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Society Still Needs Its Warriors

Security: End the occasional abuses, but don't stamp out the spirit of those who protect us from robbers or the enemy.

March 16, 1997|KURT SCHLICHTER | Kurt Schlichter, a lawyer in Los Angeles, served as an Army officer during the Gulf War and writes frequently on military issues. E-mail:

The bravery of LAPD officers in the battle of North Hollywood two weeks ago demonstrated that society still needs warriors and the culture that creates them. Society will always need protection, whether from bank robbers or enemy soldiers. Yet our warrior culture cannot provide warriors if it is transformed into something more concerned with sensitivity than with combat.

Warriors are different from other people. A warrior disregards his or her own safety to close with the enemy and to kill him. The SWAT team's risky assault on Emil Matasareanau seemed so shocking because normally, no one would approach a maniac wielding an automatic weapon. But a warrior's job is to attack despite the risk and to die if need be.

Warrior culture, which includes both our military and police forces, is under attack. The LAPD is reeling from its troubles, and the military has been hit with charges of sexual harassment and hazing. But such abuses are the exception, not the rule.

This focus on the negative highlights the conflict between society's warriors and intellectual elite. The tension stems from the fact that their respective values are in opposition. Warriors believe in absolute dedication to values like duty, honor and country. Intellectuals question the very idea of absolute values. Warriors prove themselves through action; intellectuals, by words. Warriors understandably value being able to take the hill more highly than the ability to deconstruct the great works of the Western literary canon.

This cultural gulf did not always exist. During World War II, one American in 10 was in uniform. All strata of Americans served. Today, of 260 million citizens, fewer than 3 million are active or reserve military. My own law school class of 400 contained no more than five veterans. Warriors are becoming strangers in the land they swore to protect.

The warrior culture is so misunderstood in part because many of the military's sharpest critics throughout society have never served, nor will their children. During the Gulf War, only three out of 535 members of Congress had children in the combat zone.

Anyone expecting warriors to adhere to civilian values utterly misunderstands them, as the notorious Marine "blood pinning" video graphically illustrates. For all the groaning, blood and pain, none of the Marines protested. Even I, as a young and foolish lieutenant, asked for "blood wings." Warriors, particularly young ones, want to prove themselves in the face of pain and adversity.

It is up to leaders to stamp out "blood pinning" and similar nonsense. But if we inadvertently stamp out the warrior spirit along with the occasional abuses, we have done more harm than good. Warriors must be toughened, as opposed to hazed. Good leaders appreciate the difference between toughness and cruelty, but we must accept that like Capt. Bligh or the misguided Citadel cadets, some leaders will fail to meet the standard. The answer is not to undermine the standard.

Warriors understand how meeting real standards leads to real self-esteem: The resulting esprit led to victory at Gettysburg, on D-day and in Kuwait. It motivated the outgunned men and women of the LAPD to hold their ground under fire.

Warriors saved the day in North Hollywood. Let's make sure we have warriors to save the day tomorrow.

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