Warrior Ethos

The Warrior Ethos: Understanding the True Warrior and Their Place in Today's America

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.

Depending 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 obedience. 

In a 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

The 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.

Today the 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 worth.

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

Interestingly, 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.

In all 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

What 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.

The warrior 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

Our badge 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.

Our 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 broadlya 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

Neither 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.

I believe 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




4Gallagher Westfall
Group – Leadership & Mastering Performance Management: Phase 1 and 2



Art of
War. Sun Tzu – numerous variations