Soldiers and Warriors
By Robert Bateman
GAAAA-RYYY OWEN, GARRYOWEN, GARRYOWEN,
IN THE LITTLE BIGHORN VALLEY ALL ALONE,
THERE'LL BE BETTER DAYS TO BE,
FOR THE SEVENTH CAVALRY,
WHEN WE RIDE AGAIN FOR DEAR OLD GARRYOWEN!
~ 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.
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