America’s Surging Warrior Ethos

W.J. Astore

I’ve written a lot about America’s warrior ethos and how it represents a departure from a citizen-soldier ideal as embodied by men like George Washington and Major Dick Winters (of “Band of Brothers” fame).  This warrior ethos grew in the aftermath of defeat in Vietnam and the ending of the draft.  It gained impetus during the Reagan years and was symbolized in part by the development of fictional rogue symbols of warrior-toughness such as John Rambo.  Today’s U.S. military has various warrior codes and songs and so on, further reinforcing ideals of Spartan toughness.

The Rambo Ideal: “Sir, Do We Get to Win This Time?” (Wiki)

My writings against this warrior hype have, on occasion, drawn fire from those who identify as warriors.  I’d like to share two examples.

Here is the first:

The day that we encourage our soldiers to be anything but warriors is the day that we start losing battles and wars. If we are controlled by citizens who are our ultimate leaders then it is up to them to handle the niceties of diplomacy and nation building.  But most of them don’t have the balls to get into the thick of things and try and convert the citizens of the place we are fighting to play at being nice children in the sand pile.  We had to dominate Japan to the nth degree to get them to surrender and so the same for Germany.  You academics never to cease to amaze me with your naïveté.

This reader cites World War II and America’s victory over Japan and Germany without mentioning the Greatest Generation’s embodiment of the citizen-soldier ideal and their rejection of Japanese and Nazi militarism.  Back then, America’s victory was interpreted as a triumph of democracy over authoritarian states like Japan and Germany.  While it’s true the Soviet Union played the crucial role in defeating Nazi Germany, the Soviets ultimately lost the Cold War, another “victory” by a U.S. military that didn’t self-identify as warriors.  Despite this history, this reader suggests that America’s recent military defeats are attributable to weak civilian leadership and a lack of warrior dominance.  He fails to notice how America’s new ethos of the warrior, inculcated over the last 30 years, has produced nothing close to victory in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

My second example comes from a U.S. Marine:

I watched the transition we made from life takers and widow makers to peace keepers and other terms that did us no good whatsoever.  Then, in 1987, along came a new Commandant, General Al Grey, who resurrected the warrior ethos in our Corps.

We were told, and accepted the fact, that the best way to win a war or battle was to kill the enemy in numbers that could not be sustained.  We did just that during Desert Storm.  I flew 67 combat missions in an F/A-18 and took great pride and satisfaction in killing as many Iraqis as I could so that when our infantry and other ground units pushed through the berms and other obstacles, they had a clear path to their objectives.

We need more emphasis on killing the enemy and maintaining a warrior ethos and less drivel from folks like you who think it’s some type of a debating match rather than combat we undertake when our nation goes to war.

Basically, this Marine argues that war is killing.  Kill enough of the enemy and you win.  Of course, winning by attrition and body count failed during the Vietnam War, but I’m guessing this Marine would argue that the U.S. military simply didn’t kill enough of the enemy there.

This Marine further sets up a straw man argument.  Nowhere did I write or even suggest that war is “some type of debating match.”  Nowhere did I write or even suggest that war doesn’t involve combat and killing.  But criticism of the warrior ideal is often caricatured in this way, making it easier to dismiss it as “naïve” or “drivel.”

The warrior ethos is surging in America today, and not just within the military.  Witness the U.S. media’s positive reaction to President Trump’s missile strikes on Syria or the use of “the mother of all bombs” against ISIS in Afghanistan.  Gushing media praise comes to presidents who let slip the “beautiful” missiles and “massive” bombs of war.

Two centuries ago, the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, did so over an American fortress that was under attack on our soil.  They gave proof through the night that America’s citizen-soldiers were defending our country (our flag was still there).  Nowadays, our rocket’s red glare appears in Syrian skies, our bombs bursting do so in remote regions of Afghanistan, giving proof through the night that America’s warrior ethos is anywhere and everywhere, killing lots of foreign peoples in the name of “winning.”

Call me naïve, say I write drivel, but I don’t see this as a victory for our democracy, for our country, or even for our “warriors.”

10 thoughts on “America’s Surging Warrior Ethos

  1. I agree 100%. I have been worrying for years about our glorification of the military. My father fought in the S Pacific in WWII right out of High School. He very rarely talked about his experience or walked around waving flags etc even though he had a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He was patriotic but had a healthy dose of skepticism about the military and military adventures.
    People in the military make sacrifices for us all. That does not mean that military action is the answer to every problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Bill! The bottom line is that this does not work! War is politics by other means – ignore the politics and you lose the war, as we are doing everywhere we have plunged into chaos since 2001. – Nicolas


  3. …yeah, right on! ….and of course the enemy will shoot back and kill Americans! Endless insanity infects the modern U S military!


  4. Mr. Astore, I am mighty glad to find you. Rambo was a cartoonish low point in Americana that was wildly popular. There is a big difference between fighting because one has to and fighting because one finds it appealing. That’s why the draft is necessary, it brings in everyone (or should) rather than only those who are either greatly in need of the financial/educational/career benefits (recruiters never emphasis killing) or are attracted to the action. The dream of Chuck Prince, former Navy SEAL and founder of Blackwater, is to have a private army that can be sent anywhere to get the bad guys (with U.S. approval of course). A private army, paying several times what a U.S. soldier makes, attracts retired military guys that are trained and eager for action to make a mercenary force that is exactly the opposite of what we need – a citizenry that gets little material benefit from service and views the job of warfare as repellent but necessary only as a last resort when the country itself, not the borders of empire, are threatened. Private, for profit companies like Blackwater (it’s now called Academi) add one more to the many lobbies in DC that win from war. We are so far down this road started by Cheney and pumped by Rumsfeld that it’s difficult to see how to reverse it in our Democracy of Lobbies.


    1. Thank you for your opinion, Clif Brown. I share your distaste for dogs-of-war mercenaries like (former Navy Seal/Assasin) Eric Prince. I assume that you don’t care overly much for corporate camp followers like Dick Cheney’s Halliburton/KBR, etc., either. Still, I do not share your desire for a reinstitution of military conscription. I hated The Draft in my youth and I hate it now.

      For your part, you didn’t make clear your own experience with conscription, so I have no idea what you really know about it. And I think that before you try selling that long-discredited idea to young Americans today you should consider the following article at the Huffing & Puffing Post:

      Trump Taps Salesman To Run Military Draft — Don Benton has a long record of controversies, but no record of military service, by Christina Wilkie (4/13/2017).

      If you want a perfect picture of the politically connected crony who runs the local draft boards and — somehow — manages to “select” for military service everyone but his own sons and those of his business associates, then this Don Benton clown fits the bill.

      Anyway, since a “Draft” supposedly doesn’t exist and 18-year-old Americans will never vote to authorize its resumption, I fail to see where the U.S. government needs to spend $25 million per year giving political losers like Don Benton a “job” maintaining a computer database that has no reason to exist except as yet another means of threatening American “men” into hapless subservience at the earliest possible age.

      I could debate this subject with you at length but I still don’t know what background or knowledge you could bring to the discussion, so I’ll just let my own views on the subject stand for now.

      No Draft. Not Now. Not Again. Not Ever.


      1. Mike, thanks for the correction…it is Erik Prince, not Chuck as I called him.

        I’m no fan of the draft, I just don’t see any other way to even approach having an army that is a cross section of the citizenry. Note that I used the word should, that it should bring in draftees fairly, I won’t defend the Vietnam era draft as a model of fairness, if such a thing can exist, but it did spread the horror of war among Americans more fairly than does the current volunteer system. In a proper draft children named Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush would not escape, nor would going to college provide an out. BTW I had a high lottery number in 1968, but was ready to go if I didn’t.

        A purely mercenary force would be the worst system of all, with, as mentioned, volunteers who want the job and a private ownership that makes good money off of war.


      2. Thank you for the reply, Clif Brown. I truly appreciate your comments because the opportunity doesn’t often present itself to illuminate the unexamined assumptions upon which people base their arguments for or against a particular policy of our so-called (but now long dead) “government.”

        For example: You seem to believe that our country needs a standing Army and, therefore, you only concern yourself with how to staff it “fairly.” Please don’t take offense, but that sounds to me like you wish to see rich men’s sons killing and dying for nothing in addition to working-men’s sons killing and dying for nothing. For my part, I don’t want to see anyone’s sons killing and dying for nothing; and since America’s standing army does little else (at least for the enlisted men) but kill and die for nothing in places where Americans have no business killing and dying, I do not believe that the United States needs a standing army. Ditto for the Marine Corps. Fifty state militias and a Coast Guard (or Coastal Navy) should suffice for the “defense” of our national territory.

        [And just as a side note: the advent of nuclear weapons in 1945 made conventional military forces obsolete in any event]

        I know from personal experience that it takes 8 weeks of basic training to make a soldier or Marine (i.e., “bullet catchers” or “Ordnance Absorption Technicians”) and about 12 weeks to make a Sailor. I have no idea how long it takes to make an Airman, but a couple of months ought to do it. The United States can make an Army practically from scratch, in very little time, if we really needed one for the “defense” of our country against invading foreign militaries who have actually attacked us, which hasn’t happened since December 7, 1941. Until we actually have a need for an Army, then, we shouldn’t have one. Experience has shown us that if we have an Army, its senior officers and their crony corporate sponsors will demand that we use it. Because. Just because….

        I have other issues with conscription besides just how to “fairly” staff an Army that America does not need and cannot afford. For example, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution — for which 650,000 Union and Confederate state militiamen died — prohibits “slavery or involuntary servitude.” Therefore, the federal government has no authority under the Constituion to compel any American citizen to serve anywhere against their will. It would really help establish its legitimacy, in other words, if the government of the United States [Executive, Legislative, and Judicial] would read and abide by the only source of authority that it has for anything that it does. I have heard the counter-argument that for “practical” purposes the U.S. government may disregard the Constitution whenever our corrupt officials find it convenient or profitable to do so, but I reject this “argument” as ludicrous. I think a recent blog posting by The Saker says it best:

        The [recent US cruise missile] attack [on Syria] happened in direct violation of US law, of international law and of the UN charter.  First, I would say that there is strong legal evidence that the US attack violated the US Constitution,  Presidential War Powers Act and the 2001 Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) resolution.  But since I don’t really care about this aspect of [President] Trump’s criminal behavior, I will just summarize the argument of those who say that what Trump did was legal.  It boils down to this: “yeah, it’s illegal, but all US Presidents have been doing it for so long that they have thereby created a legal precedent which, uh, makes it legal after all”.  I don’t think this kind of “defense” is worthy of a reply or rebuttal.

        I don’t believe that chronic criminality establishes any sort of “practical legality,” and so those government officials and military officers who have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution only to violate it with cavalier impunity have forfeited any claim to “sacrifice” and “service” on the part of everyday American citizens who keep voting for fewer “wars” only to get more of them.

        The American Republic has died and the U.S. corporate/military establishment killed it. I can’t make it any plainer than that.

        R.I.P. American Republic. Ave Caesar! Morituri te Salutant!


      3. I agree, Mike, that reviving the draft, no matter how “fair” it might be, would not deter the warmongers and chickenhawks from waging their wars.

        I also agree that the military-industrial-Congressional complex has come to dominate Washington and American foreign policy, as Ike predicted in 1961. We had an opportunity to begin to shrink it with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but instead the Complex saw an opportunity to expand its attempts at global dominance. Twenty-five years later, we witness the results: trillions of dollars wasted on wars, hundreds of thousands dead worldwide, millions more made refugees.

        We must shrink our military and make it a defensive force, but the powers that be insist on an expansionist and imperial military, cloaking it in humanitarian terms and by using the rhetoric of American exceptionalism.

        We need to learn to mind our own business, as my parents used to say.


  5. Mike, your comment is very well stated and I have nothing to say to refute it. In the situation that we find ourselves that you properly describe, the profitability of companies, the enthusiasm of the few, the apathy of the many to war is so strongly entrenched (pun intended) that I’m sorry to say only the deaths of loved ones spread across the population including the rich and powerful could have the impact to admit the points you make to the heads of Americans. The draft, as poorly implemented as it was in the Vietnam war, was a big part in creating a hatred for that war and moving people to fierce opposition whether by protest here or leaving the country.

    The mere raising of the issue would bring out what you are talking about, though a draft proposal would be quashed immediately by the powerful interests that like the way things are or, in the case of Erik Prince, have more in mind for mercenaries.

    All of what we are talking about may be a moot because we get closer by the day to warfare where the U.S. stands off and lets technology do the dirty work leaving the “soldier” sitting at a screen in safety. A fighter or bomber pilot killing freely from uncontested skies is just one step short of this.

    Are you part of a group of like minded people that is online with a website? Or possibly you can recommend sites that you believe are supportive of your views. Also, I would like with your permission to reproduce your last posting (with attribution) on my FB page for others to see.


  6. While I appreciate the thrust (pardon the intended pun) of this article, I would have chosen a different title and graphic to illustrate it.

    My title: America’s Pulsating, Throbbing, Surging “Warrior” Erection

    My illutstrative graphic: a picture of President George “Deputy Dubya” Bush in his now-notorious flight suit parading around on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln like some randy bantam rooster at an avian mating ritual.

    As to the who, what, when, where, how, and why of America’s never-ending parade of inept Presidents, their clueless “warrior” generals, and their public-relations “wars,” a couple of observations to supplement this article:

    (1) “At this as at any other cultural stage, government and war are, at least in part, carried on for the pecuniary gain of those who engage in them; but it is gain obtained by honorable method of seizure and conversion. These occupations are of the nature of predatory, not of productive employment.” — Thorstein Veblen, the Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)

    (2) “The case of the ‘normally’ quiet republic provides a study illustrating the techniques for the redirection of human energies. The dilemma which arises in these states is that a peaceful condition frustrates the ambitions and talents of great men and, on the other hand, it encourages the small men to challenge the great. The latter are provoked to stir up trouble in the hope that a crisis will create a demand for their idle talents. The proper policy, Machiavelli advised, consists in keeping the citizenry poor and putting the state on a continual wartime footing so as to insure a steady need for the services of the great.” — Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought (1960-2004)

    I like to use the term “Seizure Class” to denote America’s predatory corporate/military junta. They produce nothing and consume everything. And the U.S. military — or, “gangsters for capitalism,” as Marine Corps General Smedley Butler called himself and is officer ilk — will see to it that the idle rich get to steal what they can and wreck what they can’t carry away with them. As their “warrior” hero and model, Ghengis Khan, supposedly said: “It is not enough that I succeed. Everyone else must fail.”

    The hothouse orchids and special snowflakes who “govern” us never have enough as long as anyone else has anything. And the age of the world makes no difference. “Hoorah!”


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