The Warrior Ethos: Understanding the True Warrior and Their Place in Today’s America Steven M Sheridan
The discussion regarding whether law enforcement and this nation adapt the guardian philosophy or the warrior ethos can be summed up as follows: The guardian philosophy is centered around blind obedience. The warrior ethos is centered around selfless service.
on which you prefer, will determine which path you choose to follow. However, knowing what this nation was founded
on and continues to strive for, I dare say not a single American who believes
in the hopes and dreams of the great American experiment, would opt for blind
previous article; The Guardian Philosophy: Is it Really What We Want in
American Society, we discussed some of the foundations of the guardian
philosophy and how they are in direct opposition to the core values of this
nation. It is not that the guardian philosophy is completely void of positive
traits which appear to be borrowed from the warrior ethos. The cause for alarm
is in the teaching and use of these traits and how they are to be incorporated
into our society.
Let us recap the definitions of philosophy and ethos. Philosophy; a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means. Ethos; the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution.1
warrior ethos has been adopted since the first groups of people came together,
therefore allowing it to continue to progress and keep within the ideals of
nations throughout history. This warrior ethos has been honed since the time of
the Greeks, Spartans, Samurai, and all the way to today’s military. Laid out
simply, the warrior ethos is a valid progressive work and the guardian
philosophy is still just a philosophy. The Guardian Philosophy remains a
philosophy in which no segment of human history has any nation, culture, or
country attempted to fully adopt. I believe it is mainly due to the flaws in
its teachings. I encourage you to conduct a search for warrior ethos. You will
find a history there. Then conduct a
search for guardian ethos or guardian code. The results come back for a type of
bicycle, and a video game. There is no history of a guardian ethos. I believe
this is because the guardian is a subset of the warrior. It is one of the many
facets of the warrior and is only noticed once we dig deeper; getting beyond
the origin of the concept.
warrior ethos is exemplified throughout all of the armed services and in every
serious organization or group. Similar to Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the warrior
ethos has little to do with actual war and more to do with how we conduct
ourselves in the service of and to others. It just so happens war is the
quickest and most brutal way to put a theory into practice and determine its
In one of many articles available regarding the warrior ethos, the US Army clarifies why the term warrior is applied outside of the wartime arena. “In a broader sense, the Warrior Ethos is a way of life that applies to our personal and professional lives as well. It defines who we are and who we aspire to become.”2
the warrior ethos shared some aspects of the guardian philosophy such as the
soldiers living in barracks, being used to control the populace, and higher
education for men and women. However, the distinct difference being the warrior
ethos does not corrupt the ideals of their education through teaching deceit
when deemed in the best interest of the citizens. It also does not promote the communal
or shared women and children as the guardian philosophy attempts to do, along
with many other disturbing aspects which are core this philosophy. Again, as
the human race has progressed, so has the warrior ethos.
fairness, the warrior ethos also prized obedience. However, it was not
displayed as blind obedience as was the premise of the guardian philosophy. As
the warrior ethos progressed through time, the concept of obedience became
known as “mission first.” What does it
mean to be focused on “mission first?” It
is a focus on being mission driven; but to be mission driven, one must have a
clear mission. This clear mission was then spelled out in a mission statement. I
believe mission statements of today have become more of a fad than a practical,
well thought out plan of action and achievement.
The definition of mission statement: something that states the purpose or goal of a business or organization1
looks somewhat like the warrior ethos, but is primarily for organizations, the
mission statement clarifies the goal which allows the mission first aspect of
the warrior ethos. This is the essence of selfless service. The warrior makes
sacrifices for the benefit of the mission, not themselves. Knowing the
importance of a clear mission, what is the mission of law enforcement? To keep
the peace and maintain order (civility). As a matter of fact, according to the
Peelian Principles, a key set of principles for modern law enforcement, the
profession’s true measure of success is the absence of crime. If done
correctly, law enforcement may be the only profession designed to put itself
out of business.
I do not
think the warrior ethos is wrong for the law enforcement profession when we
understand what it is really about. Maybe we need to take a look at society and
determine whether or not we have lost sight of the mission for law enforcement.
As a society we continue to pile on completely unrelated responsibilities for
today’s law enforcement officer. These range from dealing with mental health
issues, barking dogs, ensuring elderly citizens are taking their medications
(we had a daily visit when I was with the local sheriff’s department which
required us to go to an elderly woman’s home to make sure she took her nightly
medications), to kids using cell phones in school. The more we muddy the
mission, the less likely we are to focus and therefore accomplish the mission.
ethos of the law enforcement profession is the correct ethos. However, we may
want to remember this ethos has very little to do with actual warfare and
encompasses far more than the altercations faced within the profession. It may
be time to review the morals and “mission” of this great nation, especially in
this time of misguided emotionalism, scarce of factual review.
Many of us have become familiar with the Spartan warriors through movies, characters, and school subjects. These warriors may be may be the most celebrated warrior class in history. The law enforcement profession has borrowed many of the greater attributes of the warrior ethos from the Spartans. Our badge for instance, often referred to as a shield, harkens back to the value of the Spartan shield and the quote from King Demaratos regarding why men are dishonored, even put to death, when they lose their shield but not when the lose their personal armor (chest plate, back plate, etc). The King stated: “….because the latter [other armors] they put on for their own protection, but the shield is for the common good of the whole line.” 3
is to remind us of our duty to those who stand beside us; our fellow officers,
our citizens, our visitors, etc. This has remained an integral part of the
warrior ethos or code and I believe it remains so today as a constant reminder
of the concept of selfless service to the mission of keeping the peace and
maintaining order (civility).
We must remember warriors were not always on the battlefield. We acknowledge much of their time, our time in this profession, is spent training for physical encounters because they will happen and they scare us to death. However, during times of peace the warrior took on many civic duties. During the Roman dominance when the soldiers were not at war, they built roads, aqueducts, and ran the quarries. They became politicians, artisans, and even took on familiar police duties of today such as directing traffic and plain clothes crime prevention. This was repeated again during the Tokugawa Shogunate period of the Samurai; the Samurai became bureaucrats and artisans during peace time.
warriors throughout history have been far more than just practiced in warfare.
Similar to the way today’s law enforcement warrior is set for far more than just
engaging in only physical altercations.
One of the issues for the misunderstanding of today’s law enforcement warrior is our unwillingness to go “beneath the surface” so to speak. When we look up the word warrior, the dictionary defines it as: a person engaged or experienced in warfare broadly: a person engaged in some struggle or conflict.1 The definition of law enforcement reads: the department of people who enforce laws, investigate crimes, and make arrests: the police1
of these definitions is complete or completely accurate. We have just discussed
how much more the warrior is and does for the citizenry. As a law enforcement
officer, how much of your time is spent on activities other than enforcing
laws, investigating crimes and making arrests? Today, it may be as much as 40
percent or more of our time, depending on the department you work with.
the men and women who do the work intuitively understand the role of the
warrior ethos in law enforcement. However, make sure you can articulate for
others to understand. To the men and women who hold positions of influence;
please educate yourselves properly and stand up for the men and women who are
doing the work properly. In doing so, you are standing up for the well-being of
the citizens we serve. To simply allow the “political winds” to blow you about
is a tremendous disservice to all. Do not allow the warrior ethos to wane;
research it, live it, and implement it properly. To be more precise, be the
Cognitive Warrior – a Reader, a Writer, a Thinker, and a Fighter!4
Group – Leadership & Mastering Performance Management: Phase 1 and 2
War. Sun Tzu – numerous variations