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Tuesday, May 30, 2017


 The following quote epitomizes the gap between what soldiers wish they were, and the modern battle field today:
“Out of every hundred men, ten shouldn’t be there, eighty are are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” (Attributed to Heraclitus, I have a sneaking suspicion this quote has been mis-attributed; the same page has a common misquoting of Orwell and Churchill. I've read too many popular "clever" quotes that I later find are inaccurate.)
True or not, the above quote has joined “We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would do us harm,” as one of the quotes that make up the military psyche, and ethos of the military. Many soldiers point to this and say "This is what a warrior is. This describes war. This describes me." But this quote doesn't describe war or warriors, at least not in the last hundred years. The warrior, if he ever existed, was long ago replaced by machines, mechanization, and the new modern battlefield.
First, the modern battlefield is one of specialization. Only half of the Army is involved directly in combat duties, many are human resources technicians, electricians or repairmen. This battlefield is a battlefield of naval aircraft carriers; where one person's entire job is changing food and drinks in the vending machines. Is a vending machine operator a warrior? (One could make the argument this is a great thing, that we have isolated our "real fighters," according to the quote, in the combat roles. But of course, there is no "warrior" test.)
Second, modern weapons commit massive violence on a massive scale that is often random and unpreventable. They do not distinguish between warrior and non-warrior, fighter and non-fighter, nor can the warrior defend himself from those weapons the way he could sword and spear. The modern battlefield is a battlefield of cruise missiles, guided bombs and TOW missiles; a battlefield made up of IEDs and mortar shells. When soldiers ran over the trenches in World War I, the machine gun bullets didn’t distinguish between warriors and the rest. There is nothing the warrior could have done to prevent his death. Often, there is nothing he can do today to prevent the IED exploding. (Again, you could argue the soldier could prevent IEDs by winning over the local population with great counter-insurgency, but this also goes against the common view of the "warrior" and certainly isn't what Heraclitus meant.)
Which gets at the point behind this quote. There is a rugged individualism, a sense in which the warrior (and by extension every soldier who reads the quote and sees themselves in it) controls his own destiny. His skill and bravery alone will win the battle. But in the random capriciousness of bombs from the sky, this just isn’t true. One man can't, and won't make the difference.
Third, distance destroys the warrior. How far away can a soldier be from a battlefield and still be considered a soldier? Is the bomber pilot a warrior? Do his remote bombing make the difference in the battle? What about the analyst sighting targets safely in a Super FOB, does he make the difference? What about the Sailor who fires the cruise missile? The pilots flying predator drones in Nevada consider themselves soldiers, but I don't think anyone would call them warriors. At least not on the same level of the soldiers Heraclitus was talking about.
When did the warrior die (or at least stop making a difference)? Certainly he was dead by World War I and II; two wars fought in such numbers, no individual made a difference. Bullets, killing thousands in Antietam, fired at near random did not distinguish warrior and fighter. Once the bullet was invented, the warrior knights were killed; once armor was invented, peasant warriors were slaughtered. The impact of the warrior pales in comparison to the impact of technology. Perhaps, if the quote refers to the inventor of the long bow and the bullet, it would be accurate.
I said in the beginning “if the warrior” ever existed. Michael recently forced me to read a section of John Keegan's A History of Warfare, and his description of the phalanx style warfare of the Greeks--the age in which Heraclitus wrote--is a model of randomness. Two phalanxes crash into one another, then poke and spear at one another to find a gap. Once the phalanx is cracked, they push through, and the phalanx disperses, and everyone runs away. And once again, the warrior doesn’t make a difference, the weakest link does.