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Warrior Codes and the Warrior Ethos
Posted by: McQ on Monday, June 02, 2008

Apropos of the discussion generated by Dale's "Do the Right Thing" post concerning the Marines who are now facing charges for an incident in Iraq, I found this article in which a professor from the Naval Academy discusses her course on "The Code of the Warrior" and why it is so critical:
We talk about how the purpose of a code is to restrain warriors, for their own good as much as for the good of others. The essential element of a warrior's code is that it must set definite limits on what warriors can and cannot do if they want to continue to be regarded as warriors, not murderers or cowards. For the warrior who has such a code, certain actions remain unthinkable, even in the most dire or extreme circumstances.
That, in a nutshell, is the reason they're being charged right now and, more importantly, why these codes are so important, if to no one else but the warriors.

She had the students at the Naval Academy do a two part exercise in which they had to address the topic from their point of view as US Naval or Marine officers.
In their initial essays, several of them stressed the facts that as members of the U.S. military they will not target innocent people, and that there is a moral difference between intentionally causing civilian deaths and doing so unintentionally as the result of attacks on legitimate military targets, or what is known as "collateral damage."
She then had them exchange papers and write a response to the paper they were handed from the point of view of a terrorist.
The second part of the "Why are you different from a terrorist?" assignment required my students to try to get inside the heads of those who commit terrorist acts. It forced them to consider how easy it might be for someone to rationalize crossing the line between "warrior" and "murderer" in the interest of what he believes to be a noble cause. As most of the students recognized, terrorists do not see themselves as murderers. They believe that they are warriors — "freedom fighters" struggling against those they have dubbed their "oppressors." But no matter how they may justify their actions, if they refuse to accept any rules of war, they forfeit the right to be regarded as warriors.
And that is what separates us from them and why, as noted, no matter how they describe themselves (freedom fighters) or rationalize their behavior (all is fair in their fight against the oppressors), their acts (based in the refusal to accept any rules of war) betray them as cowards and murderers, not warriors.

Because we are who we are and because we've chosen to have a volunteer military composed of warriors, not murderers, what Dr. French talks about is critical and, as is obvious, highly stressed in our training. We train warriors. We hold warriors to a "warrior's code". We are not them. And we don't rationalize excuses when our warriors break their own code. We can't afford too and still call ourselves warriors.
It is easier to remain a warrior when fighting other warriors. When warriors fight murderers, they may be tempted to become like the evil they hope to destroy. Their only protection is their code of honor. The professional military ethics that restrain warriors — that keep them from targeting those who cannot fight back, from taking pleasure in killing, from striking harder than is necessary, and that encourage them to offer mercy to their defeated enemies and even to help rebuild their countries and communities — are also their own protection against becoming what they abhor.
That is why those codes and their enforcement are so critical to the survival of those we send into harm's way.
 
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LTC (RET) Dave Grossman, author of "On Killing" wrote an essay titled On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs. In the essay he describes how society is made up of sheep (civilians), wolves (those who prey on the sheep), and sheepdogs (those who protect the sheep from the wolves). In one portion of the essay, he writes:
The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog that intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.
That, in essence, is the crux of the situation. Sheepdogs have a line they can never cross and remain sheepdogs - and that line is to purposely harm a sheep.
Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, "Baa."
 
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
It would be nice if it were that simple. In the real world we get wolves in sheep’s clothing and sheep who provide aid and cover for the wolves.
 
Written By: Bob
URL: http://
Very good entry. It helped me clarify my thinking. I hate eating crow. It tastes bad and doesn’t go down easy. I thought about the "Doing the right thing" thread more than any other. It bugged the hell out of me. I learned a lot from it, not the least of which is not to write from emotion.

Dale, McQ - you are right. I was wrong. People voluntarily sign up for our armed forces and know what the current rules are. For the U.S. military to remain the best in the world it must must adhere to its own rules. I like how the professor has them write from the terrorist’s point of view.

I think where a lot of anger comes with cases such as the one in the previous thread, is that a lot of people are frustrated with the debate in D.C. and how the democrats constantly are saying we are losing, never should have gone, blah, blah, blah. Particularly after stuff like Murtha’s cold-blooded killers comments. Or Reid’s "the war is lost" comment. Or Pelosi’s latest comment on how it was Iran, not the surge, that led to a decrease in violence. This stuff can make your blood boil, so when an incident happens that may have crossed the line, you react quickly and emotionally, perhaps more against the anti-war crowd than for the actual soldiers involved.

Any way, I trust the military to do the right thing in its investigation. I do not trust the politicians, so I hope they stay out of it.

 
Written By: Rohan
URL: http://
Sorry, but I think the warrior code has to vary somewhat between the proverbial private and general. No private made the decision to firebomb Tokyo or to vaporize big chunks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The warriors who did those things were following orders to kill civilians. Those orders, in all actuality and in spite of all the resultant horror to civilians, were probably the more humane decision for ending WWII.

There simply is no single code of war or code of honor that is always right for all warriors of all ranks at all times.
 
Written By: Arcs
URL: http://
Bob:
It would be nice if it were that simple.
It isn’t that simple and no one here would argue it is. This is a very complex subject and it is one our military faces in very complex situations. Their grounding in the warrior ethos is what makes them, for the vast majority of cases, make the right decision at the right time. That’s its purpose.

Rohan:
Dale, McQ - you are right. I was wrong.
I don’t think it is a matter of right and wrong Rohan. It’s more of a matter of understanding why such codes are important and necessary. It helps put the necessity to pursue something like the charges against the Marines in context and explains why we must follow through on something like that.
I think where a lot of anger comes with cases such as the one in the previous thread, is that a lot of people are frustrated with the debate in D.C. and how the democrats constantly are saying we are losing, never should have gone, blah, blah, blah. Particularly after stuff like Murtha’s cold-blooded killers comments. Or Reid’s "the war is lost" comment. Or Pelosi’s latest comment on how it was Iran, not the surge, that led to a decrease in violence. This stuff can make your blood boil, so when an incident happens that may have crossed the line, you react quickly and emotionally, perhaps more against the anti-war crowd than for the actual soldiers involved.
That, at least to me, is a totally separate issue and I don’t disagree. It has a tendency, though, to find people who are angered attempting to excuse conduct they normally wouldn’t excuse (and isn’t being excused by members of the military) only because of that anger.

Arcs:
There simply is no single code of war or code of honor that is always right for all warriors of all ranks at all times.
I don’t disagree. It is a constantly evolving thing. For instance, our code about "collateral damage" was much looser in the era of big dumb iron bombs that it is today with precision munitions.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net
"It’s more of a matter of understanding why such codes are important and necessary." (How the heck do you do the quote box stuff?!?)

Not to beat a dead horse, but that is where I was mistaken. My initial (wrong) thought was "screw the code, kill the bastards". After making such a comment then you try and defend it. It is an interesting process.
 
Written By: Rohan
URL: http://
Look, I’m not saying that lining up a bunch of surrendered, kneeling guys and cappin’ them is good.

But I refer you to your comment about the close combat on D-Day, and how "it’s a choice you might regret later"...

Has i t occured to you that that is what has happened? The insurgents popped off some rounds, dropped the guns real fast, and got shot?

You have taken the confession(s) of one guy and judged the lot o fthese guys by it. I hate to say it guys but it’s a very Murtha-like view of this.

I’d like to see BOTH confessions, plus some more detail before judging these guys. Until such time, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. They were there, I wasn’t, I’m not willing to judge them on heresay just yet.
 
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
(How the heck do you do the quote box stuff?!?)
Copy the line you want to put into the blockquote into the comment box.

Highlight it.

Click on the blue arrow button.

[blockquote] line you want to highlight [/blockquote]

... will appear around the line (except the "blockquote" will have the html <> enclosure on either end.
After making such a comment then you try and defend it. It is an interesting process.
Interestingly its the same process the prof used to make essentilly the same point to them.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net
But I refer you to your comment about the close combat on D-Day, and how "it’s a choice you might regret later"...

Has it occured to you that that is what has happened? The insurgents popped off some rounds, dropped the guns real fast, and got shot?
Of course it has occurred to me. That’s why you investigate such things. I’d just say that based on what I’ve read, that’s not what happened as stated in the confession.
You have taken the confession(s) of one guy and judged the lot of these guys by it.
I haven’t judged anyone. I’ve said the confession provides enough reason to investigate further and go through the process of determining guilt or innocence. Do you disagree with that?
They were there, I wasn’t, I’m not willing to judge them on heresay just yet.
I hate to tell you this but a confession is not considered "heresay".
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Interestingly its the same process the prof used to make essentially the same point to them.
The prof’s process works. (Thanks on the quote thing!)

 
Written By: Rohan
URL: http://
I’ve read something about the battle involved. I don’t think I have a ready link, but as I understand it, non-combatants were told to leave some week to 10 days earlier. Theoretically, only combatants were left. If that’s a fact, and if you have insurgents spread throughout the city, and US forces working through house by house...if that’s the case, and you have 3-5 men who are in a battle with 3-5 men, and the insurgents appear to surrender, how do you handle it? Take their weapons, and one man marches them out of the house into the street? all three men guard the insurgents? Everybody sits down in the house till prisoner guards arrive? Sounds to me like a very effective way to neutralize the US forces and take them out the action. The insurgents don’t fear getting killed by US forces, they may have a plan for attacking the guards later, and the guards are out of action. I don’t know. We’re not talking about "the battle’s done and the prisoners are sitting on the side of the road"...we’re talking about being in the middle of a fire fight, and you don’t know whether the insurgents may have someone to back them up or not - even if they appear to be surrendering. That changes the entire situation shooting a prisoner to shooting a combatant - even if the combatant appeared to be surrendering.
 
Written By: suek
URL: http://
I’ve read something about the battle involved.
Based on what you’ve written I don’t think you have.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net
"and you have 3-5 men who are in a battle with 3-5 men, and the insurgents appear to surrender, how do you handle it?"

As you are trained to. And you call your superiors to inform them of the situation. I doubt that the taking of prisoners was an unforeseen and unplanned for event.

"That changes the entire situation shooting a prisoner to shooting a combatant - even if the combatant appeared to be surrendering"

If that is the case, I am sure the court will take that into account. That is why the defense gets to present a case.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Pondering:
For the warrior who has such a code, certain actions remain unthinkable, even in the most dire or extreme circumstances.
Large scale nuclear attack would constitute "dire circumstances". Is it safe to assume that an enemy force launching from amoung a civilian population will be spared ’assured destruction’ if those directing an ICBM response are warriors?
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/
As you probably know, a nuclear attack can only be authorized by the proper civilian authority. So the warrior side of it is to obey the order to launch.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net

 
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