Sunday, August 24, 2014

Edward H. Carpenter's "Steven Pressfield's 'The Warrior Ethos'"

Edward H. Carpenter is a Marine officer who has served around the world, from Afghanistan to Indonesia. With a Master’s degree from the Naval Postgraduate School, he has taught International Relations as an adjunct professor for the University of Maryland University College, speaks French and Indonesian, has written for the Marine Corps Gazette and published several works of fiction.

He recently applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Steven Pressfield’s “The Warrior Ethos”: One Marine Officer’s Critique and Counterpoint, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works well to showcase the counterpoint that makes up the second half of the book, but to set the stage, it’s important to touch upon the critique that forms the first part of my work.

Steven Pressfield is best known for his historical fiction such as Gates of Fire, but in 2011 he wrote a short book titled The Warrior Ethos that was selected by the Commandant of the Marine Corps as a “must-read” book for all Marines. That’s unfortunate, because the basis for Pressfield’s proposed ethos are ancient Greek cultures (specifically the Spartans and Alexander the Great’s Macedonians) and modern tribal societies such as the Afghan Pashtuns.

From these exemplars, he makes a case that a Warrior Ethos is a necessary part of military culture, and that it should consist of courage, selflessness, love of comrades, and willingness to endure adversity. So far, so good, but his prescription for instilling these virtues is to use shame and an Americanized version of primitive “honor codes” which encourage belligerence, an “eye-for-an-eye” mentality, and exhort our young troops to “play hurt” and believe in “Death before Dishonor.”

It might be tempting to dismiss that as so much hot air, but he’s a convincing writer, and his words have had three years to work on thousands of young and impressionable minds; thus I spend the first part of the book debunking his fallacious lines of reasoning and holding up historical fact (from Plutarch, Herodotus, Thucydides, and others) against the often fictitious accounts that Pressfield cites to support his case.

I then posit a better answer to the questions of what a modern Warrior Ethos should consist of, and how best to develop it, which brings us to Page 99:
Finally, all warriors will benefit from fighting an enemy who knows that combat is a last resort; that on our side it will be hard-fought, but always within the laws of war, and that we will never inflict civilian casualties as a means of limiting our own.

Our enemy must know that if taken prisoner, they will be accorded their rights under international law and that if any member of our forces commits an atrocity, they will be prosecuted with fairness and transparency.

And our Nation must know that it can entrust its sons and daughters to our ranks; not to be broken down with shame, not to pumped up to “avenge every insult”, and not to suffer from high rates of sexual assault and suicide, but to be tested and tempered in the forges of our basic training curriculums with firmness, fairness and dignity, and to be led always by officers and NCOs who use the tools of empathy, education, and empowerment to set an example worthy of our enlightened age, so that whether a modern warrior serves four years or 30, that they return to civil life having grown as a person and having developed their abilities to lead, to follow, and to work as a member of a team.
This page neatly summarizes the desired outcome which can be obtained if we adopt an ethos based on something other than shame and misogynistic Bronze Age honor codes. Although it only captures the essence of the second half of the book, I believe it succeeds in revealing "the quality of the whole." All in all, I would consider this to be another success for the Page 99 Test!
Learn more about the book and author at Edward H. Carpenter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue