FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Army News Service, Nov. 30, 2015) — The warrior code has differentiated Soldiers in armies throughout history from wanton murderers like those of the Islamic State, al Qaeda and terrorists involved in the recent Paris attacks, Dr. Shannon French said.
French, author of the book, “The Code of the Warrior,” spoke at the chief of staff of the Army-sponsored Noncommissioned Officer Solarium II, held at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College here last week.
French said she spent years researching warrior codes of many cultures and countries throughout history, including the Zulu and Samurai warriors.
The thing they all had in common was a warrior code. It might have been unwritten or even unspoken, but it existed, she said.
HOW THE CODE WORKS
In essence, the code is an expectation – not rules or regulations – that there is a line of conduct that won’t be crossed no matter what, she said.
So during battle, a Soldier’s focus is on winning, and that normally means killing or putting the enemy out of the fight until an objective is accomplished, French said. A violation of the code, for instance, would be killing an incapacitated enemy soldier or prisoner. Same goes for indiscriminate bombing or killing innocent civilians.
Besides rules of engagement, the code has other features, she said. For one, it must be very difficult to become a warrior. This entails rites of passage that weed out the weak or timid.
A pretty extreme example of a rite of passage, she said, was the Native American Lakota Sioux’s Sun Dance. It involved piercing the pectoral muscles with a bar. The bar was tied to a pole with a rope. The soon-to-be warrior would then dance around the pole until the bar pulled out of his chest.
The process left lasting scars on the chest, she continued. Since warriors went into battle bare-chested, they could see other warriors with similar scars. The scars were a big deal. It meant “He did this too. He’s one of us. I can count on him to have my back.”
The Army has a less brutal process to weed the weak from the strong, called basic training, she said. Instead of scars, Soldiers get the privilege of wearing the uniform. Medals, ribbons, tabs and badges are earned later on with new challenges.
IMPORTANCE OF THE CODE
“Does the warrior code really matter when it comes to doing everything you can to bring your troops back home alive,” asked a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, during an ethics course French was teaching several years ago.
“If that’s what you think, get the hell out of my military,” replied retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Sammy L. Davis, a visiting Medal of Honor recipient.
Davis said it was particularly difficult for Vietnam veterans to come home and be told by those who didn’t serve that they were baby killers and other names, French said.
The only thing that got him and others through that difficult homecoming was knowing it wasn’t true, French said regarding what Davis related. “Were mistakes made? Yes, but we weren’t crazed killers like we were made out to be. That was what we held on to; still know we conducted ourselves as warrior.
“As officers, your job will be looking out for troops and hold on to your values,” French continued, conveying his remarks. “They signed up knowing they might lose their lives – but not their souls.”
Without probably realizing it, what Davis just described was living the warrior code, French said.
ABOUT DR. FRENCH
French is an associate professor of philosophy and director, Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western University, Ohio. She plans to republish her book, “The Code of the Warrior,” with a chapter on the Islamic State.