The Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy, but where they are – Plutarch
We are all Warriors. We all fight wars. Wars in your work, in your family, in your relationships and some even in actual armed conflict. External wars and internal wars. We are all Warriors. We all fight. But do you fight by a Code? And what is your Code or Ethos? What helps you making decisions?
What is an Ethos?
The dictionary tells us: ´The moral character, nature, disposition and customs of a people or a culture.´ Nice, right?
The Warrior Ethos is a code of conduct- a conception of right and wrong, of virtues and vices. Warrior Ethos is taught. Taught by fathers, older brothers, mentors, instructors, and elders. Taught by Training and Discipline. It frequently culminates in a ´Test of Manhood´ or initiation. The Spartan boy gets his shield, the Commando his Green Baret, the Para his wings, the Afghan boy his first AK.
The Warrior Ethos evolved as a counterpoise to fear. It´s combines values like Courage, Honour, Loyalty, Integrity, Selflessness and others.
Guilt and Shame
The are 2 types of cultures. Guilt-based and Shame-based. The first, Guilt-based, is the prevalent culture of modern Western society. We know what is right and wrong. We know it in our gut. Nobody needs to tell us. We were taught by society. They are the values of a society.
The Shame-based culture is the opposite: ´Face´ is everything and all that matters is what the community believes of us. The community dictates what is good and bad and will either praise or shun. If we lose our honour within the group, death becomes preferable. As is often seen in the USMC tattoos: ´Death Before Dishonour´. The Shame based culture is found in the Warrior Societies. The Japanese had the Shame-based Bushido, the USMC, Alexander´s Macedonians, the ancient Spartans and SF Units……all Shame-based.
Honour is the opposite of Shame. In warrior cultures like the Sioux, Comanche, Pashtun, Maori to the Zulu: Honour is the man´s most prized possession. Without it, life is not worth living. Back down to no one, avenge every insult, never show fear, never display weakness.
At Thermopylae in 480 bC, the Persian king Xerces, at the head of an army of 2 million man, demanded of the Spartan king Leonidas that he and his 4000 defenders lay down their arms. Leonidas responded:
´Molon labe´…….Come and take them
Warrior cultures employ honour and shame to produce courage and resolve in the hearts of their young man.
The value of Honour is unfortunately often degraded in modern society.
The greatest counterpoise to fear is love – the love of the individual warrior for his brothers in arms.
At the battle of Thermopylae, on the final morning when all Spartans knew they were going to die, the warrior Dienekes was asked a question. ´What thought to keep in your mind when you know the end is near´. He answered: ´Do not fight for patriotism, honour, duty, glory or even your family. Fight for this alone: the man who stands at your shoulder. He is everything, and everything is contained in him.´
The warriors prayer on the eve of battle is not ´Please spare me´. That would be understandable as humans, as all creatures, have a hardcoded desire to survive. Not to die. Self preservation. But the Warrior Ethos counters this instinct. The warrior prays: ´Please let me not prove un-worthy of my brothers´
That is what makes wounded soldiers want to return to their units and brothers asap. That is love.
Courage is inseparable from love and leads to the noblest of all warrior virtues: Selflessness.
Lead by Example
The Warrior Ethos dictates that you leads by example. ´Follow me´ In Warrior cultures the leaders are proportionally more often hurt and killed. They lead from the front.
Embracing of Adversity
Living your life according to the Warrior Ethos is not a cushy lifestyle. Soft lifestyle makes for Soft Warriors. Warriors pride themselves in willing and eager embracing of adversity. The payoff for a life of adversity is Freedom. It makes you ready for anything.
The warrior will makes a joke of pain and adversity. The warrior will die laughing.
The Spartan Dienekes was informed about the size of the oncoming enemy. About a 100 to 1. It was said that when the Persians would fire a volley of arrows, it would block out the sun. To which Dienekes replied: ´Good! Then we´ll have our battle in the shade´
The Will to Fight
The will to fight and win, the passion to be great, is an indispensable element of the Warrior Ethos. The will to go beyond your own limits.
Most ancient warrior cultures were embedded in a warrior society. The Western military is a warrior culture embedded in a civilian society.
So the values of the warrior culture or often not shared by society. And often even opposed.
Civilian society praises individual freedom. The warrior culture depends on cohesion.
Civilian society rewards wealth and celebrity. The warrior culture prizes honour.
Aggression is valued in the warrior culture. In civilian life you can go to jail.
A warrior culture trains for adversity. The goals of the civilian life are comfort and luxury.
Selflessness is one of the highest virtues of the warrior culture. Civilian society often acts as selfishly as it can.
This leads to conflict between the two.
So….Is the Warrior Ethos without value in civilian life? Far from it! Many of the values will help you in civilian life as well. The war is the same. Only the location has changed.
It will help you battle your Wars Inside as well. Be the best version of yourself. Fight negative internal enemies like jealousy, envy, greed, selfishness and use self-discipline to kill them.
Can you recognise the Warrior Ethos in the following Creeds?
Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high esprit de corps of the Rangers.
Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite Soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other Soldier.
Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one-hundred-percent and then some.
Gallantly will I show the world that I am a specially selected and well-trained Soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.
Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.
Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor.
Rangers lead the way!
Special Forces Creed
I am an American Special Forces soldier. A professional!
I will do all that my nation requires of me.
I am a volunteer, knowing well the hazards of my profession.
I serve with the memory of those who have gone before me:
Roger’s Rangers, Francis Marion, Mosby’s Rangers,
the first Special Service Forces and Ranger Battalions
of World War II, the Airborne Ranger Companies of Korea.
I pledge to uphold the honor and integrity
of all I am – in all I do.
I am a professional soldier.
I will teach and fight wherever my nation requires.
I will strive always, to excel in every art and artifice of war.
I know that I will be called upon to perform tasks
in isolation, far from familiar faces and voices,
with the help and guidance of my God.
I will keep my mind and body clean, alert and strong,
for this is my debt to those who depend upon me.
I will not fail those with whom I serve.
I will not bring shame upon myself or the forces.
I will maintain myself, my arms, and my equipment
in an immaculate state as befits a Special Forces soldier.
I will never surrender though I be the last.
If I am taken, I pray that I may have the strength
to spit upon my enemy.
My goal is to succeed in any mission
– and live to succeed again.
I am a member of my nation’s chosen soldiery.
God grant that I may not be found wanting,
that I will not fail this sacred trust.
“De Oppresso Liber”
themselves in war and peace. Read for yourself and decide:
The SEAL Code
• Loyalty to Country, Team and Teammate
• Serve with Honor and Integrity On and Off the Battlefield
• Ready to Lead, Ready to Follow, Never Quit
• Take responsibility for your actions and the actions of your teammates
• Excel as Warriors through Discipline and Innovation
• Train for War, Fight to Win, Defeat our Nation’s Enemies
• Earn your Trident everyday
United States Navy SEAL
In times of war or uncertainty there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nation’s call. A common man with uncommon desire to succeed.
Forged by adversity, he stands alongside America’s finest special operations forces to serve his country, the American people, and protect their way of life.
I am that man.
My Trident is a symbol of honor and heritage. Bestowed upon me by the heroes that have gone before, it embodies the trust of those I have sworn to protect. By wearing the Trident I accept the responsibility of my chosen profession and way of life. It is a privilege that I must earn every day.
My loyalty to Country and Team is beyond reproach. I humbly serve as a guardian to my fellow Americans always ready to defend those who are unable to defend themselves. I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions. I voluntarily accept the inherent hazards of my profession, placing the welfare and security of others before my own.
I serve with honor on and off the battlefield. The ability to control my emotions and my actions, regardless of circumstance, sets me apart from other men.
Uncompromising integrity is my standard. My character and honor are steadfast. My word is my bond.
We expect to lead and be led. In the absence of orders I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the mission. I lead by example in all situations.
I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.
We demand discipline. We expect innovation. The lives of my teammates and the success of our mission depend on me – my technical skill, tactical proficiency, and attention to detail. My training is never complete.
We train for war and fight to win. I stand ready to bring the full spectrum of combat power to bear in order to achieve my mission and the goals established by my country. The execution of my duties will be swift and violent when required yet guided by the very principles that I serve to defend.
Brave men have fought and died building the proud tradition and feared reputation that I am bound to uphold. In the worst of conditions, the legacy of my teammates steadies my resolve and silently guides my every deed. I will not fail.
What is your Warrior Ethos or Creed?
We all live our lives by a Code of Conduct. What is yours? What values do you uphold? What guides you when making tough calls? How do you stay the best version of yourself? How do you keep yourself ready?
When they were boys, Alexander (the Great) and his friends were forced to bathe in cold rivers, run barefoot, ride all day without food and water and endure whippings and humiliations. On the rare occasions when they got to rest, their trainers would remind them:
´While you lie here at ease, the sons of Persia are training to defeat you in battle.´
Always be ready!
Want to read more on the subject? Check out the book ´Warrior Ethos´ by Steven Pressfield. Most of this article was extracted from this great book.
Ways to stay ´on the Tip of the Spear´?
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Written and copied by Robin C, Former Dutch SF officer, Operator, 12 years into adapting to civilian life