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The Warrior Ethos

The Warrior Ethos

Author: Steven Pressfield
Rating: 6/10
Last Read: June 2014

Quick Summary: This is a quick read.  Pressfield examines the warrior values and mindset in a variety of cultures throughout history. This book is pretty quick and segmented, structured as almost a series of thoughts on various topics related to the warrior ethos.  

Mostly it's a collection of statements with some anecdotes - it could have been more fully fleshed out to be really something good. There are still interesting precepts to mull over - that provides value to me, even if the overall text is weak.

My Highlights

The Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy but where are they. —Plutarch --loc 15

At a deeper level, the Warrior Ethos recognizes that each of us, as well, has enemies inside himself. Vices and weaknesses like envy and greed, laziness, selfishness, the capacity to lie and cheat and do harm to our brothers. The tenets of the Warrior Ethos, directed inward, inspire us to contend against and defeat those enemies within our own hearts. --loc 106

Be brave, my heart [wrote the poet and mercenary Archilochus]. Plant your feet and square your shoulders to the enemy. Meet him among the man-killing spears. Hold your ground. In victory, do not brag; in defeat, do not weep. --loc 118

The god who ruled the battlefield was Phobos. Fear. --loc 123

The Spartan king Agesilaus was once asked what was the supreme warrior virtue, from which all other virtues derived. He replied, “Contempt for death.” --loc 139

Courage—in particular, stalwartness in the face of death—must be considered the foremost warrior virtue. --loc 141

The dictionary defines ethos as: The moral character, nature, disposition and customs of a people or culture. --loc 145

“You’ve got the watches,” say the Taliban, “but we’ve got the time.” --loc 171

Individuals in a guilt-based culture internalize their society’s conceptions of right and wrong. The sinner feels his crime in his guts. He doesn’t need anyone to convict him and sentence him; he convicts and sentences himself. --loc 204

The West is a guilt-based culture. Since the Judeo-Christian God sees and knows our private deeds and innermost thoughts, we are always guilty of something, with no way out save some form of divine absolution, forgiveness or grace. --loc 206

A shame-based culture is the opposite. In a shame-based culture, “face” is everything. All that matters is what the community believes of us. --loc 208

The Japanese warrior culture of Bushido is shame-based; it compels those it deems cowards or traitors to commit ritual suicide. The tribal cultures of Pashtunistan are shame-based. The Marine Corps is shame-based. So were the Romans, Alexander’s Macedonians and the ancient Spartans. --loc 213

There’s a well-known gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps who explains to his young Marines, when they complain about pay, that they get two kinds of salary—a financial salary and a psychological salary. The financial salary is indeed meager. But the psychological salary? Pride, honor, integrity, the chance to be part of a corps with a history of service, valor, glory; to have friends who would sacrifice their lives for you, as you would for them—and to know that you remain a part of this brotherhood as long as you live. How much is that worth? --loc 285

This is another key element of the Warrior Ethos: the willing and eager embracing of adversity. --loc 413

The payoff for a life of adversity is freedom. --loc 419

“You may defeat us,” said the tribal elders, “but you will never defeat our poverty.” --loc 423

For warrior cultures—from the Sioux and the Comanche to the Zulu and the mountain Pashtun—honor is a man’s most prized possession. Without it, life is not worth living. --loc 439

The American brand of honor is inculcated on the football field, in the locker room and in the street. Back down to no one, avenge every insult, never show fear, never display weakness. Play hurt, never quit. --loc 446

Honor is the psychological salary of any elite unit. Pride is the possession of honor. --loc 457

Honor is connected to many things, but one thing it’s not connected to is happiness. In honor cultures, happiness as we think of it—“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—is not a recognized good. Happiness in honor cultures is the possession of unsullied honor. Everything else is secondary. --loc 458

Patton said, “Americans play to win at all times. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost a war and never will lose one.” --loc 478

The will to fight, the passion to be great, is an indispensable element of the Warrior Ethos. It is also a primary quality of leadership, because it inspires men and fires their hearts with ambition and the passion to go beyond their own limits. --loc 480

Second, they don’t solve the problem. Neither remark offers hope or promises a happy ending. They’re not inspirational. The deliverers of these quips don’t point to glory or triumph—or seek to allay their comrades’ anxiety by holding out the prospect of some rosy outcome. The remarks confront reality. They say, “Some heavy shit is coming down, brothers, and we’re going to go through it.” --loc 527

For the warrior, all choices have consequences. His decisions have meaning; every act he takes is significant. What he says and does can save (or cost) his own life or the lives of his brothers. --loc 545

Selflessness is a virtue in a warrior culture. Civilian society gives lip service to this, while frequently acting as selfishly as it possibly can. --loc 570

Cyrus of Persia believed that the spoils of his victories were meant for one purpose—so that he could surpass his enemies in generosity. I contend against my foes in this arena only: the capacity to be of greater service to them than they are to me. --loc 617

Let us conduct ourselves so that all men wish to be our friends and all fear to be our enemies. --loc 622

The Bhagavad-Gita changes this. It takes the Warrior Ethos and elevates it to a loftier and nobler plane—the plane of the individual’s inner life, to his struggle to align himself with his own higher nature. --loc 641

In other words, by the interior exercise of his exterior Warrior Ethos. Arjuna’s divine instructor (one of whose titles in Sanskrit is “Lord of Discipline”) charges his disciple to: Fix your mind upon its object. Hold to this, unswerving, Disowning fear and hope, Advance only upon this goal. --loc 648

Collective Unconscious, meaning that part of the psyche that is common to all cultures in all eras and at all times. --loc 675

The Collective Unconscious, Jung said, contains the stored wisdom of the human race, accumulated over thousands of generations. --loc 676

The lieutenant pointed to Alexander and said to the yogi, “This man has conquered the world! What have you accomplished?”
The yogi looked up calmly and replied, “I have conquered the need to conquer the world.” --loc 704

What Alexander was acknowledging was that the yogi was a warrior too. An inner warrior. Alexander looked at him and thought, “This man was a fighter when he was my age. He has taken the lessons he learned as a warrior dueling external enemies and is turning them to use now as he fights internal foes to achieve mastery over himself.” --loc 709

The hardest thing in the world is to be ourselves. --loc 714

Let us be, then, warriors of the heart, and enlist in our inner cause the virtues we have acquired through blood and sweat in the sphere of conflict—courage, patience, selflessness, loyalty, fidelity, self-command, respect for elders, love of our comrades (and of the enemy), perseverance, cheerfulness in adversity and a sense of humor, however terse or dark. --loc 726



Tides of War

Tides of War