I’ve spent many years reflecting on the meaning of the Warrior Archetype. It’s no coincidence that my company is named Warrior Films.
My friend Christa Lörcher was shocked and appalled in 2001 when she discovered I had given my company that name. As a lifelong pacifist, she attained notoriety in 2002 when she was the lone person in the German Bundestag to vote no to her government’s otherwise universal endorsement of military intervention in Afghanistan. For her the term Warrior encompassed all that was abhorrent about her country’s militaristic history. I have lifelong respect for her taking that principled stand.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine got me reflecting again on the history of warfare. Who are the Warriors? The Russian soldiers fulfilling their service commitment to their country, required of all men aged 18-27? What about the Ukrainian soldiers and civilians defending their country and homes? What is the responsibility these men have, especially the volunteers, to their loved ones, families, and communities in times of physical endangerment? [Since I’ve been primarily focused in my life on men and male behavior, on what constitutes Mature Masculinity, I’ve chosen for this article to use “men” and male pronouns exclusively, even though all beings, including of course women, embody the Warrior archetype.]
With guidance from Robert Moore1 and others, for 25 years, I’ve tried to tease out the shadow aspects of the Warrior Archetype from those wholesome and good. At some level my effort has been about trying to reappropriate the term itself from war-mongers, away from connotations with words like savage or soldier, and back to its more positive associations that exist cross-culturally: samurai, knight, protector, defender. I have a number of quotes on my website that attempt to clarify this.
“Warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another life. The warrior is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.” Sitting Bull
Warriors, warriors we call ourselves. We fight for splendid virtue, for high endeavor, for sublime wisdom, therefore we call ourselves warriors. Aunguttara Nikaya
Challenge calls out the warrior in a man, the one who tests, hones, and refines himself through his encounters with difficult or unusual conditions. Challenge as such is more than a cocktail of testosterone, adrenaline, and manning-up pressures; more than a shame-driven opportunity to validate or showcase our manliness; and more than something done to meet someone else’s standards. Robert Augustus Masters, from his book To Be A Man
To be a spiritual warrior one must have a broken heart; without a broken heart and the sense of tenderness and vulnerability, your warriorship is untrustworthy. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
And then there’s a related Thich Nhat Han quote which has been the guiding light for our entire five film Veterans Journey Home series.
“Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If Veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again.” Thich Nhat Han
History offers many examples of Warriors for Peace. Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Harvey Milk all come immediately to mind. Unfortunately, like the last three, Warriors like these are all too often martyred. Personally, I have no interest in being martyred. If I’m going to die a violent death, let it be in defense of what is noble and true.
It’s been a long journey getting me to the point of acceptance of the Warrior archetype in myself. Like Christa Lörcher, my parents were peaceniks, committed to paths of nonviolence for resolving conflict. This despite the fact that my father served in the US Navy for the final 1.5 years of WWII. He wanted to fight and kill Nazis who were responsible for making life in his German homeland unlivable for him and his family. Eventually of course, Nazis ended up killing most of his relatives and friends. I never had the chance to ask him how he reconciled his wartime service with his peacetime activities since he died when I was nine. Both my parents opposed the Korean War. When I was ten I marched with my mother down Michigan Avenue in Chicago to oppose the Vietnam war. Most of my thinking regarding military service as a teen went toward strategies for escaping the draft. I never served.
Growing up, I associated many archetypal Warrior virtues – physical strength, discipline, preparation and training, honor and duty, assertiveness, unceasing commitment, self-sacrifice – with aggression. Type A Alpha Male behavior always made me uneasy. I tended to judge men like that as control freaks, sadists, or bullies. I wanted nothing to do with them. In fact, any form of leadership was suspect. The first person to stand up in any room and say, “Follow me,” was the last person I trusted.[I realize I’m now melding leadership – a quality typically of the Sovereign archetype – with those of the Warrior. Certain human qualities and characteristics can cross archetypal quadrants.]
It may be helpful to distinguish a soldier from a Warrior. But first, the similarities. Both soldiers and Warriors make service paramount. That service can be to a country, a leader like a king, or an institution or a leadership committee – any perceived authority. Both also typically follow a mission. A mission insures service to a principle that is significantly bigger than oneself. U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan were told they were “making the world safe for democracy,” “ridding the world of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction)” and “fighting terrorism.” Russian soldiers invading Ukraine apparently are on a similar mission to “restore democracy” to a country “veering toward fascism and Nazism” and also to protect Russians in the Donbas region from “genocide.” Any declared mission may not bear much semblance to realities on the ground.
Unlike soldiers, Warriors do not automatically follow a mission, at least one that’s not partially or wholly defined by them. A soldier is thoroughly trained to exclusively follow orders. The Warrior archetype does not blindly forego questioning and self-questioning. He maintains his critical judgment and reserves the right to make his own decisions, always leaving room for his own counsel. That function alone spurs him to merge with the Sovereign within. He frequently asks, “What is the greater good here? What is best for the greatest number?” His mission, if not self-defined, need at least be whole heartedly convincing.
Arguably, Vietnam era soldiers crossed the rubicon into Warriorship when they decided the declared U.S. governmental mission of “rolling back communism” was specious. The 1971 protest of Vietnam Veterans Against the War when over 700 soldiers threw their medals onto the steps of the Capitol building symbolized their complete rejection of this stated mission and the awakening of some new one, likely unique to each individual.
A soldier is always part of a greater unit. A Warrior may or may not be part of a greater unit, but he always retains the right to be an autonomous actor in any given moment or situation. Soldiers follow strict hierarchies of authority. Warriors may not, and may spontaneously improvise hierarchies, deciding on the spot who leads and who needs to assume a subordinate role.
So what is the role of the Warrior in the wake of our present-day situation? When worldwide we see democracies dying and autocracy and dictatorship ascendant?
At the time of this writing 1,000s of Ukrainian expats are making their way home to take up arms against Russia. So are numerous volunteers from many countries around the world. I find that commendable. In fact, I find myself inexplicably called to do the same. Perhaps because my mother’s family, Jewish, came from near there, and were subject for years to forced conscription into the Czar’s Russian army. (You were typically given two choices by soldiers. “Come with us now and join the army or we’ll shoot you.”) Of course, Jews were also regularly subject to pogroms from the local citizens. So my pull is at least partly counter-intuitive. Either way, not speaking Ukrainian or Russian makes this a mere fantasy on my part.
But my father’s story brings it closer. A 15-year-old refugee from Germany, he fled with his ten-year-old brother after Kristallnacht, when their father was taken into custody and shipped to Buchenwald. It’s a common truism to say that European Jews should have risen up like those of the Warsaw ghetto and fought Nazis to the death. Like a frog in the proverbial slowly heating water, it’s hard to say with certainty when you know that water is going to boil. My father’s family made plans to leave Germany in 1934. They knew it was getting hot. But they delayed because of my grandmother’s long illness which led to her death in the summer of 1938. When I look around the world now, the temperature seems to be getting pretty hot. I’m not inclined to wait around to take action.
If the Canadian army were suddenly to invade the U.S. in similar fashion to Russia, I might take up arms. Or, let’s say the Mexican drug cartels, which arguably already run Mexico, suddenly invaded, I would likely be even more motivated to do the same.
Those scenarios are obviously far-fetched. What clearly isn’t far-fetched is what I’ve already seen occur in isolated incidents across the U.S. – armed right-wing, white supremacist militias disrupting events and seizing control of roads and towns. This happened in Oregon in September 2020 when, following months of street battles in Portland between Black Lives Matter protestors, counter-protestors, and federal police, extreme fires engulfed the state. Fueled by completely unsubstantiated rumors that Antifa activists were coming to their towns to commit arson, in localities like Mollala and Corbett armed residents set up illegal roadblocks to prevent outsiders from entering. Black folks were automatically “suspicious” and turned away at gunpoint. In Texas, carloads of armed vigilantes stopped a bus full of staff and supporters of Presidential candidate Joe Biden from entering towns between San Antonio and Austin. They almost forced the bus off the road. When calls were put into 911, the local San Marcos police refused to respond (and are presently being sued). The Democratic activists were forced to cancel three scheduled events. With celebrities like Donald Trump, right wing talk radio hosts and Fox News egging them on, with social media exacerbating the wildfire spread of rumors, armed combat in U.S. streets is no longer a dystopian fantasy. The next time there is an event like the January 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol, you can be sure those vigilantes will be armed with more than clubs and chains.
The key point I want to make is we must avoid naivete. As structures and systems which have governed our lives in the past – however imperfectly – collapse – systems like democratic government and policing – we have to be prepared to assume the role of protector and defender of what matters most to us. It may be threats to our lives, our loved ones’ lives, or our property, but it’s naive not to be prepared. What that means to me is for the first time in my life I’m considering buying a gun. Read Part 2