Review


AS A DISCURSIVE factor in current information operations, the Army's formal use of the term warrior for its Soldiers may be practically and morally counterproductive.' Nowadays, words matter more than ever. This discussion explores the psychological implications of using the term warrior when we mean soldier and why those implications can be important for current and future contingency operations.

Historically - and therefore discursively - the ethos of a warrior is frequently and connotatively contradictory to that of a soldier (especially that of the "professional soldier") in important ways that matter now. The Army's "Soldier's Creed/Warrior Ethos" conflates the denotative terms warrior and soldier and entangles their identifying traits. An important historical example can help with understanding why the ostensibly honorific warrior ethos may now be a liability. The Battle of the Metaurus River, though largely unknown except to historians, was one of history's most important and telling military events. As an example that demonstrates the difference between warriors and soldiers (in a war that shaped the way the two words have come down to us), this battle can help to illustrate my point.

At the height of the Second Punic War, in 207 BCE, Hastrubal Barca invaded Italy with reinforcements for Hannibal's army, which had dominated the peninsula for 1 1 years. At the Metaurus, two Roman forces combined to check Hastrubal, and he met his death in the midst of a Roman cohort before reaching his brother. His army - composed mostly of Celtic and Ligurian warriors and veteran Iberian and African soldiers - lost a pitched battle against a disciplined Roman citizen-army, many of whose soldiers had force-marched into position just before the fight. Hastrubal's loss was a major turning point that prevented Hannibal from obtaining the reserves he needed to assault Rome and topple it before it had a chance at empire. As I discuss later, the soldiers in this battle behaved differently than the warriors did, effectively drawing a graphic distinction between the two words for the remainder of Western history.

The Warrior's Spirit

Achilles and Hector were Western warriors in what we call the Homeric age. Today, warrior evokes Homeric imagery and has these heroic connotations, which is probably why the Army employs the expression. Over the last decade, the term's antique patina has come into vogue - along with a rage for all things fashionably retrograde - but unfortunately all the word's connotations accompany it. Many will insist warrior is simply another honorable, albeit florid, name for a welltrained and motivated soldier. This understanding neglects the word's historical and literary roots and tries to make a modern meaning for warrior with only the good half of its implications.

Historically, the name warrior has connoted an advocate of war, one not only skilled but also bloody-minded and primitive ("ancient and medieval"), who fights for his own glorification, indulgence, and even visceral satisfaction.2 To possess a warrior spirit is to be indomitable and courageous, but in literature and history, warrior also suggests an unreliable, undisciplined, selfregarding person with a noisy zeal for war and action. Importantly, the term carries associations about love of the fight itself. As J. Glenn Gray says in his timeless classic, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle -

When soldiers step over the line that separates self-defense from fighting for its own sake, as it is so easy for them to do, they experience something that stirs deep chords in their being. The soldier-killer is learning to serve a different deity, and his concern is with death and not life, destruction and not construction.3

Gray's "soldier-killer" suggests a refraction of the archetypal warrior as an ecstatically selfregarding person. As Gray indicates, transforming from soldier to warrior - in this sense - is "easy. …

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