The spirit of the warrior touches many across time and place. It is not exclusive to those professionals who devote their lives to it. It touches the mother who, with blinding ferocity, protects a child against danger. It touches the young man who blazes like a flame and charges forward when an armed terrorist storms onto the train that carries him. It touches the principal who plants herself, unyielding as granite, between a machete-wielding madman and the kindergarteners that he means to attack. It touches the brave samaritan who along his way sees a thug robbing an old man and does not avert his eyes but chases the thug away. Circumstances call, and the moment finds a warrior. The spirit of the warrior touches many across time and place.
And what of those who meet not a moment but all moments as warriors, not by force of circumstance but by choice, under solemn oath, as the sum total of their professional being? To explore the meaning of this choice, of this oath, of this sum total of being across all moments will be our theme here—with no slight intended to the brave souls who answer with a will of stone when circumstance calls out.
The spirit of the warrior is not exclusive to those professionals who devote their lives to it. But it does find its most consistent expression in them. This compass will shape our journey in what follows.
Society makes a peculiar offer to its citizenry: we have a job, if you want it. Here it is.
- You must stand between the predators and the innocents of the world and hold the line with your blood.
- Pay is modest—and rendered grudgingly.
- You will labor across hours, long and ungodly, that will test the limits of exhaustion and tedium.
- Family will suffer your absence. You will miss many meaningful moments.
- You will find yourself shipped to places far away, forbidding, forgotten or assigned to patrol streets savaged by violence, poverty, madness. Your presence will not be welcomed.
- You will see tragedy, hopelessness, and evil at depths that will rend your soul. You will be expected somehow, some way, to keep yourself whole as you drown in these so that you may confront them again the next day.
- You will be called filthy names. In the course of your duties, you will be attacked, targeted, challenged. Some will try to kill you. They may succeed.
- The antipathy of the press and the animosity of the public will flank you without end until your final tour of duty. Your every action, every decision, every remark will be the subject of unremitting—and unforgiving—scrutiny.
- Politicians will exploit you—for good and ill—and sacrifice you to expediency once the exploitation is done.
- Your mistakes, though honest, will never be forgiven—ever.
- You will save many, but the one you lose will haunt you until your dying day.
- You will form bonds of brotherhood with your comrades, wordless in their abiding depth, forged in the rough bravery that circumstance compels. You will bury many of those brothers.
- You will begin each day knowing that you may never see another.
- This is the job that society offers its citizenry. Do you want it?
- For most, the answer is an obvious one: no. But for a few, the answer is just as obvious: yes.
This is for the few who answer yes.
The What of the Warrior
Fate whispers to the warrior, "You cannot withstand the storm," and the warrior whispers back, "I am the storm."—Unknown
Evil has existed in all times and in all places; and in all times and places, those willing to meet evil have also existed. This is the warrant for and the essence of the warrior.
A warrior is not defined by insignia, uniforms, or shields; a warrior is not birthed by bow, sword, or gun. Warriors existed before all these things, and where they don or wield them, bestow them their meaning. If insignia, uniforms, or shields made the warrior, the Nazi Schutzstaffel, mass murderers of the defenseless, would be warriors. Spartacus would not be. A warrior is not defined by insignia, uniforms, or shields.
Fighting for country does not define a warrior. If fighting for country defined the warrior, Japanese soldiers of the Axis who conquered the Chinese and hurled infants in the air to catch them on bayonets would be warriors. The forty-seven ronin of Ako would not be. Fighting for country does not define the warrior.
Fighting for deity does not define a warrior. If fighting for a god defined the warrior, soldiers of the Islamic State, who profess to fight for God as they cleave the heads of "unbelievers" in public spectacles while they kneel bound and unable to fight, would be warriors. Colonel Ethan Allen would not be. Fighting for deity does not define the warrior.
Is it war, then, that makes the warrior?
War has always been a complex affair spanning organization, logistics, and strategy. Staff tends camp, cooks prepare food, engineers design machinery, scribes draft orders. The cook, the engineer, and the administrator may be brave men. Certainly, they are part of the war effort. But as cooks, engineers, and administrators, they are no warriors (though they may be cooks, engineers, administrators, and warriors).
Does fighting in a war, then, make the warrior?
From the massive armies of ancient Persia and China to the trimmer forces of France and England centuries later, history finds militaries composed largely of conscripts and slaves compelled to fight at the point of a spear or the muzzle of a gun in an endless procession of predation to extend the imperium of tyrants. Many of those so compelled were brave and skilled fighters, but, had they a choice, they would have elected a different path for themselves. Some embraced their fate. Some volunteered to test their mettle or defend what they believed. They may have been warriors. But those forced to fight in the schemes of tyrants are not warriors. They do not fight by choice for a cause embraced as just.
The long history of warfare, moreover, often stumbles into malignancy unconnected to battle proper. Perhaps the crudeness of conscription feeds the malignancy. In any event, defeating an enemy often meant (and, sadly, means still) raping, pillaging, and plundering. Brutalizing a defeated village is thuggery. Those who do it may be fighters in a war. But fighters, brawlers, and brutes are not warriors. Fighting in a war does not make a warrior.
The warrior existed before any army; the warrior existed before any police; the warrior existed before any shield, sword, or gun; the warrior existed before rank, before hierarchy, before divisions, before units. The warrior exists still above all these things—though he may exist in them too. War needs warriors. Warriors do not need war. Ask any cop.
The trendy cant braying about the "ethical warrior" is therefore a redundancy. It confuses the warrior with one who fights in a war. Nobility was always the pride and mark of the warrior. The soldier, the cop, the freedom fighter must earn the name. It is not bestowed by status or appointment.
History illuminates the theme.
DANIEL MODELL served for twenty years in the New York City Police Department across a range of patrol commands in several boroughs. Awarded some twenty medals and twice promoted during his tenure, he retired as a Lieutenant. He served as Coordinator of the Tactical Training Unit and as Training Coordinator of the Firearms and Tactics Section for the agency.