The Warrior Ethos
What is the ‘warrior ethos?” Is one born with it? Can it be taught? Might it apply to the civilian world also? Author and former Marine Steven Pressfield takes on these questions in his newest book “The Warrior Ethos.”
This is a different sort of Pressfield book. Unlike the historical fiction genre in which he’s written such best-sellers as “Gates of Fire,” “The Afghan Campaign, and “The Profession,” “The Warrior Ethos” is the culmination of years of discussions Pressfield’s been having with Marines and others who were taken with the blend of courage-under-fire and humanity shown by Leonidas, Dienekes, Matthais, Gent, and the other characters in his books. “I wanted to give something back to our men and women fighting overseas,” Pressfield told Gazette, so I put together the best anecdotes and stories from all my research about the Spartans, Alexander's Macedonians, the Romans, and Rommel.”
Pressfield then printed 18,000 copies at his expense, which he donated to as many deployed troops as he could reach. Gen James Mattis assisted, as did LtGen George Flynn and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen Martin Dempsey. Copies were shipped to West Point and the Special Forces, while Marine Corps University received 6,000 so they could fulfill requests from any outfit within the Marine Corps. “My goal was to boil down what is the 'warrior ethos’ into a short book that can fit into the cargo pocket of utility trousers” he said.
The warrior ethos is a code of conduct, Pressfield writes, that embodies a life where integrity, loyalty, honor, and selflessness, and courage are one’s guide. Starting thousands of years ago with the hunters, these concepts evolved into the warrior societies where protection for the tribe was best achieved as a group working together. The rudimentary laws arising from the successful tribes evolved into the warrior ethos practiced by the Spartans and others where courage, cooperation, and acknowledging the strength of the group over that of the individual, enabled the tribe or the nation to survive.
At that point in history, the ability to fight was of paramount importance, he notes. Tribes and nations prospered or were conquered by the strength of the warrior culture existing within a warrior society – a far cry from today when the military is just a tiny fragment of a civilian society. But as Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great, Xerxes, and others marched into history as they fought their way across the Mediterranean and Central Asia, civilization was spread as conquerors and conquered traded goods, took wives, and exchanged ideas.
This sort of intermingling led to the Indian warrior epic “Bhagavad-Gita” expanding the warrior ethos to a loftier plane - from the war against one’s neighbor to an internal struggle to reach one’s better nature as Arunja, the Gita’s hero, battles against enemies whose names can be translated as greed, sloth, and selfishness – all moral weaknesses that must be overcome.
It’s that need to test oneself against both physical and moral adversity, coupled with the blunt Spartan courage in the face of overwhelming odds, Pressfield believes, that gives us the warrior ethos of today. But despite the military component of society being increasingly marginalized in the West, young men and women still flock to recruiting stations to challenge themselves and see how well they perform under adverse conditions.
Pressfield writes “each of us struggles every day to define and defend our sense of purpose and integrity, to justify our existence…to understand, if only within our own hearts, who we are and what we believe in.” This struggle might be Fallujah for a chosen few, or working the night shift for others. “The Warrior Ethos” does not provide a definitive answer as to what makes someone a warrior, but is rather a conversation guide to the warrior ethos. A most thought-provoking book, imagine the conversations it will start amongst those Marines on the midnight watch in Helmand and elsewhere in the world talking with their brother warriors.