Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Warriors and soldiers.
West Point, New York, 1999: Summer at West Point is a curious time. It is when the academic side of the United States Military (call that Athens) comes the closest to becoming Sparta. The rising sophomores, known as "Yucks" in West Point slang, return to the Academy after just a few short weeks away from its granite walls. While their peers are back at home, unwinding from their first year of college, the Yucks shoulder their packs and move out to the training areas which stretch out for miles behind the main campus.
Over the course of the next several weeks they learn the rudimentary basics of the tactics of professional soldiers. Their erstwhile professors of English and mathematics and yes, history, will be their instructors in the Art of War, because at this place, those academic professors with their MAs and Ph.D.s are also often Airborne Rangers as well. The whole shebang is coordinated by the Tactics Department. In 1999 the officer most directly responsible for this training was a man I will call "Colonel Hank."
"Warriors! Come over here!" Colonel Hank shouted to get the attention of a passing squad of cadets before he passed on his next nugget. "Warriors! I want you to understand ..." This was normal for Colonel Hank. He believed in the word, in the idea, that we were training these young men and women to be "warriors" for the nation. Hank, I should note, comes from my own sub-sub-culture.
One can generally accept the idea that the military, as a whole, can be seen a something slightly apart from the greater population of the nation. This is particularly true since the end of the draft in 1973, which means that it is an entirely self-selecting group. From there it is not a long leap to see that the culture of each of the services is distinct as a subculture of America as well. If these things are true, then we in the Infantry are generally acknowledged to be in an entirely different class altogether, a sub-subculture. There are a few other groups within the "Combat Arms," such as the tankers of the Armor branch, and the pilots of our helicopters, but generally speaking the Infantry generates the most ardent types. Hank and I were products of competing influences within that subculture, and his use of the word "Warrior" grated on my ears. At the time, however, he outranked me by a wide margin.
The problem is that, to my ears, "Warrior" means an individual combatant, one who is motivated by visions of personal honor, group honor, and national honor. I come at the issue from the opposite extreme, believing that the highest appellation one may bestow is that of "Soldier." A soldier is a part of a collective body, fighting with professional discipline, towards an objective which is greater than himself. His motivation, in combat, stems from the team. ("Enlistment motivation" is an entirely different issue, and comes from the larger society, not the military.) In short, he fights not for himself, but for his buddies.
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