Soldiers and Warriors

By Robert Bateman






~ To the tune of the 7th Cavalry tune "Sergeant Flynn"

I am a Seventh Cavalry officer. I commanded in that most famous of American units, and my regimental affiliation and affections will always be with the men who wear the upturned horseshoe crest of that regiment. As a historian, and as perhaps the de facto regimental historian (since there is no such thing as a de jure position for this function), I am also very well acquainted with our legacy. The Seventh Cavalry was created to man the outposts of the frontiers in the wake of the Civil War, and to fight against the warrior cultures of the Native American tribes as need be. But in doing so they were not then, and are not now, warriors themselves. The men of the 7th Cavalry were and are soldiers. There is a significant difference between the two.

Unfortunately, and I cannot nail down when this started, a trend started to take hold in the Army and the Marine Corps which blurred that distinction. Sometime in the mid-90s we started to hear senior officers (defined in my head as "Colonels and Up") calling us "warriors."

At first the appellation was rare enough. Now and then you might hear it creep into a speech at a Change of Command ceremony, or perhaps at a Dining In (a formal dinner for the officers of a battalion or brigade). But slowly the term began to come into more common usage, even as it leaked into print in professional journals and in speeches coming from Air Force officers. This is a bad sign, and it does not seems to be stopping. I wish it would, because calling us warriors is not only inaccurate, it displays an ignorance about what a warrior is all about. The bottom line is that a real "warrior" is really just about himself.

Indeed, the key difference between a Soldier (or a Marine, or an Airman) and a "warrior" is almost that simple. A serviceman does his job as a part of a complex human system, he does so with discipline and selflessness as his hallmarks. Courage also matters, of course, but it is but one of several values that are needed. The serviceman is the product of a Western society which, while it values individualism intrinsically, values subordination in pursuit of a collective objective as well. A warrior, on the other hand, is the product of a culture or subculture which is essentially purely honor-driven. That is not a good thing.

We have not had a real honor culture here in the United States for about 140 years or so. Somewhat ironically one could make a fairly solid historical case for the assertion that the first real commander of the 7th Cavalry, Major General George Armstrong Custer, was one of the last real "warriors" in the United States Army. In many ways this was so because Custer was a bit of a throw-back even in his own day and age. He was sort of a transitional character, one of the last members of an American honor culture that was slowly dying away.

In an honor culture, you see, the behaviors of individuals are driven almost exclusively by the need to gain and then to protect, their personal honor. Honor is seen as not necessarily being the product of living a decent life, as it is here in the West. Instead, in an honor culture honor is seen as a commodity. Honor is an almost material thing which must be accumulated. It can only be won by action. And because it is a commodity, it can also be taken away. In both cases this is an individual's responsibility, he must gather honor as he can, and he must defend both his own honor and the honor of his family.

Thus, in an honor culture if your daughter or your sister have "brought dishonor" to your family, you could see it as a taking away of some of that commodity. In several honor-based cultures it is then up to the males in the family (those charged with defending that family honor) to collect the honor back, quite often by killing those who took the honor away. Similarly, if you are a male in such a society and an individual has done something which seems to slight your honor, you have to try to kill him to defend that honor. This also means that, in a military context, discipline, organization and coordination and cooperation are much less valued than is, say, personal courage shown in the face of danger. (Think of the Native American warrior practice known as "counting coup.") This is because there is no honor to be collected from doing good maintenance or performing well as a team. Only individual feats and acts can bring honor, and those must be witnessed, and this is what motivates the "warrior." That is the difference between "warriors" and "soldiers," and I am damned glad that I am one of the latter. Now if somebody would just tell the generals.

(This essay was prompted by a query from the comments section on an earlier post.)

These opinions are those of the author and do not reflect those of the Department of Defense, the Army, or any element thereof.

By |  September 18, 2008; 2:28 PM ET
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LTC Bateman, what do you see as the role of unit loyalty in the interplay between Warrior and Soldier? From the outside it sometimes appears that loyalty to your squad and buddies becomes a survival mechanism that eclipses all other considerations of honor or discipline.

Posted by: Scott Ferguson | September 18, 2008 4:18 PM

Is John McCain a warrior or a soldier? It seems to me he values honor and victory far above what I would. He speaks only of winning and losing, but does not address what is gained or lost in the victory. It is possible for a victory in the military to be detrimental to society.

Posted by: tddoog | September 18, 2008 5:20 PM

LTC Bateman,

Thanks for this thoughtful post. You obliquely touch on a number of things that I find profound. Chiefly, this "warrior" bravado is being embraced most heavily in the corners of the Army that we can all agree are the least, shall we say, "high speed." The most obvious examples are the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) and the Army Reserve. The AMEDD has just about lost its mind on this front. Go to Walter Reed these days and you'll see exactly what I mean. Everyone is dressed like they're on a FOB in Iraq rather than an academic medical center in Washington. This has not happened at Bethesda. Walter Reed, no longer being content as the flagship of Army Medicine, is now known as "the home of warrior care." In fact, the rent-a-cops at the Forest Glen annex even say this as you drive through the gate.

The Army Reserve is another troubling story. LTG Jack Stultz - the Chief of the Army Reserve - is trying feverishly to redefine reserve service and the USAR's role to the nation it serves. The timeless term Citizen-Soldier? It's gone in Stultz's Army Reserve and replaced by "Warrior-Citizen." I think the replacement of "soldier" with "warrior" is troubling but the SUBORDINATION OF THE "CITIZEN" to "WARRIOR" is profoundly troubling. The Army Reserve is prone to a lot of bizarre gimmicks as they attempt to show how "tough" they are. The annual mass reenlistment by several hundred reservists wearing combat uniforms in front of the US Capitol is straight up Leni Riefenstahl. I'm always amazed by how many of those self-described "warriors" reenlisting lack a combat patch for overseas service.

As I've written ad nauseam, this messaging and these actions are pulling the US Army further and further away from the nation it serves. Arguably, the AMEDD and Army Reserve are the Army's closest link to the sinews of civil-society. When these entities that have historically bound the citizenry to the military take the most stridently bellicose public posture, we all had better start paying attention!

This posture is not only troubling, it's corrosive to America's relationship to the military. These words and deeds reinforce the nascent idea promulgated by GENS Schoomaker, Casey and Cody that the Army is an insular "warrior caste." How else can you explain the decision to have the Army's Congressional Liasion personnel - stationed in the House and Senate Office Building - wear ACUs and desert boots in the halls of Congress 5 days a week.

Couple this messageing with the rampant indoctrination being fed to incoming enlistees and officers and you have a mid to long-range problem on your hands. While folks like LTC Bateman and I can roll our eyes and shake our fists in frustration, we know better because we have seen "another Army." Today's PFC, buck SGT or 1LT have no other frame of reference. The "warrior Army" of endless deployments is all they know.

You heard it here: this stuff is POISON for the developing 19 year old mind and will only hamper their efforts to re-integrate into society after their service.

The most glaring example of these recent changes is what was done to the Soldier's Creed. I have posted below the old creed that LTC Bateman and I came into the Army under and the new Soldier's Creed/Warrior Ethos. Take a gander at what we've become. This is the creed that we're supposed to have soldiers execute COIN under and get credible social scientists to affiliate with?

OLD SOLDIERS CREED (pre-Nov. 2003):

I am an American Soldier.
I am a member of the United States Army -- a protector of the greatest nation on earth.
Because I am proud of the uniform I wear, I will always act in ways creditable to the military service and the nation it is sworn to guard.
I am proud of my own organization. I will do all I can to make it the finest unit in the Army.
I will be loyal to those under whom I serve. I will do my full part to carry out orders and instructions given to me or my unit.
As a soldier, I realize that I am a member of a time-honored profession--that I am doing my share to keep alive the principles of freedom for which my country stands.
No matter what the situation I am in, I will never do anything, for pleasure, profit, or personal safety, which will disgrace my uniform, my unit, or my country.
I will use every means I have, even beyond the line of duty, to restrain my Army comrades from actions disgraceful to themselves and to the uniform.
I am proud of my country and its flag.
I will try to make the people of this nation proud of the service I represent, for I am an American Soldier.


I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.

(Some soldiers shout "hooah" at the conclusion of the Soldier's Creed, but it is not included in the creed itself.)

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | September 18, 2008 5:25 PM

One of the first signs of failure in the old Roman Republic was the enlistment of the "capti censi", the landless headcount men without ties to the social web that defined Rome in its vigorous republican youth.

These "soldiers" - because of their coind pay, the solidus - had no loyalty to their polity at large. They were tied to their units and commanders by livelihood and law.

So when the first dictators turned up, their strongest support was amongst the professional soldiers fed up with the caprice, selfishness and greed of the Senate.

For a democracy to professionalize its military is bad enough. For a democracy to allow its military to fetishize the cult of the "warrior" is to take down its own pants and hand the switch to its officer class. You don't have to be a genius to figure out that the outcome is probably not going to be good...

Posted by: FDChief | September 18, 2008 7:24 PM

>>>For a democracy to professionalize its military is bad enough.

I can agree with the historical parallels you draw but I can't see how the above statement follows. War is a serious undertaking. If you don't have professionals that know how to wage it effectively, you're asking for revisiting the 30 years war of 17th century Europe. If you're thinking that not having a professional military will somehow fulfill some Wilsonian dream about avoiding war by not preparing for it...well it didn't prove true for him either did it, and the common soldier paid the price in Europe. In fact to varying degrees you can still see 17th century European warfare in Africa today. The Iran-Iraq war in the 80's was another example. Huge groups of armed bands ravaging everything without coherent plans or goals and no discipline to reign in their bloodlust. I don't think an unprofessional military is in any way preferable to the present set-up.

What many recent administrations have failed to do is integrate political goals with military goals. Bush 41's approach to Iraq in 90-91 was about as good as it gets.

The civilians were clearly running the show. They did the brain work to decide on political goals, aligned the foreign policy arms--State and DoD--to strategies to realize those goals. That guidance allowed military planners to devise good strategic and operational plans. The result is history.

We didn't do as well in 2003, but still a professional military pulled off an invasion that something less could never have done.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 18, 2008 10:21 PM

Damn straight, Colonel.

A soldier is a part of a team. He fights side by side with his comrades and wins.

A warrior is a bloke more concerned with his honor and reputation than the outcome of the fight.

A hundred British Tommies stood shoulder to shoulder and held their ground at Rorkes Drift. They beat back 5,000 warriors.

So now, managers with stars have decided that "Warrior" is a better brand than the soldiers that have fought and bled for this nation for the last 250 years. Just another case of folks that don't know what they're doing getting in control and doing what they want.

Keep the faith, sir.

Mike Moscoe

Posted by: Mike Moscoe | September 19, 2008 12:40 AM


Your comment could not be more right on the button. When the military starts teaching creed #2 vs creed #1, the men and women being taught lose perspective of why they do, what they do.

Bravo sir.

Posted by: Phil29 | September 19, 2008 6:08 AM

Agree entirely! The use of the term Warrior, like Hero, seems to be to provide community status to even those who blundered into the Army and can't wait to get out (like most of us during our first tour). What it has done is infinitely cheapen both words and create a mental Potemkin Village in the collective conscience of the US.

Posted by: davemaz | September 19, 2008 8:37 AM

LTC Bateman

I would really like to know other's thoughts on the Army's "Warrior Culture". You have alluded to this in other posts, as well. I started out in the Army as a less-than-thrilled draftee in the Fall of 1971, and through a series of events didn't leave the Ohio National Guard until 2007. Maybe because I was a draftee and never lost that draftee mindset, I never saw myself as a "warrior" but rather as a "soldier", a citizen who was selected (by friends and neighbors in my home county, according to the letter), and trained to defend the country, first as a conscript and then as a free citizen. We had "warriors", those guys that scared the bejeezus out of the rest of us in training, but most of us always kept that skeptical, civilian attitude. The result was that we were not a cloistered society that viewed the world from a "us versus them" perspective, but we were part of the larger society that we defended.

Posted by: Bill Cooper | September 19, 2008 9:17 AM


I could be wrong, but I think FDChief's problem regarding professionalization of the Army has much more to do with our society and polity moving away from the citizen-soldier/militia ideal that served us in wars large and small, from the Revolution through the Civil War and up through WWII. To the best of my knowledge, our nation always relied upon a small cadre of officers and NCOs to ensure that training and doctrine were kept updated and timely before wars broke out, so that once a mobilization began, the civilians/citizen-soldiers/draftees could be trained and brought up to speed relatively quickly. That ended after Korea when a permanent mass mobilization took effect; "professionalization" became the norm in the '50s and '60s, and was finally set in stone when the draft ended and the AVF came into being. If I had to guess, that abandonment of the citizen soldier ideal in favor of permanent, volunteer professionalization is what FDChief takes exception to.

Just my two cents, for what they're worth. (Probably not much.)

Posted by: Dick Tuck | September 19, 2008 11:28 AM

Some thoughts on this very fascinating post on a troubling development in civil-military relations:

The notion of the "Long War", an America under near-constant attack and mediocre political leadership that finally resulted in the so-called revolt of various field-grade officers seem to have – IMHO – very negative consequences on the American society. I guess it goes somewhat in Andrew Bacevich's direction – there's a growing militarization going on.

As IRR Soldier has pointed out, "warriors" don't make good counter-insurgents. Though it's interesting that this idea of an "American Warrior" seems to have started with the US being engaged in COIN wars (and yes, I consider the war against al-Qa'ida to be such a war as well, though on a global scale) against so-called warrior peoples.

Posted by: TCHe | September 19, 2008 12:25 PM

Dick Tuck,

No you could be right--that's what i think he meant too--but I still disagree. We lost soldiers wholesale in WW1 and 2 at the beginning because of that construct. We lost bunches through incompetent training, medical care...a whole list of symptoms that all pointed to the same cause...lack of professionalism and a professional study of ALL aspects of warfare throughout the entire force.

The citizen soldier ideal is romantic...and we still have it too. Our NG and Reserve forces are very well trained and highly experienced too...but there is no substiture...especially with increasingly complex American technologically superior weaponry, intelligence and communications. No small cadre of profesionals could hope to 'train up' draftees in a crisis fats enough to make them viable.

Even now the American public has a difficult time accepting the extremely low casualty rate (relative to past wars) that our professional force has managed to achieve in the last 35 years. The numbers lost to training accidents, disease, lack of supplies we experienced ramping up to an effective fighting force in 1918 and 1944 would just not be acceptable today.

That having been said though, i agree with LTC Bateman that the creed represents a bad change to a more corporate force where loyalty to the organization is in danger of overtaking loyalty to the nation. The creed should revert to what it was and it should become the foundation for teaching that it was intended to be.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 19, 2008 2:59 PM

"No small cadre of profesionals could hope to 'train up' draftees in a crisis fats enough to make them viable."

I'm not convinced. In 14-15 weeks we can take a civilain and produce a trained Infantryman. It takes less than 40 weeks to take a civilian college graduate and make them a trained Lieutenant.

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | September 19, 2008 3:08 PM

We should bring all of our troops home. That's why I took part in "Run for the Fallen," a group of runners, who ran one mile for every fallen serviceperson in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Over 4,000 miles later, we finished in Arlington National Cemetery. Check out our video here:

Posted by: Emily | September 19, 2008 3:50 PM

IRR there are a whole lot of assumptions that go into the successful 14-15 week train up...most of them hinge on the experience a professional military has gained and the willingness of a volunteer to inolve him/herself in the training.

And in 14-15 weeks do we really make a combat ready infantryman? Whats the difference between a kid right out of basic and a trained infantryman? Minimally qualified is probably more of a liability than an asset. Lots of folks dividing precious brainbytes looking out for him until he can look out for himself. A professional force can perform that function because there's enough experience to do it. Minimally qualified Lts leading minimally qualified infantrymen into battle is a recipe we've tried before.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 19, 2008 5:17 PM


But aren't we sending kids fresh out of AIT/OSUT to Iraq right now?

There is no doubt that any functional Army needs a "lifer" core of NCOs and Field Grade Officers to keep the trains moving. That said, I'm not sure we need to be acculturating our first term enlistees into a "warrior caste" mindset. I belive that this magnifies their eventual readjustment into civilian life.

The USMC has the lowest reenlistment rates in the military. Damn near 1/2 of their force is first-termers and the responsibility routinely given to LCPLs with 2.5 years of service is amazing.

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | September 19, 2008 5:27 PM

Yes, I'm sure we are...but there is a trained and experienced NCO and officer core out there to receive them and make them better and keep them alive. In the citizen soldier construct I'm afraid you get one or the other in the short term. You get a good cadre of trainers or a good core of experienced field leadership...not both. In time you can get there but I argue that it comes at too high an initial price when a professional military can do both with a more motivated pool of recruits.

I agree the warrior class ethos is not in the long term interest of American society.

I am also amazed at what the USMC is capable of. Anecdotally, I've always heard about the USMC's mindset of doing more with less because the USMC by nature travels lighter and has become accustomed to entering the fight with less technological wizardry to back it up. Can't say which is the better ground fighting force USA ir USMC...probably almost a useless apples to oranges discussion anyway...both bring different approaches to the same challenges. Both do a magnificent job at the tactical level.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 19, 2008 6:28 PM

This is an excellent post by Colonel Bateman. I think he provides a real service by tying the term "warrior" to honor cultures. I know the generals who came up with this misbegotten idea never made that connection; they certainly would deny any such intention. But that's what they got and that's how uneducated they are. I think they came up with this as what they viewed as a neat way of building espirit de corps, never realizing they were impeaching the very idea of American soldiery.

By their every action, Army leaders deny the citizen-soldier ideal. They have become praetorians. They do not wish to be one with American society; they wish to be separate, and superior. Shame on them. Colonel Bateman writes that "somebody" should tell the generals. Well, they've been told, but not often, if ever, from the inside. Pity that good folks like Bateman are tarred with this repugnant "warrior" brush.

I've come full circle. At first, while on active duty, I was against the AVF. Later, after I retired, I succumbed to the arguments about professionalism, etc. Now I'm back to opposing the AVF and favoring the draft. FDChief tells you why. The stakes are simply too high for the overwhelming majority of the citizens of a democracy (or republic) to be able to opt out of the most important act in which their nation can engage: war. As we've seen, it's all too easy for the citizenry to snooze while the war drums are beating when virtually none of them is affected. War is indeed too important to be left to the generals, but it's also too important to be left to a president with what amounts to his own private Army.

Interesting debate going on between IRRSoldier and Panhandle Willy. I'm struck by this from Willy: "We didn't do as well in 2003, but still a professional military pulled off an invasion that something less could never have done." Willy, all I've got to say about that is, it was pretty damned easy in the relative scheme of things. I think we should avoid singing the praises of an AVF/professional military until it actually engages in something like Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge or Iwo Jima. Citizen-soldiers did those. I don't even include my war (Vietnam) because we had nothing approaching a large-scale invasion. Frankly, I've seen no combat action since the advent of the AVF that convinces me putting all of our eggs into the small AVF basket was necessarily wise. Face it, the wars since Vietnam have been tailor-made for the small AVF. Just look at the casualty counts. So I don't think it's been proven at all, not so long as we spend enormous sums in guarding against existential threats.

Good points by both IRR and Willy on ramp-up and training. Reality is that 14 weeks or whatever is not sufficient to train a soldier for the reality of combat. War literature is full of accounts of kids not making it through the first or second engagement. So score one for Willy. Or do we? Reality also is that no amount of training or preparation can really prepare one for combat. It's a whole different ballgame. And I think Willy fails to recognize reality. Which is, that if the U.S. gets involved in an existential war, current forces will be inadequate. There will be a draft. There has to be.

ISTM Willy's paradigm only works in the case of small, limited wars. And it seems national policy supports this. It's very clear that those who run things don't seriously expect this nation to ever be involved in a serious war. Don't believe that? Check the industrial base some time. Thus they have the luxury of maintaining a small military and making soldiers into "warriors" who are expected to bring "shock and awe" to small countries that may have offended us. It's clear that our future wars are going to be wars of choice.

We are becoming Romans, bread and circuses and all.

Posted by: Publius | September 19, 2008 11:46 PM


A few points for you to consider. One, Wilson was all about preparedness. While the rest of the country was mired in isolationism, he and his internationalist supporters in Congress like Rep. Carl Vinson were busy constructing a "Navy second to none." Moreover, Wilson engaged in military action long before the US entered WWI (Vera Cruz and Pershing's punitive expedition) and after (US intervention in Siberia and Archangel). Wilson may have been an idealist but he was no pacifist. His plea for peace without victory before the US entered the war was aimed more at avoiding setting the preconditions for future war. He hoped the League of Nations could act as an effective brake -- and felt it would *enforce* international law. Indeed, Wilson's propensity for military intervention was exactly what frightened Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and others about the League -- and ultimately doomed the League by preventing the US from joining.

Yes, the Army suffered problems in the early going of WWI and WWII. That's par for the course in US military history (see Charles E. Heller's _America's First Battles, 1795-1965_, one of the required texts in the military history survey at West Point. As Heller argues, it's not a result of the presence of draftees or the lack of professionalism but rather a result of the lack of real combat experience on the part of the rank and file. If you fight wars less than once per generation, you end up with young men who have never seen the elephant making up the bulk of your troops.

Draftees can and do win wars. Sixty percent of the US military was conscripted in WWII (even the Marines resorted to the draft by the end of the war). Both sides resorted to conscription in the Civil War. The citizen-soldier is more than a romantic notion. It keeps the military rooted in (and representative of) the republic it serves. As Clausewitz argued, war is the extension of politics and thus ultimately a political act. In a republic such as ours, this is all the more true. Yes, people are upset over the casualty lists today. What else is new? The worst draft riots in US history were in NYC in July of 1863. War weariness is an essential element of war. You can't hope to avoid it, only to minimize it. And the way to minimize it in a republic is by spreading the burden, not by minimizing military obligations.

There are benefits to having a warrior caste but there are also risks, most notably alienating the military from society as a whole. Generally speaking, the more popular support the war enjoys, the longer the American public will put up with the financial and human cost of the conflict. The way to generate support is not to minimize participation (those NYC riots were the result of the draft falling squarely on the back of working families). Rather, you maximize the participation (note the very effective propaganda campaign associated with WWII). For every three enlistees in WWII, there were five draftees. In contrast, very little was done to sell the American public on the need for Vietnam -- or Iraq. Once the war no longer became worth the perceived effort, the American public turned. And that's been the case throughout US history (see the bitter *war-time* debates over the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, WWI, and Korea as well as Vietnam, and Iraq). The only wars that did not evoke prolonged debate were those that either were too short (Desert Storm) or effectively sold to the US public (WWII). Even then, by the end of WWII, the American populace began to suffer from war weariness regarding Japan.

If you want to see what a warrior caste would do to the American republic over the long term, look at the Quasi-War with France. The military was extremely small and composed entirely of volunteers (professionals in this debate). Yet the public was bitterly divided -- so divided, in fact, that the Federalists attempted to suppress dissent by passing the Alien and Sedition Acts. Republics that fail to root their military in the populace as whole soon cease to be republics.

Posted by: Texas Aggie | September 20, 2008 8:27 AM

I was in the Corps when the warrior culture first stirred back in the mid-80s, embodied in men like Stackpole and Gray. I thought then that it was an attempt to relink the people who were intended to do the fighting with the reality that fighting was gritty, personal violence and that the violence itself was to embraced, not avoided. It was an attempt to brush away the developing high tech facade and buzz-words, getting to the root of the mindset needed to enthusiastically close with and destroy the enemy. Not neutralize, not check, not render mission incapable, but destroy by killing him. Using the another term at that time was like changing the old saying to "A soldier who won't enter into coitus, won't enter into a combat situation."
A soldier or Marine can perform any number of jobs from disbursing clerk to wrench jockey not too differently from any American corporation. But wouldn't you rather have the people doing that work in the military actually have the spirit and heart of warriors? Disciplined warriors, but warriors nonetheless.

Posted by: Grognard | September 20, 2008 9:39 AM

I was an officer in the Tenth Cavalry and Sixth Cavalry Back In The Day ('67 -'70). We considered ourselves soldiers in general and troopers in particular.

The only time I heard the word "warrior" spoken was when somebody screwed up badly -- the Troop First Sergeant would fix him with a baleful stare, and in a tone of weary contempt, say "Come here young warrior".

Soldiers are warriors already -- that's part of the job. But, more than that, their professionals. And being professionals, they're better than "warriors". Save that nonsense for jacking up high school football teams on game day.

Posted by: fbg46 | September 20, 2008 12:36 PM


Good comment, but you talk about the AVF, limited wars, "them," the President and "those who run things" as if they were doing something contrary to the will of the people. The people are getting exactly what they want.

Posted by: Andy | September 20, 2008 4:40 PM

Andy, excellent point. However, one sometimes wonders about the "will of the people," and its origin. Consider this: I've got some experience in marketing and I know there are fundamentally two ways of marketing a product. The first is determining the customer's desires through market surveys, etc., and then taking action to fulfill that desire. The second, however, involves coming up with a product and then building a market for it. The first is perhaps simpler because it addresses a perceived need. The second, however, can work equally well. All one has to is look at all of the various types of beer advertised on any Sunday during the NFL season. Cars are another example. The market wasn't asking for minivans or SUVs; the car companies actually built those markets.

The point here is I don't recall the American people ever saying, "hey, wait a minute, these guys should be called "warriors" rather than soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. What we now see as a demand or expectation on the part of the people was developed by the government and the military.

WRT the AVF, I was there, on active duty. It was all about Nixon running from Watergate. The American people wanted out of Vietnam. Once Vietnam went away, they would have settled back in and would have accepted what would have then been a peacetime draft. The American people understood and accepted the draft so long as it was understood by the government that wars should be coherent and should involve U.S. vital interests. The government built the market for the AVF.

Posted by: Publius | September 20, 2008 10:55 PM

Aggie, great points and I have considered them. Wilson may have created a navy second to none...but it was an ill-trained and ill-equipped army that took the field in 1917. To my knowledge there was one large naval battle in WW1 and the US Navy wasn't involved.

Idealism and pacifism are different enough to merit a lengthy discussion of the two separately. Both ultimately result in wishing challenges away by hoping adversaries can finally see the light of reason.

>>>As Heller argues, it's not a result of the presence of draftees or the lack of professionalism but rather a result of the lack of real combat experience on the part of the rank and file. If you fight wars less than once per generation, you end up with young men who have never seen the elephant making up the bulk of your troops.

To me this makes the argument for a professional force instead of a citizen-soldier force. Fighting less wars per generation translates to neglect of warfighting skills and technology. A professional force combats that neglect by maintaining a fully trained force that is constantly trying to update itself to keep pace and is constantly pushing for modernization to stay in front of evolving technology.

>>>War weariness is an essential element of war. You can't hope to avoid it, only to minimize it. And the way to minimize it in a republic is by spreading the burden, not by minimizing military obligations.

War weariness is not's a byproduct of not being prepared to win the fights you find yourself in. The way to combat war weariness is to win quick and win big. The way to win quick and win big is to do the brain work before you do the grunt work. We did the brain work right in DS. We did good brain work in WW2 to not enter the European land mass until we were ready to win. We did great brain work to invade Iraq...but we didn't do such great brain work for the aftermath. We didn't define victory and consequently we left our kids to muddle through as best they could while the brain work hustled to catch up.

I'm not sure the Quasi-war with France is a good example. It was over, the US moved on. We're still here. The long term effects have been lost to history and I doubt there's much impact on who we are now. Any direct correlation would seem highly circumstantial.

I still think for the long term a volunteer force that prides itself on professionalism and the dedication to the science of war is preferable to a generational roll of the dice.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 21, 2008 10:29 PM

Fantastic discussion. Separating military service and sacrifice from the populace, for whatever advantage (i.e. containing public opposition to engaging in wars or "conflicts") has created a citizenry oblivious to obligation to the "Republic". Though there are those with "warrior" aptitude (I think of infantrymen and Marines), military service need not necessarily require combat "job descriptions". Of course service should be an expectation, i.e. DRAFT. Is it feasible for the military to make combat duty optional among soldiers? It seems they've leaned that way via bonus incentives.

Posted by: flyonthewall | September 22, 2008 10:27 AM

Very interesting discussion. First, I will admit to buying into the "warrior" thing when I first joined the Army 18 years ago. I didn't think (or know) about the historical context of the term. I only thought of the term as an appropriate way to remind ourselves that we are training to go to war. I thought that at that time, and through the '90s, most of the military had become complacent institutionally. Let's face it, Army units were not training for war, exactly; they were training for the next rotation at a CTC. Training had become about checking boxes on a training outline and evaluation. Evaluating units was not about how effective they would be in battle, but how closely they followed the outline. Creativity and initiative was not rewarded in this system. Furthermore, the buracracy was in charge -- how many of us can remember supply personnel being reluctant to let equipment out of the supply room for training for fear of it being lost or broken, even when it was equipment that we might need when deployed for real? The institution needed to refocus on the reality that it was a warfighting force. So to me, the use of the term warrior was means to do that.

Having said that, however, I would add that I fully agree with LTC Bateman and others who point out that going to far in that direction does serve to separate the members of the military from the rest of the nation's citizens. That is certainly is a problem, but it was a problem long before the term "warrior" became fashionable, and I would argue that the cultural divide is moderately less now than it was during the '90s. The problem certainly hasn't disappeared, but as an example, I have found anecdotally (and I think there is statistical data to back this up) that the military is much less politically monolithic as it was ten years ago. That would certainly suggest that there is at least some change of attitude.

I would also agree that emphasis on the term "warrior" is also counterproductive to a COIN campaign. But I would argue that some of the problems with our COIN campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are not just the result of the culture within the military but is also the result of American culture generally. The problem, I believe, is with the idea of "American Exceptionalism." It seems to me that we are very likely as a society to feel justified in insisting that other societies do things the way we do them. As a law student who has had a lot of exposure to discussion about international law, I have seen many example of us imposing our way of doing things without regard to how things have been done in other places, not because there has been anything wrong with the way things had been done, but merely because it wasn't the way we do things. This school of thought seems to feel that because we are powerful, we are great. That translates badly in a COIN context. A population is likely to see us as a colonial power. Furthermore, such an attitude can be used to justify all kinds of acts by the military in furtherance of American goals -- justified by the belief that because we are great, we are right, and therefore any means used to further our goals are justified. Often, tactics that have been used are not consistent with what America has always stood for, that is the Rule of Law. And such tactics are inconsistent with one of the goals of COIN, which is to support the host government and support the Rule of Law. This problem is not unique to the military or the direct result of the "warrior culture." It is the result of the American culture. Perhaps it is a sign that our culture has become militarized generally. That is a bad thing, and in a democratic society, it would seem to give too much deference to military leaders and punishes any elected leader who might question the military or in any way try to rein them in.

For the record, we have been blessed to have military leaders who, by-an-large, believe in the civilian control of the military and who believe that any military action needs to have the support of the population.

Posted by: DM Inf | September 22, 2008 12:17 PM

Great discussion! Frankly, the US Army's high re-enlistment rates trouble me in that 1) not a lot of soldiers fresh from the war are going back into society to explain it person-to-person to the general population, and 2) we are not forced to bring into the ranks more people fresh from society at large and sort of dilute the increasingly isolated thinking going on. And I agree that use of the word 'warrior' has been quite inappropriate and overused. Our Army is an armed citizenry, organized to accomplish whatever political task we have by military means. If the Army (and Marines, etc.) see themselves as something other than typical citizens, they'll not easily achieve our political goals. I think the first few years in Iraq are a good example of failing to accomplish the political goals - however vaguely they were defined.

Posted by: Pointless | September 22, 2008 1:46 PM

"Frankly, the US Army's high re-enlistment rates trouble me"


If I can be of any reassurance to you, I want to underscore the fact that these purportedly "sky high" reenlistment rates are largely the stuff of smoke and mirrors. The sad reality is that our NCO Corps (the envy of the world) is fraying from: 1) unusual mid-career attrition due to OPTEMPO; 2) the cannibalization of our most educated NCOs (to the E-8 level) to ramp up OCS production of LTs; and 3) the alarming trend of many senior NCOs retiring as soon as they can - at 20 or 21 years of service - rather than staying in until 30.

Let me explain how the reenlistment "smoke and mirrors" game works these days. Historically (ie. before Iraq), soldiers generally couldn't reenlist for periods of LESS than 3 years and it was a rare day when any type of reenlistment bonus money was given to soldiers who agreed to reup for anything less than 4 years of additional service. (I'm sure LTC Bateman can relay his own views of reup programs as a peacetime Company Commander in the 1990s.)

Today, we are offering 1 year reenlistment options with bonuses (for a 1 year reup) as high as $16,000. These one year reups are essentially free money to the thousands of soldiers who are stop-lossed involuntarily. Since they can't leave the Army, they reup for 1 year, take the money and get out of service at the same time they would have under stop loss. This is a win-win for the Army's PR campaign - they can hide the true number of soldiers that are stop-lossed (because, after all, the "voluntarily" chose to reup) and claim a "sky high" reenlistment rate. Better yet, by reenlisting soldiers for such short terms, they can conceiveably reenlist the same soldier 3 times during the span of time (4 years) traditionally covered by a single enlistment - resulting in "3 reenlistments" for the same for years of service that used to be only counted once. BONUS: 3 times the chances for dramatic, Leni Riefenstahl-inspired mass reenlistment ceremonies in Iraq showing America how much the "troops" just love being deployed to Iraq. I would be tickled to learn how many of those kids featured in those massive reup ceremonies in Iraq are stop-lossed and reupping for just another 12-15 months. I suspect many.

Here's how the game is played: SGT X is a squared away 11B with 3 years, 8 months Time-in-service who's already done a 15 month tour in Iraq with 1AD. He's looking forward to getting out when his 4 year hitch is done. But wait ... his Brigade gets alerted for deployment back to Iraq - 4 months before he's supposed to go home. He can't get out. The kind battalion reenlistment NCO explains that he can reup for as little as one year and, if he raises his right hand in Iraq, his bonus will be tax free. So, SGT X deploys and reenlists for 15 months with every intention of leaving the Army when that ends. He gets a fat bonus, the Army reups him in a mass ceremony in one of Saddam's palaces. After serving out his 12 month deployment, he spends 2 months after returning clearing and then goes on terminal leave. Extra time incurred beyond his original, involuntary stoploss? Zero days. Money gained? ~$15,000 tax free. Army's gain? Reup propaganda, one less stop-lossed soldier and some neat PR photos of how much fun Iraq is.

Wash, rinse, repeat x 10,0000 soldiers a year.

See how this works?

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | September 22, 2008 2:39 PM

As an academic who has done work on honour (and just to further emphasise, in the Arab world) may I just correct the perceptions that

a) honour culture is something "they" do and we don't (after all, what is our/American intense pride in the symbols of the nation such as the flag but a display of a sense of honour) and

b) honour is solely about personal glory. In fact honour is often considered a collective good. We are honourable if our family (usually the smallest honour-bound unit) or our community or our nation is glorified through our act.

Otherwise, an absolutely fascinating and very enlightening discussion (in particular the stuff about the changing soldiers' creed).

Posted by: Laleh | September 22, 2008 3:13 PM

...and one other thing: for those who argue that we should go back to the model of a small professional cadre to train draftees in the event of a war, that model has cost thousands of lives in the 20th Century. The examples of Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, and Iwo Jima are given to show that an army of citizen soldiers can be built in the event of a war. But those battles were fought after 3 years of war by units that had been together, training or fighting, for 18 months or more. A better example of what happens when newly constituted units are thrown into battle is Kaserine Pass, or even better, the early days of Korea. Thousands of lives were lost when untrained and unready units were sent to fight. Warfighting is a highly complex endeavor, and for a unit to be effective it has to have some institutional experience on which to draw and a high turnover of personnel and a small cadre of professionals cannot meet that demand.

Furthermore, in the even of a major war, there is no way the war would even last long enough for us to train new soldiers for the fight, much less new units. As fast moving and destructive as modern war can be, the war would be over before the first batch of new soldiers would even be out of basic training. Look at the 1973 Arab-Israeli war as an example of how quickly a war can descimate an entire army.

Besides which, while we need to have a sizable and robust active force, in order to meet any surge demand for units, we currently have a system in place to handle it: the reserve and national guard forces. The Abrams doctrine envisioned exactly the situation we are in now. It was designed to use these citizen-soldiers in place of draftees, assuming that their use in any war would cause great pain in communities around the country. Gen. Abrams imagined that any commitment of the reserves and national guard would require the American people to buy in to the war, that it would require the people to support the war totally.

Unfortunately, the debate over the commitment of the reserve forces in Iraq has not been focused on whether the war merited this level of sacrifice. Instead, it became a debate about the size of the active force and about ways to minimize the need to commit these citizen-soldiers.

Clearly, America is happy to have a professional military to fight its wars so that the whole society does not have to make any sacrifice at all. I would argue that we need to expand the role of the reserve forces. We need to find ways to better integrate them with active forces, and in keeping with Gen. Abrams vision, to ensure that we cannot go to war without them. The reserve forces are the military's strongest tie to the civilian world and it needs to be made stronger. We have to recognize that we cannot sacrifice the readiness of our armed forces and I think a draft would do just that. But our reserve forces are at least organized in coherent units and are better prepared now than they have ever been (though they could certainly use more investment and more flexibility in how training is conducted and careers managed). The active duty forces need to recognize this and the leadership needs to ensure that the reserve forces are taken seriously as partners.

The civil-military divide is real and can only be bridged by those who are real citizen-soldiers.

Posted by: DM Inf | September 22, 2008 9:17 PM

DM Inf,

As always, you raise a number of excellent points. Your introduction of the "Abrams Doctrine" into this debate is important. Thank You.

I'm going off of memory here, but as I recall, one of the central underpinnings of the "Abrams Doctrine" and the AVF/Gates Commission was that the Reserve forces provided a pool of trained, military manpower to be a bridge between initial hostilities and an eventual national mobilization (ie. draft). The Guard/Reserve would play a role by tying the people to the conflict at hand, but they would not serve interchangably with the Regular Army 5.5 years after initial entry operations.

You aptly bring up the failure of the "Abrams Doctrine" consensus to trigger public engagement/discussion/debate surrounding OIF and OEF. I would submit that this has not happened because the USAR and Guard have abandoned large swaths of the country and are relying on a shrinking sliver of the national population to provide their endstrength. This is bad for 3 reasons: 1) it severs the link between the military and civil society; 2) it cynically fails to leverage the talents, education and abilities of many areas of our nation; and 3) it disproportionately places the burden of Guard/Reserve service on certain states - works great in pecetime but can bite you in a long, unpopular war as your narrow, self-selecting pool to generate new enlistments becomes more fickle.

To illustrate my point, I will list the population of certain states and their authorized ARNG and USAR endstrength (determined by "big Army) and the National Guard Bureau - not the states), The numbers are stunning. NY has over 6 times the population of Mississippi, yet is authorized LESS ARNG personnel. Here you go:

-pop. 36,553,215
-ARNG endstrength 16,052
-USAR endstrength 12,131

-pop. 4,627,851
-ARNG endstrength 11,346
-USAR endstrength 9,158

New York:
-pop. 19,297,729
-ARNG endstrength 9,582
-USAR endstrength 8,334

-pop. 2,918,785
-ARNG endstrength 9,591
-USAR endstrength 2,076

New Jersey:
-pop, 8,685,920
-ARNG endstrength 5,990
-USAR endstrength 3,316

North Dakota:
-pop. 639,715
-ARNG endstrength 3,225
-USAR endstrength 264

You see, when USAR and ARNG leaders are able to divorce themselves from our large population centers, it's very difficult for the "Abrams Doctrine" to function as intended.

Posted by: IRR Soldier... | September 23, 2008 9:43 AM


That is a good point. That is a failure of execution of a policy, not the policy itself. These numbers show that it is easier politically for the military to abandon the purpose of the Abrams doctrine. I would be interested to know what has driven the disparity in reserve authorized endstrength numbers between "rich" and "poor" states. Is it merely politics, or is it an inability to recruit in those "rich" states? If it is the former, that can be fixed with a change in leadership. That would signal a wholesale shift by our political leadership to having a military of mercenaries allowing a commitment of military force to any contingency without any real national impact. Such a shift can be changed by political action, and needs to be stopped. However, if it is the latter, we are in trouble as a society. We have collectively decided that service to country is unimportant if it requires sacrifice. It would signal that we think it is OK not to serve your country if you can get a "real" job and make money. We as a country want a mercernary army. That is bad, bad, bad!

Either possibility can be addressed by real leadership. I truly think that this country is crying out for someone to ask them to serve. We are at a point in our history that is similar to when JFK told the nation to "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." 9/11 has something to do with this. That was a time when a call to service would have been received by all with enthusiasm. That immediate opportunity was squandered by a government who told us all to go shopping instead. But I think that, just under the surface, that sentiment is still there, waiting for someone to call it out.

For the nation's sake, I hope that the call comes.

Posted by: DM Inf | September 23, 2008 11:05 AM

DM Inf,

I concur with what you are saying. I would also say that the widespread belief within the military - that we have an "inability" to recruit in certain states - must be attacked head on.

If you (the military) use regionally inappropriate and culturally-out-of-synch marketing strategies then, yes, we will fall short in our recruiting efforts.

My brief tenure as an Army officer in NYC working in Recruiting Command was an absolute eye-opener. It was stunning just how far off the mark the Army was with outreach and messaging. Until recently, other than a one-man booth in Times Sqaure, the Army had no recruiting presence between W.72nd Street and City Hall - America's media and finacial mecca with a daytime population of >3 million.

You have to be part of the community and visible in it to recruit. Manhattan has a full-time population larger than Nebraska yet has 0 authorized USAR slots and a rapidly declining National Guard presence at two armories (down from 5 20 years ago). Anyone who says that the 1/69 Infantry "the Fighting 69th" can't recruit sufficiant endstrength in Manhattan is someone who lacks imagination and ingenuity.

As I've said repeatedly, BRAC 2005 is making things worse. Thousands of transit accessible, NYC based Reserve positions are moving to Ft. Dix, NJ - a 2+ hour, $17 (tolls) one-way trip for that 32% of NYC families that actually own a car. The last two armories in Brooklyn - a borough with 2.5 million people (more than Arkansas) are slated to close. I mean, tiny states with 2.5 million doesn't even get to keep an armory. WTF?

The barriers to service are so great for so many. The 15,000 kids at Brooklyn College are ~2 hours away by train from Army and USAF ROTC - if they are lucky enough to even know the programs exist at outer borough, Catholic colleges. Navy ROTC is closed to everyone in NYC other than SUNY-maritime or Fordham students and Navy ROTC is unavailable - at any college in NJ, CT, RI or NH. Find me a school with 15,000 kids in the South that has that kind of time/distance barriers to ROTC participation. You can't.

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | September 23, 2008 11:31 AM

Correction to paragraph 5:

I mean, tiny states with less than a million people get a 2 star adjutant general and a joint staff while diverse boroughs like Brooklyn with 2.5 million people don't even get to keep an armory. WTF?

Posted by: IRR Soldier... | September 23, 2008 11:35 AM

DM Inf, I'm going to second IRR's postive statements about your input, especially the discussion of the Abrams Doctrine. I was present at the birth of the doctrine and I've always supported it. But IRR has identified the weakness in how the Army has gone about implementing it WRT the reserves (including the National Guard). IRR has a large body of work analyzing the Army's approach; as I understand IRR, it fundamentally boils down to abandonment of the larger, "blue" states, where recruiting is presumed more difficult, in favor of the smaller, "red" states, where recruiting is presumed easier. Recognition of reality? Laziness? Nefarious motives aimed at forestalling entry of those who might question policies? Who knows? What is clear is that the reserve forces do not faithfully reflect the nation; one wonders how long the current policy—essentially writing off large segments of the population—can continue, given what sometimes appears to be a commitment to endless war.

The regular army may not like it, but the fact is the reserve has saved its bacon in the Mideast. The small standing army proved inadequate to the task in what amounts to a relatively small military action in the grand scheme of things. But ISTM the reserves are tired, and getting back to the "endless war" issue, one wonders just how long the nation can keep going back to the well, particularly if the well has been self-limited in size. One also worries about quality of the force; one questions the willingness of many high potential individuals to hamper progression in civilian careers by signing up for a reserve force subject to constant and lengthy active duty deployments. Frankly, I think this whole "long war" approach, involving as it does, an overemphasis on military force, is fundamentally wrong and dangerous for the nation. In addition to the geopolitical issues, we risk grave damage to the expensive military structure we've erected.

What if we have a "real" war? What then? I've noted before that it's my sense that our defense policy has kind of drifted in a direction that makes general, or industrial war near unthinkable. The costs of weaponry and force structure seem to make a prolonged large-scale war impossible for any advanced industrial state. So ISTM that planners' approach, although no one really says it, assumes short, lethal engagements with the defeated party rapidly suing for peace. Having been through a prolonged small war (Vietnam), I've got no problem with this scenario.

What I would like to see is a revival of the draft, but in a different form. I'd like to see a six-month draft, where draftees receive basic weapons familiarization and some short advanced training, thus providing a trained resource pool in the event of a national emergency. I don't think this would harm the youth of America and I also don't think it would be that expensive. I also believe the regular army and the reserve forces are large enough now, if we can somehow break this love affair we now have with overseas military adventures. Frankly, if we don't stop mucking around overseas, military force structure will be the least of our problems. We'll totally bankrupt the nation, invite further terrorist attacks and continue in the death spiral we now seem to be in.

Warriors? We don't need 'em. We need soldiers. What the military leadership is seemingly incapable of understanding is that a military-civilian divide is ultimately bad for business. Thinking segments of the populace will turn from the military, meaning support, including provision of manpower, will wane. It seems evident that recruiting would be easier if "America's Army" actually reflected America. Although they can be great fighters, Americans have never been "warriors." Our nation was designed to avoid that possibility.

DM Inf is absolutely correct about the great mass of Americans, who now approach war as a "let George do it" proposition. It's very easy to ignore the military if it's viewed as some alien form, rather than as the kid from down the block. I think Americans should have to do more than just pay tribute.

Posted by: Publius | September 23, 2008 12:29 PM

Laleh, please contact me at r_bateman_ltc at hotmail dot com. I would like to see your stuff, academic to academic, as I am working on this as well.

Bob Bateman

Posted by: Bob Bateman | September 24, 2008 7:33 PM

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