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Warrior versus Soldier - do the words matter?

Before I succumbed to the propagandizing coming out of the Army PA folks *and* the senior leadership, I was much more careful myself in the use of the terms "warrior" versus "soldier."  The warrior can be admired for his personal prowess, but oft-times true warrior societies aren't really very good militaries as we think of the term, and usually get their butts handed to them when they run into a disciplined group of soldiers, even when armed similarly.

There are always exceptions, of course.  One can juxtapose the Wagon Box Fight against Little Big Horn, for example.  But in the end, who reigned supreme?  Ask the warriors of the Mahdi, square-breakers or no.

It kind of reaches it's ultimate expression in an occasional feature that is put out by Army Public Affairs - one which I like, mind you, though I've always thought the title of it was contrived.

The Army "Warrior-Soldier" of the Week...

Comes now a thoughtful guest editorial on the subject, by a serving soldier, Major M. Orris, published here with his permission (you may have already run across it  - it's been a rash in service email):
For some reason and this isn’t being said to be snide nor condescending, the military and the Army in particular has been keen to hype the word Warrior as opposed to Soldier. It is a disservice to the profession of arms to hype the “warrior” over the soldier because these are two vastly different concepts and as a professional military we should not be enamored by what is basically a self-serving view of warfare.

So what is a warrior? A warrior is perhaps best epitomized by tribal militias. Their motivations are either, but not necessarily exclusive, to protect their family/clan or to gain personal wealth, glory and notoriety. They historically have fought and taken flight as they saw fit. They remained in battle so long as they were achieving what they wanted (spoils or glory) and would quickly quit the field once they had obtained their bounty. Warriors are essentially mercenaries.

The concepts of self sacrifice immortalized by the Spartans, Roman Legions, and GIs at Guadalcanal or on the Pusan Perimeter were the actions not of “warriors” concerned with self-enrichment but soldiers who submitted their will to that of the State and accepted (willingly or unwillingly) the orders they would be given. Honor and loyalty guided them - but that loyalty was not to their family of clan but ultimately to the nation that they served. For the U.S. military those that serve do so to defend an idea, a concept that is the Constitution of the United States and not to an individual, a “tribe” nor is it situational based. And the individual understands that they will follow orders of those appointed over them. Soldiers are not taught to undertake missions that will make themselves look good or enrich them, but to undertake missions that serve the nation. For example, what personal benefit was there to be at some remote fort out on the frontier in “Indian country”? A warrior wouldn’t have remained there because unless he was directly threatened (such as protecting his clan’s land from an outside force) or thought he could accumulate spoils and honor then why risk death for “nothing”? There is no glory standing guard or doing a fatigue detail like mucking out the stables.

Those nations and empires that were (and are) great are so in large part because their militaries are comprised of soldiers led by soldiers and not warriors led by warrior chieftains. While it is true that nations have been overcome by “warrior tribes” but if one were to use ancient Rome as an example one finds that (1) Rome had been weakened by internal strife (political divisions, a succession of military coups, and the population no longer feeling that they needed to serve Rome); (2) the barbarian tribes that conquered Rome were made up of many who had actually served in or alongside Rome’s military at one time or another; (3) many of these tribes had a semi-permanent standing force and were not solely tribal levies and; (4) none of these tribes actually supplanted Rome – rather they each claimed a chunk of the former empire as their own and helped to usher in the wonderful period known as the Dark Ages.

Therefore a soldier goes into battle and stays in battle for reasons that are not tied to personal benefit. Rather he does so out of a commitment to something greater than oneself, and that is far more noteworthy and more martial than the concept of a “warrior.” By constantly harking on “warrior” we are missing the importance of what it is to be a soldier. There is very little about the mindset that animates the average tribal militia who are the embodiment of “warrior” that would be conducive and reliable for a professional military with a high operational deployment rate. Or of any fighting force based solely on such ambiguous and situational dependent concepts such as ‘honor and glory’ because in most of the world where the ‘warrior’ still thrives the concept of ‘honor’ is not something that we should ever want to imitate (think blood feuds, “honor killings,” etc.) So, when the chips are down do you really want to depend on someone who believes that he can simply quit whenever he wants (or whose senses of ‘honor’ – let alone concept of right and wrong – are not shared)?

There is a bit of the warrior in every good soldier, but a soldier is much, much more than a warrior - not only due to training, but most importantly of all, due to discipline and the ability to fight and die as a member of a team. Again, let us look at a classic example of “warrior” versus “soldier.” As Dr. Hanle, professor of Terrorism and Asymmetrical Warfare at the National Defense Intelligence College, has stressed that the Spartans were soldiers while most of the Persian army consisted of bands of warrior levies from various tribes within the Persian Empire (excluding the Persian Immortals who were soldiers). When Xerxes ordered his troops forward it was for promise of glory (honor) and spoils (and to avoid the lash if they flagged). When Leonidas formed his serried ranks, it is with a single command. No one would question the command or how or when to execute it. And they stood their ground not for spoils but because as soldiers of Sparta it was their duty.

So why is there so much emphasis placed on the “warrior” then? The best answer I heard came from my brother, Michael who opined, that it was because of “glory and honor” – is a big part of the warrior’s motivation, and it is a big part of enlistment enticement. Young men (and young women) want to be cool, they want glory, they want honors, and they want respect. Duty is a stronger, deeper calling, but it isn’t as cool as glory. This isn’t new - recruitment pitches have catered to adventure and excitement for centuries. The ads that cater to duty have been more prevalent, especially during an actual hot war. Otherwise it is glory, adventure, and excitement. Humans are humans, and have always been the same. There is no glamour in being a soldier and going about the daily tasks that make up the life of a soldier. And the young thirst for glory. Duty is not exciting, no more so than the routine work of a police investigation. If you want to recruit and retain the young into a dangerous, hard, task and turn them into duty-minded soldiers, then you have to provide glory to keep them doggedly working on their tasks, hence the “warrior” talk. We should be careful about using titles that conjure up images of romance, legend and all things glamorous, mythical and epic instead of celebrating the Soldier ethos. When one reads or hears Congressional Medal of Honor winners recount the circumstances of how and why they did the heroic deeds they did none of them have ever said it was glory or to enrich themselves – rather it was out of two base emotions (1) desire of self-preservation and (2) a sense of duty and obligation for those they served with. These are humble men who do not seek glory or recognition – now compare that with those tales of warrior chieftain (or militia fighters in Afghanistan) and the one common thread is that they want everyone to know their deeds (and will even embellish) because it is about them and what such recognition can do for them.

Is it than a simple matter of poor word choice? That somehow tenacity, aggressiveness and violence of action seem to have usurped by the cult of the “warrior” as being theirs and only theirs and that somehow anyone who doesn’t stand up and proclaim to be the maddest berserker of the whole lot and claims to be only a “simple soldier” is somehow less willing to fight and is nothing more than a miserable little wretch. I never heard Alvin York claim to be anything more than a humble solider, but because he wasn’t a “warrior” he is therefore less than a man? That’s essentially the argument that those who favor warrior use.

I have been in this game long enough to understand the mentality of the combat arms and the of the special ops community, and if some wish to call themselves a “warrior” (or Death Machine 3000) I couldn’t care less. If that’s what fires ones rockets and motivates them to do the grim business of fighting wars than more power to them. The point I am making here, or at least attempting, is that as leaders – MI professionals and all others is that we shouldn’t allow what is essentially a motivational tool (re: recruitment, as in all the “killer, warrior, barbarian” type t-shirts one sees on so many of those who just graduated basic training) to color our judgment when we sit and discuss the larger aspect of the profession of arms.

I don’t want, nor do I need my supply officer, mechanic or infantryman to see himself as some sort of lone gladiator (or a character from a Molly hatchet album cover), I want them to be competent in their job (mechanic, supply or infantryman) and be willing to do what is needed (team effort over personal gain) to get the job done. while a howling mob of “warriors” may win a few battles since “quantity does have a quality all its own” it’s a wasteful way to wage wars. And the butchers bill is heavily in favor of the “Soldier” over that of the “Warrior.”

The “soldier” of the British empire with his iron discipline, strict training and willingness to serve and fight for the crown is why such a tiny nation with a diminutive population was able to rule much of the world for over 200 years. The red-coat was feared for his proficiency with the bayonet and his ability to work as a team, to form squares and to keep to the task at hand. “Warriors” don’t build, hold, sustain or create empires like that because a mass of self serving glory seeking individuals don’t have a common goal – just individual goals and is worse than herding cats.

While I understand people lamenting the lack of perhaps “aggressive spirit” in some who serve I don’t think claiming that only “true warriors” fight is a good idea – it is the wrong term used to address a real problem. If the USN, to use an example, is lacking “fighters” in their “fighter pilot program” than focus on that – that fighter pilots need to be aggressive fighters who are willing to fly into harm’s way at the drop of the hat, and that the USN is not in the business to train jet pilots to be airline pilots. If they want to be fighter pilots than they must be willing to fight and have that aggressive spirit…and that quotas or anything else should not apply, but neither should we allow the term “warrior” as a cover-term to exclude certain candidates from having the opportunity to try and be fighter pilots.

I have had the opportunity over my 20+ years in the Army to speak with many combat veterans from many nations and from many wars and I have not met one that said he was a “warrior” – they described themselves by their job/MOS; or as a soldier (willing or unwilling; volunteer or conscripted – American, Allied, Russian, and even old Axis soldiers). The only ones that I have seen and heard revel in the “warrior” blood and guts “there I was knee deep in hand grenade pins” were those that hadn’t done or seen much.

A “Soldier” serves and is willing to fight, but doesn’t require the “thrill of the kill” to define who he is; a “Warrior” needs the “thrill of the kill” because “stealing horses and counting coo” is his sole purpose for existing; he needs the glory, the recognition because that is what defines him – personal achievement.

In closing, I will just leave what a close friend of our family and former “Merrill’s Marauders”said about combat, “Glad it is over and that I got out of it in one piece. Anyone who thinks there is some great glory in it is either nuts or a dim wit. You do what you gotta do so you can get the job done and go home.” He was proud to be part of an elite unit that fought the IJA as well as they did, but it define his life, nor did he need to thump his chest and say, “Look at me! I’m a Warrior! Aarrgghhh!” He always referred to himself as a simple dog face who was happy to return to northern Michigan and enjoy the delights of fly-fishing.

In closing, let’s not when discussing the profession of arms and 2000+ years of military history (western or eastern) turn it upside down and elevate the “warrior” over the “soldier” because there is a reason why all nations eventually accepted that soldiers were preferable to warriors for fighting and winning wars. You don’t need a “lone warrior” to carry the day or an “army of one” – you need soldiers and those who are part of a team.


Personally, I think the dude is being petty and is reading WAY too much into "Warrior-Soldier of the Week".

He said he didn't want or need his supply sergeant to be a warrior- just a soldier.  I'd take offense to that if I were that supply sergeant.  EVERY person in our military is a warrior of sorts.  At some point, guys on special forces units are supply sergeants running the "beans and bullets brigade" for the team in the field.  Doesn't mean they are less of a soldier- or a warrior.

When we belittle the job being done by non-infantry, we widen the gap between the "warrior" and the "soldier". 

I would also suggest that you examine the Webster's definition of warrior, which reads:
1. a person engaged or experienced in warfare; soldier.
2. a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness, as in politics or athletics.
By the definition he has up there, and they are correct from what I have observed, he is just about spot on.  Everyone in the Army should strive to be a soldier, because that is what they are supposed to be.  And just being in the Army does not necessarily make one a Soldier.  That is also a frame or state of mind.  

While Webster has that as a definition, he is wrong in actual application.  Look at just about every culture that ever had "warriors" including American indians.  They were just about exactly what was described above.    And they also tend to be present in more primitive tribal societies as well.

During my military service, part of the folk wisdom was "there are soldiers that march and there are soldiers that fight".  My impression is that the author, Major Orris, besides demonstrating his rhetorical skills, is trying to address that philosophical question.  

During the Viet Nam conflict, it was commonly accepted that there were 8-9 support troops for each one in the combat arms.  That would be one aspect of discrimination.  Those who close with and destroy the enemy would be ranked closer to the warrior end of any soldier-warrior continuum.  But that doesn't preclude some/any support troop having the mentality to expand into that end of the business.

If one accepts the soldiering population as subject to a bell curve distribution along the the soldier-warrior dimension, as a failed psychologist like myself is wont to do, it's not unreasonable to posit that almost all soldiers have some aspects of both.  During my (draft-induced) military service I would some time think to myself, "How did this guy end up in the infantry".  Thankfully, we had a mortar platoon where the most non-warrior riflemen could make some contribution (humping mortar rounds) while completing their sojourn.  But, even within our rifle platoons, one could see that some troopers were more willing and able to make war than others.

With the arrival of the "volunteer" military, there may well have been a bell curve shift toward the warrior end of the spectrum, but I think that there will still be some overall distribution between those with the desire to be in the military and those with the desire to make war.  And that latter attitude, to me, is the essence of the warrior.  So, to me, the Major's treatise comes across as somewhere between spin-ish and sophomoric.  You know, like that, "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin" thing.

Words definitely matter, just ask an attorney :-)  I found the differences stated and the comments really interesting. Having a collection of old books, including dictionaries, I often find the meanings are altered over the years. Just to see what the differences might be, I looked up soldier and warrior in a 50 yr old dictionary, also Webster's btw.

Back then:

1. a man engaged in military service; specifically, a man enlisted for service in an army.
2. an enlisted man, as distinguished from one holding a warrant or commission.
3. a man of much military experience or skill

1. to make war
2. a man experienced or engaged in warfare; a fighting man
An Army infantry officer told me recently "we want to instill the warrior ethos in everyone" (he meant "even people like you, who are going into a non-combat MOS") Unless I am mistaken, that ethos is: I will always place the mission first /  I will never accept defeat / I will never quit / I will never leave a fallen comrade.

That sounds closer to the author's definition of a soldier than a warrior... I agree with SK that word definitions shift over time, and I also agree with the author that the word "warrior" was selected for its coolness factor in recruiting.
I think Major Orris actually has the comparison backwards based on a rather unusual interpretation of the word "warrior". I certainly wouldn't ever conflate "warrior" and "mercenary". To me, at least, a warrior is one who fights to win, above all else. They may be fighting for honor, glory, or loot, but winning is the goal, and they're willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. In short, "warrior" is the mindset of unyielding pursuit of victory. On the other hand, "soldier" is a profession, a job, and I'm anyone who's been in the service knows someone who is/was a "soldier", but most certainly is not their out of pursuit of excellence, victory, or even duty. Military organizations wanted something to differentiate between "soldiers" who simply do a job because it's their job and those who excel at the job due to their demand for excellence from themselves. "Warrior", as described above, was the perfect word for the task.

Just my two cents, which ended up a lot more concise than I expected...
I remember when "Warrior" first became a buzzword back in The Day. Some Bright Light from HQNJARNG called us into a horseshoe formation during a weekend drill, then brought an infantry E-6 all pumped up and cammied up in to recite an "I Am A Warrior" spiel in stentorian tones.

He started out well, then he noticed all the combat patches. To his credit, he only gulped once, and made a strong finish. The Bright Light then took the opportunity to explain to us, in excruciating detail, what being a Warrior was all about, exhorting us to be true Warriors should the occasion arise for us to go forth and Fight Outnumbered And Win! against the Atheistic Hordes of Godless Communism.

It made a nice break from planning how to best kill tanks and survive the triple-A, missiles, and MiGs long enough to re-arm and refuel before going out to do it again...
I'm inclined to agree with you, Cortillean, and I believe that is the intent of the Army's emphasis of the new "Warrior Ethos" instead of the "Soldier's Creed".
Seems a certain... well, "certain" got dropped when I fixed another typo pre-post.  That should read, "... and I'm certain anyone..."
I expect my supply NCO to do his assigned MOS (supply) as well as being able to fight - as being a soldier that's what is expected.

Perhaps, the simplest way to address this is looking at the Marines.  The Marines are fond of saying, "Every Marine a Riflemen."  Which means that regardless of your MOS you are expected as a Marine to be aggressive and to be able to close with and destroy the enemy.  Period.  Because USMC recruiting has always hammered home that a Marine is a fighter regardless of MOS.

Words matter for they convey ideas.  Do we classify the tribal militias in Afghanistan or Somalia as "soldiers"?  No, they are "warriors" in the truest historcial and practical sense of the word.  Read the accounts of the French and Indian Wars and how neither the British or French could really control their Indian "warriors" because they did what they wanted to do - such as blunder, massacre, or simply leave when they felt like it.  So mercenary applies because such an outlook is about getting what you want and then saying, bye-bye. 

But this mantra that only "warriors" fight and that one would be insulted to be called a  "Soldier" shows that this is a problem already.  Would any Marine be insulted if they were referred to being only just a Marine?  I doubt it very much because they have been taught to be proud of being a Marine and all that it represents.  We would be well advised to do the same to the word Soldier as the USMC has done, consistantly I might add, with the word Marine. 

One reason I posted this is because I'm proud to have been, and technically still am, a soldier.

Vice a warrior.

Doesn't mean a soldier doesn't fight with the same level of scrappiness as a warrior - but warriors rarely fight witht the group discipline of soldiers.

Which is one reason the Miniconjou and Sans Arc don't run Montana and Wyoming, and that the Mahdi is a footnote in Briitsh colonial history.

But, perhaps, over time, the most successful "warrior" society has been the tribes of Afghanistan, which have driven off numerous armies.

Therein lies a cautionary tale.

Let me see if I remember this correctly, "The amateurs discuss tactics, the professionals discuss logistics." To put it a different way, someone comes up to you and sarcastically calls you a rectal sphincter muscle. This is my comparison to this debate. My question back to the other person becomes this, what are you like, when yours is not functioning normally? That muscle becomes the center of your functional world. I think we all know words matter, but now, we see contextual functioning also matters equally. If we take a group of warriors and put them into battle without the necessary logistics, what do we have? We have a group of *unhappy warriors, a really bad mix.*
There isn't really much point arguing this issue further when it's very plain that "warrior" and "soldier" are being used with at least two distinct meanings.  It's kinda like a game of chess in which each player thinks the pieces move different ways.  Calling your opponent for an illegal move (usage of a word, in this metaphor) does no good when, in his mind, that move is perfectly valid.

My contentions are that the usage of "warrior" by the military is totally different from that used to refer to savages, past or present, and that "soldier" encompasses people who don't take the job any differently than working in some corporate office.  From those, I derive my argument that "warrior" is being used to differentiate between said people and those who demand excellence and victory.  We can disagree on any or all parts of that line of reasoning, but the argument/discussion can't go beyond definitions until universally (for those on this site, anyway) accepted definitions are hammered out.  You can't play the game until both people agree on how all the pieces work.

If we're using historical examples, consider the Japanese term "bushi".  It is usually translated as "warrior", but it refers primarily to the military caste, soldiers, rather than individualistic and/or selfish fighters.  The limitations of the English language allow the word "warrior" to be used in reference to both groups, hence the disconnect.

I'd also like to address two more issues brought up by Major Orris.  First:
But this mantra that only "warriors" fight and that one would be insulted to be called a "Soldier" shows that this is a problem already.
I seem to recall someone posting something to that general effect, though I can't find it now, but I'm not seeing much evidence that considering "soldier" an insult is in any way a mantra.  In fact, I imagine most servicemen and women would strongly disagree.  I certainly do.  Like I said, my view of military usage of "warrior" is that it is an addition to "soldier", much like a medal.  Hypothetically speaking, a soldier with the Medal of Honor wouldn't be offended to be called a "soldier".  Also being a Medal of Honor Recipient is simply something above and beyond that, a distinction that sets him apart from "just soldiers".  Likewise, a "Warrior-Soldier" would not be offended by being addressed as the latter since the former is an addition thereon.  Of course, all of this is based on my definitions of "soldier" and "warrior", not the ones Major Orris and others are using, which goes back to my main point.

The second issue is the Marines.  I'm not really sure the whole "warrior vs. soldier/marine" deal is viable in the context of the Marines, simply because of what they are and how they are viewed.  My observation that there are soldiers who view their job as "just another job", part of the basis for my argument, does not apply to a group viewed, internally and externally, as wholly composed of the elite, of "warriors" (my definition).

In the end, "warrior" is a buzzword.  Given that most people do not take common usage of the word in the historical sense (read: savages), it's not a bad buzzword, either.  This rather seems like making a mountain out of a molehill due to focusing entirely on a less-than-common meaning of the word.  I see no problem with the word used simply as advertising, and, if it motivates more people to serve, and some people to serve better than they otherwise would, all the better. Being overly sensitive and taking the word in a way it was clearly not meant doesn't really do anyone any good, does it?
@John, I actually sent my post a little while ago. I started, had an emergency, which commanded my full attention, I came back and then finished it.

I found myself, thinking about your post 3 SEP 09, 3:43PM. You make the line of separation, not at scrappiness, but at "group discipline of soldiers."

You write, "But perhaps, over time, the most successful 'warrior' society has been the tribes of Afghanistan, which have driven off numerous armies.

Therein lies a cautionary tale."

I notice you do not talk of the "Nation of Afghanistan", but the "Tribes of Afghanistan" or the "Cemetery of Empires". The whole region is actually tribal and not structured nations. They have "home turf advantage", no minor thing.

"Cautionary tale = expectations?" 
The terms 'warrior' and 'soldier' have distinct meanings.  A soldier can be a warrior, but a warrior cannot be a soldier.  A soldier has to have discipline, to do what is ordered, to go where he is ordered, without deciding he isn't going to do or go where he is ordered.  The discipline goes beyond blood, clan, or tribe.  It goes to an institution.

A unit of cavalry charges, they break the lines, and before them is the baggage train of the enemy.  The trumpets sound to regather the cavalry, reform it, and bring it back.  Warriors ignore that and go for the loot; soldiers reform and return to their lines, ready to charge again.

At Roarke's Drift, the British had a mixed force of line infantry, engineers, hospital staff, and other rear-area personnel.  Did they behave as warriors, or as soldiers when facing that Zulu Impi?  The retreat to the redoubt was not something a band of warriors could ever have pulled off, let alone building that redoubt under non-charismatic leaders.  At the call of the trumpet disciplined soldiers pulled back not in rout but withdrew in order and resumed their places.

Any brave man can be a warrior, but it takes a brave and disciplined man to be a soldier.
I wish to state that I am Maj. Orris' brother.  Just to be clear.
Being a soldier was good enough for me, though if you caught me off guard I'd describe myself as a cavalryman. Most of the company and field grades I knew that got all gooey over the warrior thing were the sort that I suspicioned were out to get me and mine killed en route to that c&gsc slot.
Mikey, I don't mean to be combattive, but do you have anything to support your claims of complete distinction between and definitions of "warrior" and "soldier"?  I see only the claims and a pair of situations that have provide only circular support (if any at all).  How do you address the fact that multiple contemporary dictionaries contain one word in the definition of the other, that the words are considered synonyms in a number of thesauri, and that "bushi" is translated into both interchangeably?
Cortillean:  Neither I nor my brother are arguing with dictionary definitions.  The argument is conceptual - what is a warrior and what is a soldier.  In all of the military history that I have read soldiers, disciplined, able to take adversity and reverse, and continue to fight were always superior overall to warriors.  No band of mere warriors could have handled Roarke's Drift, or Guadalcanal, or Bastogne, or the Ia Drang valley

Historically, warriors are 'summer soldiers and sunshine patriots'.  The confusion, I think, is conflating 'warrior' with 'fighting spirit', or 'esprit de corps'.  That kind of fighting spirit can be shown by any brave man, but soldiers can show that same fighting, aggressive spirit, and soldiers can show the discipline that is more than courage.

Fighting spirit, combined with discipline.  Hook may have been a scrapper, a fighter, but it was the Queen's Army that made him a soldier.
Cortillean, you don't grasp the distinction posited by Major Orris, I doubt repetition will help.

For what it's worth, the Major's definition is precisely congruent to what Jerry Pournelle has been writing about for several decades. A warrior fights because of the desire for glory, booty, or for himself. A soldier fights because of a sense of responsiblity. derived from citizenship.

I would say part of the dissonance exists because you insist on using dictionary terms, while the Major, Professor Pournelle, and those who agree with them derive their usage from history and the study of cultures. The use of the term "savages" may confused things a bit; I would prefer tribesman myself, since that more directly refers to the tribal mentality warriors hold. Another way to differentiate would be saying: tribesman is to warrior as soldier is to citizen. Yet another way would be comparing warriors to teenagers, and soldiers to adults.

And, Cortillean, I think you miss Mike's point, which was not circular. A soldier enjoys self-discipline, or at least accepts the responsibility of adhering to a set of rational principles such as the Soldiers Creed. On the other hand, a warrior -if disciplined at all- resentfully suffers  externally-enforced discipline; they are rules enforced by an external authority, as compared to the internal moral choice of the soldier.

John: I would be hesitant to highlight any special status for the Afghan tribes. In fact, I would say that they've been left alone most of the time just because once you conquer Afghanistan, there's nothing to do with it. Think about it; you are now lord and master of, well, a bunch of mountains in the middle of nowhere, and it's difficult just to get there in the first place. What's the point?

I am reminded of P.J. O'Rourke's visit to the former Yugoslavia (All the Trouble In The World, IIRC), when he exclaims about the local collective obssession with being top dog: "Don't you people get it? Even if you win, all you've got is Yugoslavia! It's not like you invaded France, or something."

Cortillean, you don't grasp the distinction posited by Major Orris, I doubt repetition will help.
Insulting my grasp of the arguments hardly strengthens your position.  Contrary to your claim, I "grasp the distinction" full well.  I simply don't agree that it is the correct one to be made.  Boil the whole use of "warrior" in the military and you get esprit de corps on the inside and marketing on the outside.  In both cases, the historical implications of the term are utterly useless.  What matters is how most people perceive it.  I won't accuse you of failing to grasp my point, but I will repeat it:  As long as the popular concept of "warrior" is as I've outlined, its use is a net plus.  Arguing that it can be used another way is a waste of time.

If Mikey's point is to elaborate on his concept of "warrior" and "soldier", that's fine, though repetitive.  I was operating under the assumption that the two examples were support rather than repetition, in which case the point is indeed circular in regards to "warrior", amounting to "I say warrior = X, therefore warrior = X".  The most it does is provide anecdotal evidence that "Soldier" involves discipline, something I was not arguing against.

You can repeat it all you want, but I see no evidence beyond "I say so"s to support the "warrior = individualist/undisciplined/etc" concept.  Even so, I'll even grant "warrior" being improper for internal discussion, given that I simply don't have the experience to argue for or against that proposition, but that usage does not appear to be the main concern here.  To be relevant to the issue, you have to show that popular usage of the word also relies on the concept you propose rather than mine.  If it doesn't, all the historical meanings in the world are pointless. This isn't the Constitution, to be examined in the context of meanings of the past.  Like it or not, marketing cares nothing for historical meanings or any meanings at all save those in the target audience's minds.

Beyond definitions and other sources considering the words synonyms, I've offered the issue of "bushi", a term including those so strictly following your "external discipline" that they would disembowel themselves for certain offenses, being translated as both "warrior" and "soldier".  That speaks directly against the idea of "warrior" being undisciplined in popular consideration.  What do you have suggesting that people consider "warrior" to imply a lack of discipline?

The author of the article makes some very important points and cites several historical examples.  Nonetheless, he ignores entirely the actual reason and historical circumstances for introducing the term “warrior” into general use in the Army.  The debate, and it was a very lively debate, over the word “warrior” and “soldier” started in the late 1970s and continued into the 1980s.  I was an enlisted man in the Army from 1970 to 1977, serving in military intelligence, and then served as a civilian intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1978 till my retirement in 2004 and witnessed and participated in the debate personally.


 To understand the circumstances leading to this debate, it is necessary to go back to the military of the 1960s and 1970s.  For those who did not serve during the 1960s and the 1970s, it is hard to describe just how bad things had become, not just in the Army, but in all the services.  Here are just a few examples.  The first Sergeant-Major of the Army (a position created in the 1960s) turned out to be a first class crook running a kick-back scheme involving enlisted clubs all over the world.  Secretary of Defense McNamara forced “Project 100,000” on the Army in which 100,000 individuals who did not meet the minimum requirements for being drafted into the Army would be allowed to join the Army.  While Army generals were telling busy telling Congress how successful “Project 100,000” was, I never met a single company or field grade officer that had anything good to say about the program.  It was a discipline nightmare.  Drug use in all the services was rampant with the Navy going through a particularly embarrassing investigation into drug use on-board its ships.  Discipline in all the services after Vietnam suffered and morale in many units was almost non-existent.  I knew an E-7 with 17 years whose morale was so low that he refused to re-enlist one last time to get his 20 years.  There was a standing joke among the enlisted everywhere I served that we were looking for the “real Army.”  Certainly, the real Army could not be like the units in which we had served.  After 7 years I finally called it quits.  I was tired of working for “ticket punching” officers and senior NCOs for whom I had little or no respect.


Were there good people in the military?  Of course, but they were fighting against a system that seemed to be on bureaucratic auto-pilot.  There was a recruitment angle in all this.  After 1975 almost all the services (the Marines, as always, were the exception) seemed to pitch the military as anything but a warfighting organization.  Join the Navy, Army, Air Force to get an education, for the bonus, get a start in a future career in the civilian world, etc.  About the only time you ran across anything hinting at warfare was in the barracks humor of the day.  “Join the Army, travel to interesting places, meeting interesting people, kill them.”  It was in this atmosphere that the debate over the terms “warrior” and “soldier” took place.  It had nothing whatsoever to do with “tribal warrior culture” or ancient Celts versus the Romans.  It was about getting the word “war” back into the professional culture of the US Armed Forces.


During my time in the Army I can remember very few officers or NCOs that really inspired me about the military.  One of the exceptional individuals was a warrant officer that was assigned to the military intelligence in which I served in Vietnam near Bien Hoa.  It was rumored that he was on his 5th or 6th tour in Vietnam.  Anyway, it was February 1972 and we expecting the Tet Offensive of 1972.  (It turned out to be the Easter Offensive of 1972, which is an interesting story in itself that would be relevant here, but is too long to tell.)  So this warrant officer, whose name I can no longer recall, called all the junior enlisted together.  After giving us a talk about the reality of the girls some of the guys were “dating,” Warrant Officer X proceeded to describe to us the reality of close quarter combat, as he had served in that same unit in that same location during the Tet Offensive of 1968.  He ended his talk with a little speech.  “Let me tell you what your job in the Army is.  Your job is NOT to brag about how many drawer feet of classified material you are in charge of, NOT to brag about the clearances you have that others don’t have, NOT to brag about how many generals you have briefed.  Your job is to help the private on point fight, win and survive the battle.  The supply sergeant’s job is to help the private on point fight, win and survive the battle.  The PFC handing out ping pong paddles at special services, his job is to help the private on point fight, win and survive the battle.  In fact, everybody’s job in the Army from the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Army down to the private’s platoon sergeant and platoon leader is to help the private on point fight, win and survive the battle.  DON’T YOU EVER FORGET IT.”  I never have forgotten that.  More than a decade later when I was in charge of training many of the new analysts coming into DIA, I would give them the same speech changing only that the private on point includes that pilot flying into harm’s way, the naval craft sailing into harm’s way and the Marine on point.  I would then carefully observe the students’ reactions.  Sadly, the normal reaction was a puzzled look that seemed to express, “What kind of fanatic is he?” 


The “warrior” versus “soldier” debate was in its essence a recognition that the spirit of that warrant officer in Vietnam needed to be re-instilled somehow into the professional culture of the Army, in particular, but also all the other services.  That was what was meant by the “warrior spirit.”  It was not some allusion to “warriorism” in tribal cultures long dead and gone.  It was a response to a very real crisis in which the Army and other services had taken a very wrong track and needed to get back on the right track. 


Is this debate still relevant today?  One would think that with the US Armed Forces committed to fighting on two fronts against some of the nastiest and most dangerous enemies that US has ever faced would be enough to inspire the “warrior spirit.”  Sadly, I think that it is not so.  Certainly, as late as the 1990s after the first Gulf War, I continued to see the same bureaucratic mind-sets that I had seen before.  Here are just two examples among many that I could give.  I watched a flag rank officer serving in intelligence at a social event telling junior officers (meaning lower than flag rank) of his service that the importance of his position in the military intelligence community was “to protect the interests” of his service.  Not to protect the interests of the USA, not to tell the truth regardless of consequences, not to protect servicemen and women in harm’s way.  TO PROTECT THE INTERESTS OF HIS SERVICE.  I was disgusted.  He was promoted.  In another case I had written a report where I had quite justifiably criticized an office.  A Special Forces officer asked to read my report.  He had once been my boss and I let me have a copy.  As I was leaving work one day, we met while walking to the parking lot.  I asked him whether he had read the report.  He said yes, then proceeded to ask whether I expected to get another assignment like that.  I asked what he meant.  He said, “After writing a report like that, you’ll never be given another assignment like that.”  In other words, I had rocked the boat, and a SPECIAL FORCES officer of all people was telling me that I shouldn’t rock the boat.  In a 33 year career I could go on with example after example, but you get the point.  As when I left the Army, I retired because I could no longer stand the bureaucracy.  I loved my job, when I was permitted to do it, but I hated the constant battle with the bureaucracy.


So what about the culture of the Army and the Armed Forces today?  Personally, I am certain that the Armed Forces of the United States of America are the most professional military organization the world has ever seen.  Certainly, the response of the Armed Forces to the needs of the Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen in the field is better now than at any other time in the storied history of these Armed Forces.  Yet, the insidious nature of bureaucratic thinking, politics, and petty personal issues is now and always will be a threat to the true professionalism the Armed Forces requires.  Everyone in every service everywhere everyday needs to be constantly reminded that the essence of his or her job is ultimately to close with the enemy and destroy his will to resist by whatever force is required.  That is the reality of warfare.  That is why the military exists.  I have no problem whatsoever with the term “warrior-soldier.”

I was going to read this but when the sentence about warrior = mercenary came up a realised this man is inaccurate and has an axe to grind so didn't keep going.
This has become a monster eh?  Before some folks get their panties bundled too tight..........
 Maybe that should become a theme..... I mean as a mere simple soldier - not a warrior I uonly nderstand Spanish, German and Arabic (or more acuately called Arabazi - pigeon-Arabic - a creation of self discipline - not bounty like a warrior expects....I serve for my nation to inhance the mission.....I want to end this war so my daughters are not faced with having to deal with this when they come of age.  I hate war - but I will serve it - my beloved Army -so I can protect what is dear to me so what I love (my family) can rest safely....
I do what I must - Ich Diene!  I Serve!  I love my nation; I love my people - and I will let all the "HQ heros" and their "blood and guts" stories carry the day as I am tired of their BS tales of self centered glory.  Let us destroy the enemy and retire as required.  
Ah, Major Orris, this has been a good one.  Minimal snark, pretty good discussion, and an interesting dichotomy in outlook.

Gadfly gives a good rundown.  Having lived through that era, I'll have to ponder it from his perspective.

We're a self-selected group here, so generalizing is dangerous - but it's interesting that it seems to break broadly along those who served and those who haven't.  Not exactly - Gadfly being an exemplar.  This isn't playing the chickenhawk card - in this case, I think your personal experience is at the core of your understanding of, and reaction to, the words.   I suspect we'd see even more differentiation if we had a broader swath that included guys and gals who'd served in Reserve units from different eras, as well as an AF and Navy component to this discussion.
Thank you, gadfly, not only for providing the background, but for also saying what I am feeling much more eloquently than I did.
Your WO speech is EXACTLY what I was getting at when I first said that everyone in the Army is a warrior, and a soldier, no matter what their job is.  You just said it much better than I.
what I was getting at when I first said that everyone in the Army is a warrior, and a soldier, no matter what their job is.

Heh.  That's part of the disconnect, of which there are two, really. 

First is - One group doesn't think the warrior-traits as they understand them are properly applied to, or even desireable, traits in a soldier.

Second is the one you aver, yet isn't true, and is why the Leadership went with the terminology - i.e., everybody *isn't* a warrior, and we're trying to inspire them to be one.

In a sense, both groups here have the same general ending point - but disagree strongly on the path to reach it.
Great discussion and great debate! I'm forever impressed by the intellect and historical perspective of our U.S. Military - in this discussion and debate no less. The Warrior-Soldier of the Week is a feature that has existed in the Army for a long time, as a part of a weekly briefing to our Army's senior leadership. Only recently have we begun sending out a similar product to our blogger's roundtable list. I won't argue semantics - there are too many smart people on this thread with much more invested into the words "Soldier" and "Warrior" than I will pretend to be privileged to, but I think it's a worthwhile debate. The only point I will disagree on Orris' assertion that the Army is keen to replace the term Soldier with Warrior. I think in this time of persistent conflict we see the need to highlight the warrior in our Soldiers - not highlight the warrior at the exclusion of the Soldier. This blog has been a key spot for recognizing the valor of our Soldiers - unfortunately, there are too few places where we see that same recognition take place. The Warrior Soldier of the Week is simply one venue for recognizing our Soldiers herosim and valor. I do think that the Soldiers chosen as Warrior-Soldier of the Week are just that - warriors, and Soldiers. I also think they're Brave, Heroic, Amazing, Awe-Inspring, Jaw-Dropping, Kick Butt Soldiers - but that's too long to fit in the headline.

Thanks for this debate - great post, as usual, John. If you'd like to subscribe to the Army's Warrior Soldier of the Week e-mail, send me a message at
"I've offered the issue of "bushi", a term including those so strictly following your "external discipline" that they would disembowel themselves for certain offenses, being translated as both "warrior" and "soldier"."

Except that the word 'bushi' only translates as that in dictionaries that offer overly broad understanings of the concept behind 'bushi' and other technical verbage. 

The word bushi has been used as a synonym for samurai and as a word for loyal house troops who were not peasants(ashigaru) and were not nobles(samurai).

The ideograms for bushi literally translates as 'war' and 'man'.  The ideogram, or kanji, for samurai translates literally as 'to serve'. 

It does not mean what you think it means, as the word is not a catchall for any type of fighting man in Nihongo, and therefor the whole argument is invalid.  You have not shown that a 'warrior' has external discipline enforced on him because bushi means either 'samurai' or 'man-at-arms', as the closest European analog.  Neither of which were mere warriors but trained troops in a standing, professional army.   
John of Argghhh! on September 4, 2009 8:13 AM :

I have never served, though I am in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Just to be clear about that.
My perspective comes from reading military history.  And my brother.

(I have put this up at ColdFury, but I have never figured out how to do the trackback thing.)
@MAJ Orris, "This has become a monster eh?" No, this debate, in one way or another, has been in the making for a long time. This was a healthy event showing some of the vast scope and experience of this crowd. No, I don't believe everything I have read, but they're good people.

"Before some folks get their panties (briefs) bundled too tight...." Sorry, Sir, too late, well, something good may come from it. If some things get broke it will most definitely open their eyes to a much broader vision of this whole situation.

*Many thanks,  V/R Grumpy*

Verbich, go anywhere, not just the straw-man "dictionaries that offer overly broad understanings of the concept" you conjure up, and look at "bushi" and, in particular (since it is more in the public consciousness), "bushido".  How are they translated?  "Warrior" and "way of the warrior", respectively, are among the most common translations.  Once you can admit that "warrior" is one of, if not the, most common translations for "bushi", you handily make the rest of my point for me.  As you say, bushi refers to samurai and kept troops, feudal Japan's rough equivalents of officers and soldiers, respectively.  It does not refer to the unlawful bandits and ronin.  Contrary to your second straw-man, I never argued that "bushi" was a catch-all for fighting men of any type, and your insistence on making absolutely clear that "bushi" were most certainly disciplined members of a standing army is to my position's benefit unless you can demonstrate that "bushi" is not commonly translated as "warrior".

Here's a challenge:  Go to your preferred search engine and search for "bushi" and "bushido".  The former is most often found as part of a name, as of a school of martial arts or organization, but those instances with translations will still work.  How often are the words translated as "warrior" and "way/path of the warrior", respectively?  In my cursory examination of Google, Bing, and Dogpile, the rare cases in which "warrior" was not used almost exclusively used the non-translation "samurai" instead.  This indicates that popular usage of "warrior" does not exclude the level of externally-enforced discipline associated with the strict life of a samurai.

As I've said, I don't argue that "warrior" can't be used as Major Orris and others are doing.  I only argue that they are taking an exceptionally narrow view of the word, ignoring the popular usage that, when taken as the intended meaning, makes their primary concern moot.  Concern that "warrior" is being elevated to a position above "soldier" is still valid, and, though I disagree that such is the case (as I outlined previously), I'm not in a position to argue that issue beyond the realm of opinion.  On that front, I think Gadfly does an excellent job and has the experience to support his position.

 @Cortillaen and @Verbich, first I predate "Gadfly", it appears he is accurate from his post or point of view. There was too much to be seen by any one person. This is not a textbook discussion. This is about terms used in their specialized context of time and culture. Now, The Armorer and MAJ Orris appear to be talking from the American perspective. Now it comes time for you to serve, it's an open field, where do you serve? Remember one thing, there was a time, when men had no choices.
I started my Military carreer as a Weekend Warrior. Back then warrio was an insult. One year we trained in Colorado with the fine soldiers of Ft Carson. one evening we sat arround a camp fire, and our Plt Ldr began comparing notes with his RA counterpart. This was done for hte education of hte Active PSG who hated the guard. Seems both were OCS grads with a comparable ammount of time on active duty, both having been SSGs with about seven years. I then proceeded down the ranks on their side then back on our side. For the record, we had two platoons, the host company, one and this took place in 1980. Our weapons PSG was a veteran of Korea, and had seven or so years active, twenty six total. Our infantry PSG was a WW2 vet as well as a Korea vet, eleven or so active and over thirty total. The RA guy had seven total and was still a SSG. Among our group, there were ony two of us with out active time. nearly half were Vietnam vets, several had been comissioned officers including one Major.
Weekend Warrior? We were soldiers, first last and always. Want to see a weekend warrior? Look at the nearest Army base. Thes guys spend five days training in the mud, muck and mier then go to town and attempt to capture (the heart) of every female be she a dance hall girl prostitute or student.
To me the idea of a warrior has always been a fellow who casts aside his hammer, or shovel or what ever tool he makes his living with and sets himself to defend home, family friends and honor from some imposing villian, and when the battle is over, he returns his rifle to the hooks above the door and resumes his life confident in that he saved the day and can do it again.
So my question to you is, will you abandon it all for the sake of the call? Or will the call fall on deaf ears and no one fight tyranny.
@Jeremy, you write, "I started my Military Career as a Weekend Warrior. Back then, warrior was an insult." Who changed it, some old phart like me or did you?

Date: 11 Sep 2001, 0830 hrs, I was having breakfast with friends at a local McDonalds, a customer comes in and says a plane hit the World Trade Center. Somebody said hopefully, "This was one of those little jobbers. The first one says, "No, this was a big one!" All the guys were members of the Air National Guard. The base was a Cold War Hot Base. It was allowed to chill off by BRAC. It was equal distances to both The Pentagon and New York City.  Everybody knew this was going to be a 24/7 all hellsapoppin time. The men looked at their wives, inhaled their food, then left in two vans for the base. Here's the main point, it wasn't just the military, it was also 'first responders' , 'operating engineers', 'communications', 'FAA Air Traffic Control' and the many 'what if issues' involved. All of these people were getting ready to be activated to meet the needs. Therefore, they were not casting aside their everyday tools.