- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2003

We Americans have just witnessed a war in which a relatively small number of warriors (given past American wars) from all services, with the help of combatants from only three countries — the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland — have achieved a spectacular military victory, overturning a savage megalomaniac and the vicious Ba’ath Party that sustained him.

This era differs remarkably from the wars fought in the past century. During World War II, about 16 million men served in uniform in a United States with a population of fewer than 140 million (about 25 percent of the men in the country). In today’s all-volunteer force, less than 1 percent of the total population and about 1.4 percent of the American males — combining the entire active force and also Reserve and National Guard forces — wear uniforms. In “Code Of The Warrior,” Shannon E. French compares the ethics of the 2.7 million men and women who serve to the 99 percent who don’t.

Ms. French, a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, explores warrior values through history, fiction and legend. She explains why combatants need a code and briefly describes principles held by American fighters today. Her small volume, based on her courses at Annapolis, has an articulate foreword by Sen. John McCain, a warrior for all seasons.

Mr. McCain, a retired Navy captain, aircraft carrier fighter pilot, Vietnam War veteran and a longtime prisoner of war who was singled out for persistent torture, argues that the code he followed and those of the people with whom he served is self-imposed. He maintains:

“Military units cannot function well, especially in combat environments, if the members of the unit are not scrupulously honest with each other. Officers will not be able to do their jobs if they are not … selfless. If they are not, it will be hard to endure even the ordinary hardships of military life, much less be willing to risk their lives for their country’s cause.” Mr. McCain sees people in uniform serving a greater cause than self-interest, fostering “virtues of courage, obedience, loyalty, and conscientiousness.”

Ms. French writes: “The code of the warrior defines not only how he should interact with his warrior comrades but also how he should treat other members of his and her society, his [and her] enemies, and the people conquered. The code restrains the warrior.” Why do warriors need a code, Ms. French asks? Because combat usually results in killing, and the code protects the warrior’s psyche.

The author contrasts various warrior codes, from Greek mythology, Roman history, Viking sagas, English mythology, Native American anthropology, Chinese warrior monks (Shaolin martial artists) literature, Japanese Samurai history and today’s warrior code. Warrior values permeated ancient Greece where, one’s mother could instruct a son to come home with his shield, or on it. Roman soldiers exuded “self-discipline, unflinching fortitude, and complete freedom from the storms of passion.”

Viking warriors were supposed to have courage and be willing to sacrifice for the common good. The Knights of the English Round Table were expected “never to do outrage nor murder, and always to flee treason, also by no means to be cruel, but to give mercy unto him that asketh mercy … and always to do ladies, damsels, and gentlewomen and widows” assistance “upon pain of death.”

Regarding the code today and the difference between terrorists and warriors, one of Ms. French’s midshipman students that she cites says it best: “It is wrong to kill innocent people even if it does further the cause of the United States. There are rules to war. …Terrorists see targets of military value as too difficult to strike. … They instead will take out easy targets for shock value just to disrupt the lives of these they hate.”

Perhaps most Americans would accept this Manichean distinction, but it raises more questions than it answers about warfare conducted by the strong in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and in both Persian Gulf wars by aircraft, long range missiles and artillery. Nevertheless, in Ms. French’s book we have an interesting panorama of warrior codes and a glance at how American warriors see martial values today.

Alan Gropman is the Distinguished Professor of National Security Policy at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University.

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