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0230 and I can’t sleep,

September 9, 2019

so I’ll write, instead. Be warned, this is what my brain does this hour of the morning.

Recently, I mentioned an answer given by Tom Kratman to a question on Quora. The question was “what are the most important things for non-Americans to keep in mind when visiting the US?” In his answer, Kratman touches briefly on the implications of the US being what he considers an 18th (and in some ways 17th) century country. While I agreed (and still agree) with his answer, I want to look a little more at some things about the US. What follows was inspired not only by Tom Kratman’s words, but also by a conversation I had with a man for whom I have a great deal of respect.

Some people have suggested the US is a “warrior culture.” I disagree. Aside from the seeming lack of a coherent definition, and in spite of our relatively warlike nature (as opposed to some of our nominal allies), war is not really our thing. For my purposes, I will define a warrior culture as one in which the expectation is that most people (usually men) will possess both weapons and some degree of skill in their use. While the US has a fair number of weapons (including a lot of guns) in private hands, I see no real evidence of a general social expectation that people will be skilled or even trained in their use, especially in their martial use. Martial use, I submit, is the purpose to which a warrior expects to put his weapons. Most people I know who own weapons don’t really expect to put them to martial use.

Many, even most, of those folks I have encountered who say we are a warrior culture, also claim to “embrace the warrior ethos.” It is, in most cases, a claim I find rather dubious. My reading of history, and reading about warrior cultures, leads me to conclude that those who truly embrace this ethos have a common answer to a specific question. “How do you see yourself dying,” or “how do you expect to die” is typically answered with some version of “fighting” or “in combat.” More than one person has phrased that as “I expect to go out of this world the same way I came in: naked, screaming and covered in someone else’s blood.” It was common throughout history for warriors to expect to die in combat rather than peacefully in their sleep, even in cultures in which warriors were a distinct subculture. It was, in many cases, to be preferred. I don’t meet many people who give that sort of answer to the question of how they will die. Quite frankly, of those who do, many of them give every indication of being mere poseurs. With apologies to many of the people with whom I served, especially those who were certainly much more of the “high speed, low drag” sort than I (not all that high a bar), even most of them are not warriors, in spite of the hype of their various services and units (see The Legacy of Heorot and its description of all but one of the grendel hunters, Cadmann Weyland, as soldiers instead of warriors). It’s worth noting, I think, that in spite of the historical atrocity that was the movie 300, Sparta, which was certainly a warrior culture, was held at bay for a long time by Athens, which arguably was not.

If the above is accurate, and it may or may not be (obviously, I think it is), then if the US is not a warrior culture, what is it? Certainly, we are not a pacifistic  or peace culture. As it relates to the topic of this posting, we are, I submit, primarily a frontier culture. The frontier and our relatively recent experience with it, still exert a profound influence on the US. Many of the frontiersman, while they pushed westward in search of land and resources, wanted very much to be left alone (the tendency of some to take what were the lands of the native groups they encountered was, I submit, a reflection of something other than the frontier). Their response to not being left alone, or to being treated in a way they considered unjust, could be quite violent. This is what I see as a reasonable explanation of our relatively warlike nature. We are still a frontier people of the 17th and 18th centuries, with a corresponding tendency to define “unjust” or “not being left alone” rather broadly. We are, after all, largely descended from a people whose own frontier experience was not that far in the past (though further than ours) when they began to settle in what would become the US. Thus, we get things like this from Kipling, from which I’ll share the first twelve lines.

“My son,” said the Norman Baron, “I am dying, and you will be heir
To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for share
When he conquered the Saxon at Hastings, and a nice little handful it is.
But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:–

“The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow – with his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, ‘This isn’t fair dealing,’ my son, leave the Saxon alone.

“You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your Picardy spears;
But don’t try that game on the Saxon; you’ll have the whole brood round your ears.
From the richest old Thane in the county to the poorest chained serf in the field,
They’ll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise, you will yield.

I find it interesting that in spite of what some people in Hollywood might say, many of our movies, especially our action/adventure movies, reflect this frontier viewpoint. John Wayne westerns? Of course. And many of Clint Eastwood’s movies. And Die Hard. All the way up to John Wick. So many of them reflect the “everything was fine, then you had to go and piss him off” frontier attitude.*

In the gun community, we find the frontier culture, as opposed to a warrior culture, represented in a popular pro right to keep and bear arms quote (of unknown origin):

A Rifleman’s Prayer

Oh Lord, I would live my life in freedom, peace and happiness, enjoying the simple pleasures of hearth and home. I would die an old, old man in my own bed, preferably of sexual overexertion.

But if that is not to be, Lord, if monsters such as this should find their way to my little corner of the world on my watch, then help me to sweep those bastards from the ramparts, because doing that is good, and right, and just.

And if in this I should fall, let me be found atop a pile of brass, behind the wall I made of their corpses.

 

*As a side note, I submit almost every Bugs Bunny cartoon reflects this. For instance here,

and here,

and especially here

 

 

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2 Comments
  1. OldNFO permalink

    Actually, it’s more like chaos that warrior ethic… No leaders, but by God, I’m gonna go stand up for my rights! And the left can’t find a leader to slap in jail. Oops… 😀

  2. cliff bonacker permalink

    So right about Bugs Bunny cartoons. I sometimes baby sit my grand kids and have noticed the slew of rather lame modern cartoons on TV. They teach good manners and how to be nice for sure, but not only are they SO UNFUNNY, they’ll turn kids into wimps.
    I make it my business to search around for old Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and let the kids watch Bugs, Daffy, Yosemite Sam and crew mix it up,….. they like it.

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