William J. Astore | Our Military’s Disturbing Transition to Warriors

A subtle change has been happening right before the eyes of Americans. Our troops are being told they’re no longer primarily citizen-soldiers or citizen-airmen; they’re being told they’re warriors. Indeed, they’re reminded of this linguistic turn in “creeds” that many of them (and often their families) display with pride.

Here’s an excerpt from the new Airman’s Creed (2007):

“I am an American Airman.
I am a Warrior.
I have answered my nation’s call.

I am an American Airman.
My mission is to fly, fight, and win.
I am faithful to a proud heritage,
a tradition of honor,
and a legacy of valor.”

The Army’s Soldier’s Creed (2003) makes the same point about the need to be a warrior first and foremost.

Now, some would say there’s nothing wrong with this. Our troops are at war. Don’t we want them to have a strong warrior ethos?

The historian (and retired citizen-airman) in me says “no,” and I’m supported in this by a surprising source: An American army pamphlet from World War II with the title “How the Jap Army Fights.” After praising the Japanese for their toughness and endurance, the pamphlet, citing a study by Robert Leurquin, makes the following point:

“The Japanese is more of a warrior than a military man, and therein lies his weakness. The difference may be a subtle one, but it does exist: The essential quality of the warrior is bravery; that of the military man, discipline.”

In 1942, our army cited the “warring passion” of the Japanese as a weakness, one that inhibited their mastery of “the craft of arms.” Yet today, our army and air force extol the virtues of being a “warrior” to young recruits.

Today’s cult of the warrior, as represented by these new “creeds,” may seem cosmetic, but it cuts to the core of our military’s self-image. That most Americans have no knowledge of it speaks volumes about the ongoing militarization of our language and even of our country.

After nearly a decade of war, we don’t need more “warrior ethos.” What we need are disciplined citizen-airmen and citizen-soldiers who know their craft, but who also know better than to revel in a warrior identity. We knew this in 1942; how did we come to forget it?

Why have we become “warriors”? It’s related to our transition to the all volunteer military (AVM) in the waning years of Vietnam; it’s also related to the slow militarization of our society, as symbolized best perhaps by Hollywood movies like “Rambo.” And it’s related to our belief — perhaps even our faith — in the efficacy of force, and our enormous investment (if that’s the right word) in the military-industrial complex.

I think there are also elements here of Madison Avenue. In other words, how do we get young, mostly blue collar men to sign up? A good way is to create a myth that you’re joining an elite class of “warriors.” And I also think that some Army and Air Force generals believed it was necessary to “toughen up” our youth. Defining yourself as a “warrior” makes the act of killing in combat just a little bit easier, perhaps.

We need to return to our citizen-soldier ethos, the idea of the reluctant soldier who fights because it’s his/her duty in the defense of our nation. A warrior, by contrast, fights because it’s his reason for being. If we create a class of permanent warriors, our wars will never end. And some would say that’s the (very scary) reason why we’re seeing all of this “warrior” rhetoric.

This article was also published at Huffington Post.