Sunday, March 18, 2012

Another Way, Part 1

There is another way for a soldier to deal with the reality of his job. Thus far I think there is only one true way for a soldier to remain a soldier and not be in danger of diminishing his own humanity. It cannot be a question of a trick of dealing with something essentially bad. It must instead be a matter of finding and embracing the truly good in a vocation, while slowly, over time, paring away any evil that has become attached to it.

This other way (so far as I can see) follows three steps, or stages. The first is to be in love with the enemy. The second is to forget the enemy. The third is to love the enemy.

This may seem like a strange way of putting it, to be “in love” with the enemy, but it is the most basic and most natural reason for being a warrior. Just like the most natural reason for climbing a mountain is sheer love of the mountain, so the beginning of a call to knighthood is the fascination of the adventure. The knight rides into the forest and challenges the dragon, not because he has any particular malice toward the dragon. In fact, it is truer to say that he is passionately in love with the dragon, because the dragon represents a challenge, an opponent worthy of his strength and skill. Something in him needs to fight a fight and he sees the dragon (or the giant, depending on the myth) the same way an artist sees a blank canvas, or a sailor sees a tall ship and a star to steer her by. This is a very natural thing. I would say it is at least a part of the natural makeup of nearly every boy, though it is stronger in some than in others. The boy born with this instinct at its strongest is generally going to be a handful. He is the boy who always wants to fight or wrestle or make wooden swords and play knight or play commando in the woods with guns. Of course every boy does these things from time to time, but for this particular boy these things are a borderline obsession, or at least the deepest theme in his play. He may drive his mother crazy by always getting into fights or getting scratched and bruised in mock battles, or constantly having sharp sticks swinging in the vicinity of his eyes. Some mothers will even try to suppress this type of play, fearing their son will grow up to be a gangster, but I believe this is a mistake. In this kind of violent play there is nothing cruel or malicious. A boy like this has no ill will towards any of his opponents, and in fact seeks the same boys out to fight again and again. In his mind the competition is a deep form of cooperation in which every boy tests and strengthens himself against every boy. He is not a bully or a thug. He may indeed have an almost ridiculous sense of fair play which would be a liability to a bully.

This instinct is what you make of it. It is simply raw material. It can be a vehicle for a boy learning to use his instincts to dominate those weaker than himself, or to protect those weaker than himself. If he grows up unbalanced by training in gentler arts he will certainly end up a loud-mouthed, rough mannered, though perhaps good hearted tough guy. The experiences and guidance he is give may be able to shape and nurture that instinct but they will never be able to suppress it safely. A fighter’s instinct can remain at this stage indefinitely, as many of the higher pagan warriors of history are examples. These higher pagan warriors are marked by a deep respect for their enemy, which probably reached its most extreme expression with the samurai. A samurai considered it a great honor to cut an enemy’s head off after he had ritually disemboweled himself, to prevent him the shame of grimacing in pain. Homer’s Illiad is full of both the heights and the depths of this instinct, and with Hector even an example of something like the second stage of the warrior’s development. Anything like an in depth analysis of that basic level instinct, both at its highest and at its lowest is far beyond the scope of this blog, but should be an essential part of the education of any warrior.

Alas, there is no comprehensive training for the modern warrior.

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