Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Warrior Culture vs. the Ideal of Cincinnatus

The wake of the spreading Marines United scandal, which now encompasses all four branches of the U.S. military provides yet another good opportunity to discuss the best archetypes on which to model military service. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq exposed the unpreparedness of some support and combat support personnel to defend themselves against insurgents operating in rear areas, the Department of Defense adopted the model of the "warrior" as a means to emphasize the skills and attitudes that military leaders believed were necessary to successfully fight the war. That led to increased focus on hand-to-hand combat (called "combatives" by the Air Force), weapons training, and an emphasis on grit and dedication to mission completion. These features of what became known as "warrior culture" were what many observers had expected of service members regardless of war or peace, so it was surprising that all four branches felt the need to "return" to this mindset, which seems familiar in light of the Ranger Creed, which was a significant part of my ROTC experience during the early 1990s.

Warrior culture also includes some concepts that don't seem to fit with modern warfare, discipline in the ranks, self-sacrifice for the greater good rather than maintenance of personal position, and the creation of a privileged class who bear arms. As Angry Staff Officer notes, the embrace of warrior culture by the U.S. military and sixteen years of warfare have the side-effect of placing "warriors," especially those in the SOF community on a pedestal. It also has led some members of the military to embrace outmoded past models of warriors such as the Spartans or Crusaders without any careful consideration of the origins and uses of those models. Spartans were the top level of a society that valorized military service above all other endeavors, in which warriors depended upon the work of slaves. Angry Staff Officer also discusses some of the more unsavory features of Spartan society. If the Spartan focus on the military sounds grand to you, more research than reading or watching Frank Miller's 300 is in order.

Crusaders similarly relied on the downtrodden portions of medieval European society, They received rank and privileges based on agreeing to bear arms for their social superiors and to protect the civilians living on their fiefs. Knights sat in judgment over the people on their lands, collected fees, rents, and labor from them, and were supposed to protect them. The relationship between lords, vassals, and serfs was bounded by a kind of medieval constitutionality, defined by contract. Reality was quite different from the ideal, and peasants were usually at the mercy of the armored knight and his henchmen unless they managed to run away to a city and managed to live their unmolested for a year and a day (Stadtluft macht frei nach Jahr und Tag). Like the warriors of Sparta, medieval knights provide a poor model for the modern American military because, as Angry Staff Officer argues, neither group was based on a society with the values of freedom and liberty that form the core of American democracy.

Philosopher Maurine Kaurin also offers a critique of both warrior culture and Marines United by arguing that Marines United is based on the flawed ideal of the Entitled Warrior, who demands special privileges, including sexual privileges, based on carrying arms and fighting for the state. Membership in the warrior caste is the exclusive purview of heterosexual men according to these Entitled Warriors, helping explain their resistance to the inclusion of women and LGBTQ soldiers in the ranks, These Entitled Warriors cannot even admit to the possibility that spreading explicit photos and videos of female service members are a violation of professional ethics and values because they don't consider those women as being their equals despite having shared experiences of war. So much does any critique of these practices injure their pride that the Entitled Warriors respond with death threats against even other male service members who oppose them.

A better model for the American model is one offered by Kaurin in both books and blog posts - that of the Guardian, adapted from Plato. While also a special social class like the Warrior, the Guardian has a different focus. Guardians also use violence as a tool to protect the Republic, but it is not their primary method of solving problems. Rather than being above society as Spartans or knights, Guardians are the servants of society within the ethical framework of defense and protection rather than violence. The Guardian represents a sort of middle path between the warrior and the citizen-soldier of the American ideal.

Absent a radical change in American outlook, it is likely that the viability of the citizen-soldier perished in the ashes of Vietnam and the creation of the All Volunteer Force. The AVF moved the U.S. military away from being an institution that everyone had the opportunity or duty to serve in, to one connected to increasingly small parts of American society. The problem is that these developments seem to lead to the creation of a class of soldier unlike anything that Americans have seen in the past when the model was the citizen-soldier, ideally trained in the militia, but more likely to have been called up en masse to serve for a specific conflict. This was how the American military handled wars before the advent of the Cold War, and the concept survived until the final days of the Vietnam War.

The citizen-soldier's outlook is that of the Greek poleis other than Sparta, in which citizens owed service to defend the state. They served for set periods of time before returning home to their shops, ships, or farms. The legions of the Roman Republic operated in the same way until the Punic Wars placed such harsh demands on Roman citizens that they were driven from their farms by debt, making them unable to provide military service for Rome (leading Julius Caesar and his successors to purchase the loyalty of the legions with promises of a secure retirement). The epitome of the citizen-soldier in the ancient world was  L. Quinctius Cincinnatus, who famously served as Dictator of Rome twice, each time returning to his farm as soon as he defeated Rome's enemies, once after just thirteen days.

George Washington is the most famous American follower of Cincinnatus' methods of leadership, having multiple episodes of military service (French and Indian War; American Revolution), followed by two terms as President of the United States. Washington deliberately stepped down each time to return to his plantation at Mount Vernon as an example to his peers and succeeding generations of American leaders. Other American military leaders followed Washington's example: Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and George Herbert Walker Bush all performed their military and political service before stepping aside and returning to other endeavors.

If the model of the citizen-soldier is no longer applicable for the U.S. military, these concepts need to be molded into its replacements, whether warrior or guardian - that soldiers service the people, and after their service become one of the people again. That transition will need to be managed by military and civilian leaders to help veterans acclimate into the civilian world, to provide the skills and education to succeed as civilians, and medical and metal healthcare. More importantly, military leaders must work to inculcate the ideal of the soldier as Guardian and servant to the people rather than the current "warrior" mindset that is the current vogue.

No comments:

Post a Comment