Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Soldier Cultures, Warrior Cultures

 A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about how the development of kingdoms into national states had allowed hitherto impossible levels of military mobilization, culminating in the truly mass participation World Wars of the 20th century.  That was a pretty quantitative piece, looking at the numbers of combatants in various battles in comparison to the size of the countries that fought them.  Here I'd like to take a bit more of a human approach and think about different types of society and the way they relate to war making.

The most basic distinction I'd like to make is between warrior cultures and soldier cultures.  Often we use these words as if they were interchangeable, or as if "warrior" just means "really tough soldier", but I'd like to argue that the words have different connotations and can be used to discuss very different types of society.

The distinction I would make is that a warrior is a person whose position within society is defined by making war and more broadly by violence.  I'm not just talking about someone whose job is making war.  A soldier's job is (at least when ordered to do so) making war.  But a warrior's personal definition and place within society is defined by his personal ability and capacity for violence.

Think of the heroes of The Iliad.  Yes, they're part of armies in some loose sense -- a besieging army of Greeks and a defending army of Trojans -- but they fundamentally fight as individuals.  Indeed, most of the plot of The Iliad springs from Achilles withdrawing from the war because Agamemnon has dissed him by taking away his favorite slave girl.  In any modern conception of an army, this would be seen as a dishonorable act.  Achilles is acting selfishly, not as one of a team with a common goal, but according to the standards of a warrior culture he's simply standing up for the fact that he is himself a great warrior.

We also see heroes among the Greeks and Trojans exchange names and histories before engaging in their one-on-one duels on the battlefield.  At one point, Glaucus (on the Trojan side) and Diomedes (among the Greeks) realize that their grandfathers were close friends, and so they refuse to fight each other and exchange armor instead.  

When Odysseus gets home, he's recognized in great part because of his martial skill with the bow, and then he proceeds to mete out violence against all the suitors who have troubled his wife and household during his absence.  He's a ruler, but he's also a warrior, and he addresses his problems as a warrior who deals with assaults against his personal honor with violence.  Odysseus doesn't cease to be a warrior once he's no longer party of the Greek army.  He will be a warrior until his dying day, and so he deals with his problems upon getting home as a warrior.

So to sum up briefly: a warrior's honor and status in society is tied up with his identity as a warrior.  It is not something that he puts away when the war is over.  Whether we think of Odysseus, or a medieval knight, or of a Native American warrior, warrior's had warrior status by virtue of their birth and their place in society, and they were expected to continue to use their warrior skills whenever they were called upon to do so in order to protect their personal honor as well as the societies in which they lived.  

But even within the ancient world, we can see a change between the warrior culture and a soldier culture.  Although the Greeks of the Classical period read Homer and considered his work the foundation of their literature, the warrior culture he was describing was no long the culture in which they lived.  They lived in a soldier culture.  In the Greek city states of the classical era, armies were made up of ordinary citizens who were called up for the duration of a campaign and then returned to civilian life.  

Socrates mentions in his trial, recounted in the Apology, that he had fought for Athens in the battles of Potidaea, Delium, and Amphipolis.  The playwright Aeschylus had inscribed on his epitaph not that he was a playwright and had won many awards in the annual competitions for tragedies but that he had served in the Athenian phalanx at the Battle of Marathon.

Socrates was not a warrior.  His story ends, not with single combat, but with a court case.  Socrates and Aeschylus and many others were ordinary citizens who were called up to serve in an army, under orders.  At the end of their service, they were sent back to their ordinary lives.  They retained a status as veterans, men with the experience of having served their city state on the battlefield, but they did not retain their status through continued force of arms in the way of a warrior.  And in a very real sense, once they returned to ordinary life after serving, they were no longer soldiers.  They did not retain a social right and duty to settle matters of justice and honor through force of arms and their own authority.

Warriors would appear again on the world stage.  The Goths and Huns and Avars came from the Eurasian Steppes into the world of the late Roman empire were a society of warriors.  The medieval culture which developed through the blending of barbarian and Roman cultures in the West after the fall of the Roman Empire was a warrior culture.  Medieval knights were warriors, not soldiers.  Their place in society was defined by their warrior status.  

Now, that doesn't mean that everyone in a medieval army was a warrior.  The warriors were the knights: those whose place in society was defined and maintained by their ability and willingness to fight.  But medieval armies also included citizen soldiers (peasants or freedman called up to serve under their lord, and then afterwards if they survived returned to their ordinary lives) and professional soldiers (mercenaries who fought for pay.)  

With that variety before us, it's a good time to try to lay out a clear schema.  What are the different types of warrior or soldier a polity might have, and how are they different in their relations to society?

At one end of the spectrum are warrior societies.  These are societies where most men (or most men with any status, such as most men who are not slaves) are warriors.  I'm not aware of any settled urban civilizations where this is the case, but to my understanding you do see this among some of the nomadic steppe peoples (Huns, etc.) and among some Native American cultures.  I'm sure there are others I'm not thinking of as well, but the identifying trait would be these are cultures in which to be a man is effectively to be a warrior.

Next over on the spectrum are societies with warrior elites.  This would include the world described by Homer, the medieval world, and man others.  In these cultures, only a minority of men are warriors, but nearly all elites are warriors.  These warrior elites may fill out their armies with soldiers who are not socially considered warriors -- they fight in the army but when they go back to ordinary life they to not carry with them the social status of warriors, and they fight for the army and the authorities who rule over them, they do not fight for themselves and their own personal warrior honor in the way that warriors do.

These warrior elites should be distinguished from societies with traditions of soldier elites.  These would be societies in which it is expected that people who wield social and political power will also serve (at need) as soldiers.  The Roman Republic and early empire fit this model. Elites were expected to serve when called upon, and those who did well as soldiers tended to win elite status, but these were soldier elites not warrior elites in that their elite status came from their success as soldiers for the state.  The kind of warrior individualism which was celebrated among Homer's heroes would not have been celebrated in the Roman Army.  As the medieval era progressed, northern European elites also turned into soldier elites rather than warriors.  This soldier elite idea held sway for a long time, arguably through the world wars.  

However, these armies were not made up only of soldier elites.  The rank and file were filled out by one of two types of soldier: either citizen/conscript soldiers or professional soldiers.

I suppose one could define this distinction in different ways, but in this case what I want to get at is the length of service.  Citizen/conscript soldiers were men of non-military professions who were called up to serve for a period of time.  This is the kind of service that Socrates and Aeschylus performed.  In Classical Greek city states, all men of a certain class were required to own arms and armor and to train at certain intervals.  If the city needed to engage in war, those men were called up, served in the city's phalanx, and then returned home.  This is also where the bulk of the soldiers in Americas wars came from: men who volunteered or were drafted to serve for a term or for the duration of a war.  They were trained, armed, sent to fight, and then at the end of the war most of them were mustered back out of the army.  

That's what distinguishes the citizen soldier model from the professional soldier model.  Professional soldiers, as I'm using the term here, are long service professionals.  In the later Roman empire, someone who joined the Roman army was signing up for a 20-25 year term of service.  Not only was he signing up, but since jobs were semi-hereditary a man's service in the Roman army made his sons subject to conscription into similar terms of service.  In the later medieval and early modern era, mercenary armies of long service professional soldiers (sometimes recruited from other countries speaking other languages) were widely employed.  The British armies that Wellington and others led in the Napoleonic wars were also long service armies, though in many cases the men were essentially conscripted into long term army service (or assigned to the army as a punishment rather than being imprisoned or sent to a penal colony.)  Our modern American army is built around volunteers (unlike the majority of soldiers serving in wars from the Civil War through Vietnam) and is essentially a long service professional army, though not all soldiers stay for long terms of service.

Each of these come with different relationship between those who fight and the rest of society, and I would imagine that this means they also come with different experiences of integration back into society of those who have fought.  Soldiers are expected to go back to being citizens, whereas warriors retain their warrior status as a permanent part of their social role.  The citizen soldier model means that a much wider swathe of the populace has experienced soldiering, whereas the professional model risks a widening division between those who have spent many years in the army and those who have never experienced it at all.  The later Roman Empire had an especially severe example of this problem in that it came to rely on recruiting outside peoples with warrior cultures into their army.  The Roman army always used a soldier rather than a warrior model (until the empire was truly falling apart) but adding language and cultural divides on top of the natural divide of experience between soldiers and civilians (combined with the key role the army had in supporting and often choosing the emperor) resulted in increasingly chaotic political and cultural effects.

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