“Swim in the shallows and steal the lowest fruit, always hunting, feeling fucking nothing.” – Wolf & Bear
It’s been almost 7 years since I left the military and 3 since I left the PMC industry. Rather than sticking to the notion that those titles and times are the pinnacle of my existence—that my best years are behind me, I’m looking for what I want for the future and how I really want to be remembered. In doing so, I’ve started recognizing my confirmation biases and have begun questioning my own beliefs. It’s been an extremely liberating and cathartic experience and it’s allowed me to separate myself from the herd mentality and group-think so painfully apparent in veteran culture these days. This piece is about challenging a belief. I suggest if you read any further, you’ll keep that in mind. If you aren’t a fan of such challenges to faith and dogma, perhaps you should head over to more beard and multicam hat-friendly websites.
I was running errands a few weeks ago when I noticed a license plate which read – “VILENT 1.” I kind of laughed to myself and rolled my eyes at this lame display of machismo. Flaunting one’s oh-so-violent tendencies and complacency with those tendencies has become the veteran equivalent of yoga pants and leggings at Target. It’s a trite cliché which has led to all kinds of Facebook memes containing threatening and cryptic platitudes aimed at an unknown, and most likely, uncaring enemy.
However, this did get the wheels spinning as I shook my head and said “Ok, guy.” It reminded me of all the “tough guys” I’ve encountered in my personal and professional life. The one thing they all had in common and which separated them from the common street-thug was that they fought with and for “honor.” These are the guys who would never think to sucker-punch someone posing a threat, or use an age-old, time-tested, tactical advantage and shoot an enemy in the back. No sir, they fight with honor and anyone saying different is a commie and a goddamn coward.
This brings me to my question- what the fuck is this “honor?” I’ve certainly never seen it. A lot of barrel-chested, oath-keepers claim to have it. We’ve watched myriad good men die for it. But, we have yet to hear a compelling definition of the concept as it relates to war and combat and all that rigmarole. It just is.
Now, we’re not talking about honor as is synonymous with integrity and honesty. Nor is it in the context of fulfilling or “honoring” a commitment or obligation. We’re also not talking about venerating or holding something in high esteem like you’d honor your wife or baby mama. Honor as a privilege also isn’t the case here. We are solely discussing the concept as it exists on the battlefield. We’re talking about the “honor” that your Battalion Commander prattles about as you’re kitting up and going out into Indian country to locate an’ close with.
I contend that, in the context of warfare, “honor” is nothing more than a
concept used by wise men to convince young men to die for them. Mr. Blonde er, David Rose (or whatever) is currently reading Guns, Germs, & Steel and brought up several pretty interesting tidbits of history when men of a higher social order always find ways to coax their lessers into battle. He also brought up a poignant quote from Napoleon, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” That is the honor I call into question. This type of “honor” is an abstract, and I dare say, a fallacy. It is merely an excuse. Is taking a bullet for a buddy honor? I don’t know. It sure is a kind gesture though, one I would think is done more for love than for any medals or “honor.” It’s also expected in brotherhoods like the SOF/infantry communities. I’m in no way
meaning to impugn the sacrifices of our MOH recipients in any fashion
(but bring on the ignorant accusations anyways). I’m merely calling into
question the reasons men fight and die in foreign shit holes and beat the
shit out of each other in dive bars—this invisible, intangible, and apparently sacred possession.
Resources are always the heart and cause of war and they have been for millennia. However, not many men are keen to grab their axes and shields, leave their families, and head out to fight the bad guys over land and trading routes. An intelligent leader must motivate men to do so. To motivate isn’t to inspire, it’s to ascribe “motive.” If you tell men “God wants you to fight these heathens” or “they’re coming for your women and children” well, for the sake of honor, sign me up. It is “dishonorable” to question the motives of your mission. Do as your told and you’ll maintain your “honor.” I think a six-figure salary is a more convincing motive to kill people in a foreign land than some “honor.” Tell a man he’ll never have to worry about money again, he’ll go to the ends of the earth for you.
This isn’t a popular notion to the sheepdog/wolf/lion/samurai/viking/ spartan/crusaders on social media who, if one is to take their posts quite literally, are willing to run face first into a meat grinder over having their
“honor” called into question. This “honor” must be really special if you’re willing to die (or kill) for someone offending it on the internet.
I’m willing to bet most of these guys who “fight with honor” have never encountered violence. We’re not talking a shoving match or a fist fight in a Hooters parking lot. Nor is chasing some skinny kid down in his Scion and screaming “I’m a COM-BAT veteran!” before slapping him. Rory Miller calls this phenomenon the “monkey dance” in his book Meditations on Violence. It’s nothing more “display fighting” for status. I’m talking about real violence—the kind of desperation which occurs when another person needs your life, your wallet, your car, or your girlfriend’s pussy. This is the kind of violence which occurs in the moments after a door is breached. You don’t hear about fighting” in North St. Louis or Southside Chicago—you hear about violence. And the word “honor” (as defined above) has no place in that world and it is
foolish to think otherwise. In that realm, one does what they have to in order to survive. Cutting the throat of a sleeping man, sucker punches, drive-by shootings, these are all violent acts carried out with one purpose—to win. All these Musashi and Sun Tzu-reading quoting warriors want to talk about fighting with honor, but they aren’t speaking to violence.
The collision of these two worlds-those “fighting with honor” and those who employ violence as a means to an end, are often one-sided, lethal encounters, and usually leave behind a dead man in a moto shirt. Fighting a desperate man with nothing to lose, while also trying to maintain some vague and arbitrary honor will certainly kill you. My money is on the convict who is out on bond over the 30-year-old former MP who is constantly posting memes with screenshots from “300.” It’s time to wake up and realize that “honor” shit the C.O. was yammering about in his “fire in the belly speech” was for theatrical purposes only. The “honor” the skipper is speaking of is a fabrication
brought about by the romanticization of warfare and violence. While we’re growing up, let’s also get away from the old maxim of “fighting with/for honor” and stop pretending it has any true meaning or bearing when it comes to actual violence.