The Problem With “Warrior” Culture   3 comments

On Monday I made a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post about the frequency of the word “warrior” on a day in which coincided the Feast of Joan of Arc, the observation of Memorial Day, and a major basketball victory by the Golden State Warriors. But behind my humor was a strong distaste for the word and the way we use it today.

The word is quite common—at least in the United States—and it almost always has a heroic connotation. Warriors are something we hold up as an ideal: we’ve named the above-mentioned basketball franchise and many other sports teams after them. There are pop songs celebrating “warriors” of all kinds, not merely combat troops. Strong women are “Warrior Women.” One of the most common—and strongest—yoga poses is the “Warrior Pose.”

Even when we hint at the potential for tragedy in war, we use that word to spin the tragedy back into a positive light: veterans who return home with physical or psychological scars are “Wounded Warriors” who deserve “Warrior Wellness.” On Memorial Day, we talk about “Fallen Warriors.”

What this means is that our society holds up making war as one of its highest compliments. Which makes it all the more easy for our nation to get persuaded over and over again into the madness of killing people in other countries, and turning more of members of our American family into “Wounded Warriors.”

The “warrior” connotation that bothers me the most is “Prayer Warrior.” Heaven help us if bellicosity is our ideal for dialogue with our Creator!

All of this relates to my mixed feelings about Memorial Day and its sibling, Veterans Day. Certainly service in the Armed Forces evidences a particular type of bravery and, often, sacrifice, and I’m all for acknowledging and honoring that bravery and sacrifice. But there are many problems with the way in which we do that:

First, there’s the false hierarchy we impose on any kind of work—what jobs are considered heroic, what jobs are considered shameful, and the long continuum of jobs in between. There’s a big problem in the fact that we think that some jobs are inherently serving one’s fellow human and others aren’t—that the guy on the front line of the battlefield surely must be a better person than the guy flipping your cheeseburger at McDonald’s. But that’s really a separate essay in itself…

Second, there’s the fact that our nation—at least in recent years—pays mere lip service to these “warriors,” but fails them where it matters. Official services to veterans are in a disastrous state, many veterans are in poverty and even homeless, and the legislators who most loudly sound the drumbeats to war and proclaim how much they “support the troops” tend to be the ones voting against improving veterans’ services.

Third, we don’t honor in any way those who speak out against war. On Monday I saw a blog post about this concept—something that other countries actually do. I long for the day when pacifism—or even hesitance—is regarded as patriotic and heroic the way hawkism is in the United States.

Fourth, we keep perversely holding up this sacrifice and bravery as perhaps the highest ideal, something for which every young patriot should strive. Being wounded or killed in action is honored and glorified in our culture.

A common—and to me, troubling—meme associated with Memorial Day quotes the Gospel of John 15:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Love—of nation, of family, of fellow countrypeople—may indeed be a primary motivation for a great many “fallen warriors,” but to associate Jesus’ commandment to love—all people, unconditionally—with death in war twists the point. What about God’s love for the people on the other side of that battlefield?

A closely-related issue—though again, a subject for a different essay—is the way we talk about gender, particularly our perceptions of masculinity as strength and femininity as weakness, and the language we use around those things (e.g., “man up”, “you hit like a girl”). We would see “warrior men” as essentially redundant.

Language matters. Respect and honor veterans, absolutely. But be careful that when you do so your language points toward an end to their sacrifice, rather than a perpetuation of it. Otherwise, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (it is sweet and proper to die for the fatherland) will be the death of us all.

3 responses to “The Problem With “Warrior” Culture

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  1. Thank you for this reflection. I remember hearing someone on the radio talking about the difference between a soldier and a warrior – a soldier is one who is willing to serve militarily and fight when needed. A warrior is someone who makes war for the sake of war. The latter word’s popularity is disturbing for this reason as well.

  2. Pingback: Doctors, Professors, and Prayer Ballerinas (“Warrior” Part 2) | Brother Scott Michael Pomerenk, n/BSG

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