Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Chivalry Today And The Art of War

While researching another topic, I came across this interesting website discussing Chivalry Today. On the website it discussed the application of modern chivalry in war as more than a moral value or expectation of society, but as an applicable tool in combatting the psychological effects of war. Considering yesterday's post regarding Generation Kill, I thought this topic would be appropriate.

Why Do Warriors Need A Code?

Warrior cultures throughout history and from diverse regions around the globe have constructed codes of behavior, based on that culture’s image of the ideal warrior.[snip]

One way or another, it is carefully conveyed to each succeeding generation of warriors. These codes tend to be quite demanding. They are often closely linked to a culture’s religious beliefs and can be connected to elaborate (and frequently death defying or excruciatingly painful) rituals and rites of passage.

In many cases this code of honor seems to hold the warrior to a higher ethical standard than that required for an ordinary citizen within the general population of the society the warrior serves. The code is not imposed from the outside. The warriors themselves police strict adherence to these standards; with violators being shamed, ostracized, or even killed by their peers. One historical example comes from the Roman legions, where if a man fell asleep while he was supposed to be on watch in time of war he could expect to be stoned to death by the members of his own cohort.

The code of the warrior not only defines how he should interact with his own warrior comrades, but also how he should treat other members of his society, his enemies, and the people he conquers. The code restrains the warrior. It sets boundaries on his behavior. It distinguishes honorable acts from shameful acts. The Homeric hero Achilles must seek vengeance for the death of his friend Patroclus, yet when his rage drives him to desecrate the corpse of his arch nemesis, Hector, he angers the gods.[snip]

One reason for such warriors’ codes may be to protect the warriors themselves from serious psychological damage. To say the least, the things that warriors are asked to do to guarantee their cultures’ survivals are far from pleasant.[snip]

The combination of the warriors’ own natural disgust at what they must witness in battle and the fact that what they must do to endure and conquer can seem so uncivilized, so against what they have been taught by their society, creates the conditions for even the most accomplished warriors to feel tremendous self-loathing.[snip]

In a segment on the “Clinical Importance of Honoring or Dishonoring the Enemy,” psychologist Jonathan Shay describes an intimate connection between the psychological health of the veteran and the respect he feels for those he fought. He stresses how important it is to the warrior to have the conviction that he participated in an honorable endeavor:

    Restoring honor to the enemy is an essential step in recovery from combat PTSD. While other things are obviously needed as well, the veteran’s self-respect never fully recovers so long as he is unable to see the enemy as worthy. In the words of one of our patients, a war against subhuman vermin “has no honor.” This is true even in victory; in defeat, the dishonoring absence of human themis [shared values, a common sense of “what’s right”] linking enemy to enemy makes life unendurable(3).[snip]

By setting standards of behavior for themselves, accepting certain restraints, and even “honoring their enemies,” warriors can create a lifeline that will allow them to pull themselves out of the hell of war and reintegrate themselves into their society, should they survive to see peace restored. A warrior’s code may cover everything from the treatment of prisoners of war to oath keeping to table etiquette, but its primary purpose is to grant nobility to the warriors’ profession. This allows warriors to retain both their self-respect and the respect of those they guard.[snip]

Part II

This brings us back to my earlier line of reasoning. It is not enough to ask, “Can our warriors still get the job done if they do not have a code?” We must also consider the related question: “What will getting the job done do to our warriors if they do not have a code?” Accepting certain constraints as a moral duty, even when it is inconvenient or inefficient to do so, allows warriors to hold onto their humanity while experiencing the horror of war — and, when the war is over, to return home and reintegrate into the society they so ably defended. Fighters who cannot say, “this far but no farther,” who have no lines they will not cross and no atrocities from which they will shrink, may be effective. They may complete their missions, but they will do so at the loss of their humanity.[snip]

More parallels can be drawn between the way that societies should behave towards their warriors and how warriors should behave towards one another. Societies should honor their fallen defenders. Warriors should not desecrate the corpses of their enemies, but should, whenever possible, allow them to be buried by their own people and according to their own cultural traditions. Among his therapy patients, Jonathan Shay found several veterans suffering from “the toxic residue left behind by disrespectful treatment of enemy dead.(7)” And while societies must certainly show concern for the after-effects of war on their own troops, victorious warriors can also maintain the moral highground by helping to rebuild (or in some cases create) a solid infrastructure, a healthy economy, an educational system, and political stability for their former foes.

Part III

The warriors of today will increasingly find themselves pitted against adversaries who fight without any rules or restraints. Because they see no other way to advance their objectives, these desperate men and women are likely to employ methods that are rightfully viewed as horrific and appalling by the rest of the civilized world, such as terror attacks on civilian populations. They will take “fighting dirty” to unimaginable depths, and since they are already willing to die, they will not be deterred by any threat of punishment for continuing to disregard the laws of war. [snip]

It is easier to remain a warrior when fighting other warriors. When warriors fight murderers, they may be tempted to become the mirror image of the evil they hoped to destroy. Their only protection is their code of honor. The professional military ethics that restrain warriors – that keep them from targeting those who cannot fight back, from taking pleasure in killing, from striking harder than is necessary and that encourage them to offer mercy to their defeated enemies and even to help rebuild their countries and communities – are also their own protection against becoming what they abhor.

Everyone who cares about the welfare of warriors wants them not only to live through whatever fighting they must face, but also to have lives worth living after the fighting is done. The warriors’ code is the shield that guards our warriors’ humanity. Without it, they are no good to themselves or to those with whom and for whom they fight. Without it, they will find no way back from war.


D.C. said...

Hey Kat!

On the code of honour, what a great post, it makes one think. I love the visuals as well.
It reminded me of martial art.

To fight well is a truly an art, whether it is at the collective - national - or at the individual level . It's the result of huge discipline, self control, solidarity, justice...

Have you heard of the possibility for the British government to use information gathered by torture? Bill Sampson, of course, totally disapproves.
He sure would know!

Thanks for dropping by, BTW.

Paul said...

Easy to say, hard to do.
Still, I agree absolutely with what you say and perhaps it would not hurt at all that new recruits be read your essay, even to personnel entering a war zone. It is that good. A reminder of what you say may reinforce the feeling in our military that they are doing "good" and they face a particular type of vermin which would love nothing more than for them to replicate their horrible type of warfare.
Recruits, young people from all walks, are given the warriors code of the U.S. Military and everything you have just said is the rationale for it, what is hoped to happen during and when their service is over. For some, the heat of battle or it's aftermath seems too much, a weakness in character, but our people have followed an honorable code for the most part.