When asked by Alexander how he expected to be treated in defeat, the Indian monarch Porus replied, “Like a king.”
Plutarch, Life of Alexander
In Alexander’s journey, the limitations of the Warrior Archetype start to come into high relief. We can’t ignore them. Aggression becomes brutality, the desire for supremacy becomes conquest of the innocent. We start seeing massacres and depopulation of entire regions.
The Spartans, whom we admired so much for their virtue and sacrifice at Thermopylae and other places, turned out to be no better. When events compelled them to step beyond their sheltered, cloistered world at home, their celebrated virtue evaporated. After their victory over Athens in the Peloponnesian War (and even during the days of fighting) their hard-core disciple became cruelty, their sense of virtue became arrogance and oppression. Their sequestered upbringing … the agoge and other training … had left them uninoculated against the evils of the wide world. Money. Many fell prey to temptation and the main chance. Others abused positions of power. We have more than a few letters from Spartan mothers at home to their sons — colonels and commanders overseas — saying versions of
“Quit your thieving or quit breathing.”
Lysander, the commander who presided over the defeat of Athens, used to brag that he “tricked boys with knucklebones and men with lies.” When he captured Athenian sailors after his victory at Aegospotami he ordered every prisoner’s right hand cut off. When Sparta took the surrender of the Greek city of Plataea, whose men had been their allies defeating the Persians in 479, they marched each captive before a table and asked one question only: “What service have you performed for Sparta?” Whoever had no answer was put to death.
In other words, the warrior mindset, for all the virtues that it espouses and in fact truly embodies, apparently is no guarantee of honorable behavior in and of itself. The Spartans quickly made themselves as hated as their enemy, the Athenians, had been.
Seventy-five years later, Alexander faced similar issues.
Is it enough to “win?”
To be stronger than one’s adversary?
What does “conquest” mean? How is that “good” for the conquered, particularly if they have never done anything to warrant being made war against?
And even more important, the Warrior Archetype-gone-wrong seemed to destroy, not just others, but the warrior himself.
Alexander toward the end of his life used to stay up all night long sacrificing to the god Fear.
It seems that virtue is not necessarily a feature of the warrior mindset.
There’s a huge difference between being a warrior and being a brute, and the differences are as valid in 370BCE as they are today. Yes, in both eras, the warriors are trained to kill as and when necessary; and Spartan-Marine comparisons are easily made. However think of the differences between Steve’s example (above) of Lysander’s brutality, with Gen James Mattis’s address to the Marines just prior to the Match 2003 invasion of Iraq:
“Together we will cross the Line of Departure, close with those forces that choose to fight, and destroy them. Our fight is not with the Iraqi people, nor is it with members of the Iraqi army who choose to surrender. While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam’s oppression.
You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon. Share your courage with each other as we enter the uncertain terrain north of the Line of Departure. Keep faith in your comrades on your left and right and Marine Air overhead. Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit.For the mission’s sake, our country’s sake, and the sake of the men who carried the Division’s colors in past battles…. who fought for life and never lost their nerve…. carry out your mission and keep your honor clean. Demonstrate to the world there is “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy” than a U.S. Marine.”
Can a warrior lose his way? Absolutely, My Lai, Eddie Gallagher, the convicted Navy Seal Trump pardoned; others; but there’s a difference between ‘us and them,’ and perhaps that’s best expressed by :No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy.” Leonidas would understand and approve, and he’s the Spartan warrior history best remembers.
A good modern depiction of an ancient ethos. A nice addition to today’s post.
Very well said Andrew. Reading that quote from Mattis gives me hope that we are still capable of making great men and women. A very good friend of mine was part of the DOD under the current Administration. He’s an O6 in the Reserves, and an SES (senior executive service–those above the GS15 paygrade).
I was calling him over the summer, checking in. He never answered the phone, finally called me back in August after he resigned. Earlier in the year (pre-COVID) we discussed how he was ‘right where he worked so hard to get, but was it worth it…?’ Working 14-16 hour days, caught inside a bureaucracy…
Without much detail, he talked about how he could no longer continue to support unethical behavior. Your quote from Mattis makes me wonder if my friend would still be working if GEN Mattis was SECDEF.
My buddy’s resignation both saddened me and gave me hope. It takes significant courage to quit a ‘great job’, maybe even more than valor shown in combat. In combat I think it is more instinctual, while his courage requires more thoughtful deliberation of consequences.
A bully is not demonstrating the Warrior Ethos. Warriors protect the vulnerable from the bullies by punching them square in the nose.
Brian – too right!
While everyone remembers Jack Nicholson’s epic Col Jessup rant in “A Few Good Men,” the moral of the film came in the last minute or so after the 2 young Marines were given dishonorable discharges: as the PfC wails ‘what did we do wrong?’, the LCPL tell him “we’re supposed to protect those who can’t defend themselves; we failed to protect Willy.” A warrior mentality, had he been given the leadership to help him develop it.
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All the episodes have been great, but this one particularly so. Perhaps each archetype needs the other in proximity to be an influence of other virtues. The warrior without this proximity may not have living examples of wisdom, love, discernment, compassion; just as the warrior archetype inspires others with courage, etc. Nothing replaces community! We need each other.
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