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Will the Real Warrior Please Stand Up?


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eight comments


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Keegan’s description of phalanx warfare comes directly from Victor Davis Hanson. For a dissenting view of classical Greek warfare, check out Hans van Wees’ Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities, which has good evidence that Greek warfare still had elements of the “heroic” style of the Iliad. The idea of the faceless wall of spears advancing in unison really only came into being with the professional Macedonian army of Philip.

I think the “warrior” ideal still does matter. Not for turning the fate of massive conventional battles like Kursk, perhaps, but the willingness to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy in close combat is still absolutely vital in infantry combat and our modern COIN conflicts.


Tequila,

I tend to agree with your second point. Based on my experience in Afghanistan, some key battles were directly influenced by the actions of singular individuals. These were close fights where heroism and valor could still exist. As I discussed with Eric, in counter-insurgency some individuals can be extremely influential or effective in gathering allies and influencing the battle, like GEN Petraues, but they aren’t warriors.

As to Eric’s point, the trends in high intensity conflict are more and more towards mechanized and impersonal warfare. Thus, perhaps the battles of Afghanistan will be some of the last. Perhaps.

Thanks for the book recommendation too. I’ll see if the MI Library has it.


Michael – I agree that high-intensity conflict is overwhelmingly impersonal. Artillery has killed more men in high-intensity conflict than ever did small arms. I think GEN Dupuy said in the ETO during WWII, the main job of his infantry battalions was to escort the arty FOs forward so they could call fires on German positions.

But high-intensity warfare is increasingly a thing of the past for the U.S. No one can fight one with us and win, at least for now. Increasingly COIN fights, small unit infantry fights, are going to be the future. The enemy knows that is where our advantages of firepower and computerization are minimized.

I’ll note as well that in wars where we aren’t fighting —- the vast majority of wars in the world today —— the brushfire conflicts across Africa and south Asia are still small unit wars where warrior ideals matter enormously. The fate of southern Somalia will be decided by small groups of determined men with small arms, for instance, and perhaps whether or not it will become our next theater of war. That Paul Kagame’s RPF could outmarch and outfight armies ten times their size in Rwanda and Zaire determined the fate of central Africa, for good or ill, in the 1990s.


Tequila- I don’t agree with your second paragraph at all. I know that COIN and small units are the future. Unfortunately, the Army doesn’t know that.


You’re missing the point completely. You’re looking at the forest and neglecting the trees. Does modern warfare hinge on the mythic abilities of some single warrior – 1 in 100? Of course not. What this is talking about is fighting spirit and ethos. Go to any Basic Training company and you will find that of 100 random individuals, 10 are just scum-bags who would just as soon run away or betray their comrades as make a fight, 80 are game who will do as they’re told and try to fight, and 10 will actually engage in battle with intelligence and courage. One of those 10 might be a standout who is a natural leader. I have seen reports from WWII and Vietnam which prove this out in firefights. Roughly 10 actually direct aimed fire at enemy combatants and only 1 carries through almost every aspect of human endeavor from the military to Wall Street, and it holds true even when dealing with elite forces. If you take 100 of the best of anything in the world – soldiers, accountants, soccer players, politicians – 10 are outclassed by the rest and 10 are substantially superior to the others. And there will be one who shines the brightest.
In modern warfare that one can be the sailor who keeps pumping critically needed fuel into aircraft on the flight deck when the rest abandon the burning fuel control room or the Predator pilot who goes the extra mile to know the terrain and nature of his battlefield so he can see when his primary target should be replaced by his secondary to better achieve the goals of the mission and support the guys on the ground.
Ten percent of internet blogs just shouldn’t even exist, 80 are really good and worthwhile, and 1% are truly outstanding – Blog Warriors!


Well we just totally disagree with the point of the post. We are talking about the impartiality of the modern battlefield, not the existence of standard deviation that exists mathematically in almost every field.

I’m interested to know if your last sentence is an insult or a compliment too. To put you in good light, I am going to assume you are saying that On Violence is in that top 1%. Thanks for the compliment.


I think if you asked 100 Soldiers to read this quote, over half of them would identify themselves as either warriors, or in the top ten percent.

Which is why this saying is so vapid, it promotes a silly fiction of the “fighting spirit and warrior ethos” that doesn’t exist.

Also, cause this has occurred multiple times on our site, “missing the forest for the trees” isn’t a simile for “missed the point.”

Just saying.


Jeff Knox is absolutely correct. That the percentage ratios apply to fields other than warfare only serves to prove what the quote is eluding to.
Warrior spirit is really something you have to come into contact with to understand. One rarely contacts it, by definition, because only 1 in Heraclitus’ quote shows only two things: that many people have a false perception of themself, and that they do not even understand what Hercalitus’ warrior really is.
See, the lower 90. They are unable to truly recognize it, because its presence only causes fear.
The 9% that make the battle … at least they see it, and respect it. They understand the possibilty of it, and do not fool themselves. THe more you know the more you realize you don’t know, and all that.