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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Changing of Military Honor through Societal Eras



The concept of the warrior and officer has changed over the centuries based upon the needs of their time. Honor has been a consistent theme throughout this transformation even though its application has changed with the times. Colonel Peter Mansoor who served in Iraq discusses how values have shifted overtime and creates new ways of understanding honor, courage, and duty. His work helps shed light on how different eras have brought forth new definitions. 

Ancient Codes: A defining concept of military codes of honor goes all the way back to the ancient Spartans. Their code entailed honorable conduct revolving around the ability to face death with composure and contempt. It was a way of frustrating the inevitability of death through skill and ability. 

Chivalric Code: The medieval era brought a new conception of honor that included a social instrument wrapping the warrior’s creed into a Chivalric code. Warriors believed in courage, courtly love, fairness in deciding justice, and true to one’s words and deeds. 

Gentlemanly Officers: The societal shift from a feudal system to the republic brought the gentlemanly officer who had lineage in European feudal systems. They acted with utmost social grace and protected their honor at all costs. Problems were solved through duels between two men. For example, Alexander Hamilton was killed by sitting U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr over a defamation of character issue.

West Point: The system of warrior codes took a distinctly American flavor with the maturity of the country. Honor in word and deed was important. It includes concepts of not lying, cheating, stealing and not accepting those who do. “The Captain is to be true to his country, make service his business, true honor his object."

The author argues that the Warrior and their Codes reflect the values of society. He includes a speech by the Commander and Chief at West Point that states, "We need your Honor — that inner compass that guides you, not when the path is easy and obvious, but when it's hard and uncertain; that tells you the difference between that which is right and that which is wrong." Honor has shifted toward the idea of an inner compass that allows one to draw from their own strengths and value systems even when there is no social kudos for one’s actions.

The paper does not discuss beyond the recent West Point speech what honor means in an emerging era of value globalization, robotic warfare, highly trained military specialists, cyber warriors, and shifting societal values. That conception of the warrior code has not yet been clarified but is being pushed forward with the idea of “inner compass” where multiple choices in any situation are judged by the fundamental characters of the people making them. Perhaps it is the honor of choosing something greater than ourselves even when there are no obvious options; a definition of integrity as a concept of wholeness when others are divided.

Mansoor, P. (2014). The evolution of military ethos over the ages. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 94 (2).

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