FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. - The warrior code has differentiated
soldiers in armies throughout history from wanton murderers like
those of the Islamic State, al Qaeda and terrorists involved in the
recent Paris attacks, said Dr. Shannon French.
of the book, "The Code of the Warrior," spoke at the chief of staff
of the Army-sponsored Noncommissioned Officer Solarium II, held at
the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College on November 19,
French said she spent years researching warrior codes
of many cultures and countries throughout history, including the
Zulu and Samurai warriors.
Dr. Shannon French speaks about the warrior code at the chief of staff of the Army-sponsored Noncommissioned Officer Solarium II, held at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Nov. 19, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by David Vergun)
The thing they all had in common was a warrior code. It
might have been unwritten or even unspoken, but it existed,
HOW THE CODE WORKS
In essence, the code is an expectation - not rules or
regulations - that there is a line of conduct that won't be
crossed no matter what, she said.
So during battle, a
soldier's focus is on winning, and that normally means
killing or putting the enemy out of the fight until an
objective is accomplished, French said. A violation of the
code, for instance, would be killing an incapacitated enemy
soldier or prisoner. Same goes for indiscriminate bombing or
killing innocent civilians.
Besides rules of
engagement, the code has other features, she said. For one,
it must be very difficult to become a warrior. This entails
rites of passage that weed out the weak or timid.
pretty extreme example of a rite of passage, she said, was
the native-American Lakota Sioux's Sun Dance. It involved
piercing the pectoral muscles with a bar. The bar was tied
to a pole with a rope. The soon-to-be warrior would then
dance around the pole until the bar pulled out of his chest.
The process left lasting scars on the chest, she
continued. Since warriors went into battle bare-chested,
they could see other warriors with similar scars. The scars
were a big deal. It meant "He did this too. He's one of us.
I can count on him to have my back."
The Army has a
less brutal process to weed the weak from the strong, called
basic training, she said. Instead of scars, Soldiers get the
privilege of wearing the uniform. Medals, ribbons, tabs and
badges are earned later on with new challenges.
IMPORTANCE OF THE CODE
warrior code really matter when it comes to doing everything
you can to bring your troops back home alive?" asked a
midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy during an ethics course
on French was teaching several years ago.
what you think, get the hell out of my military," replied
retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Sammy L. Davis, a visiting Medal
of Honor recipient.
Davis said it was particularly
difficult for Vietnam veterans to come home and be told by
those who didn't serve that they were baby killers and other
names, French said.
The only thing that got him and
others through that difficult homecoming was knowing it
wasn't true, French said regarding what Davis related. "Were
mistakes made? Yes, but we weren't crazed killers like we
were made out to be. That was what we held on to; still know
we conducted ourselves as warrior.
"As officers, your
job will be looking out for troops and hold on to your
values," French continued, conveying his remarks. "They
signed up knowing they might lose their lives - but not
Without probably realizing it, what
Davis just described was living the warrior code, French
ABOUT DR. SHANNON FRENCH
French is an associate professor of philosophy and director,
Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case
Western University, Ohio. She plans to re-publish her book, "The
Code of the Warrior," with a chapter on the Islamic State.
By U.S. Army David Vergun
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