If you are a future or current Marine Officer, or simply interested in war and warriors, Steven Pressfield should be on your shelf. And The Warrior Ethos is the book to start with.
While candidates and students at OCS (Officer Candidates School) and TBS (The Basic School) are told to develop a warrior ethos or mentality, it is not always clear what that means. Often it is presented in a vague and open ended manner, without any specifics about how to accomplish it or whom to look to for inspiration.
The Warrior Ethos answers that question, and how we can apply those lessons in the 21st century, whether civilian or Marine.
Using notable warrior societies and figures throughout history, such as the Spartans, Caesar's Romans, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, General Patton, and the United States Marine Corps (to name a few), Pressfield seeks to find commonalities and a universally held warrior ethos.
Pressfield argues that the warrior ethos came into existence as an antidote to fear; more specifically to counter the instinct of self preservation that arises from fear.
Warriors cannot be overly concerned with self preservation. They must put the needs of the group ahead of themselves. To facilitate this and fight the instinct for self preservation, the warrior ethos uses the equally powerful human reactions towards shame, honor, and love.
Shame: the fear of being ostracized by the larger group outweighs the fear of death.
Honor: the counter to shame. In warrior cultures honor is put above all else. Better to die than to live without honor.
Love: the idea that you fight for your brothers and would die to protect them.
The Warrior Ethos also examines the role that external circumstances have in creating warrior cultures, such as a harsh physical environment or other adverse conditions.
Pressfield (a former US Marine himself) dedicates considerable pages to the United States Marine Corps and the specific values that make them such a formidable war-fighting organization.
"Among all elite U.S. forces, the Marine Corps is unique in that its standards for strength, athleticism and physical hardiness are not exceptional. What separates Marines, instead, is their capacity to endure adversity. Marines take a perverse pride in having colder chow, crappier equipment and higher casualty rates than any other service. This notion goes back to Belleau Wood and earlier, but it came into its own during the exceptionally bloody and punishing battles at Tarawa and Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir and Khe Sanh. Marines take pride in enduring hell. Nothing infuriates Marines more than to learn that some particularly nasty and dangerous assignment has been given to the Army instead of to them. It offends their sense of honor. This is another key element of the Warrior Ethos: the willing and eager embracing of adversity"
It is no coincidence that Marines train hard and in miserable conditions. Adversity and enduring pain are part of its warrior ethos.
The Warrior Ethos is essential reading for Marines and Marine Officers.
It explains why Boot Camp, Officer Candidates School and The Basic School do what they do, and why they are so effective.
Through Pressfield's writing, we can connect the Marine Corps to those warrior cultures that came before us and it becomes more clear that while wars change, warriors stay the same.
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