A pseudonymous blogger ("The Faceless Bureaucrat," hereafter TFB) writing for the staff and faculty blog for the Department of War Studies at King's College of London has made an unusual case: society over-values "warriors." This isn't a shot at modern-day troops. Far from it--TFB reaffirms their sacrifice and importance. In fact, the modern decline of the "warrior ethos" that defined warfare in ancient society makes life for today's soldiers that much more difficult. But TFB says we must acknowledge how the professional war-fighter has changed if we are to truly understand them. That means understanding just how much war has changed.
The primary role of today's military is performing "stability operations," or bringing peace to an area marked by war. But TFB says today's military leaders, such as fired U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, still consider themselves the natural heirs of ancient Greek or Roman warriors, who created, rather than stopped, wars. "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."
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.
... 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.
... 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.”
...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.
In other words, the Greek and Roman eras of warfare are over. That means that the Greek and Roman conceptions of the warrior ideal should be over too.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.