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The Warrior's Tale

The warrior's tale is a simple enough thing. Strong as steel, but fragile as chance. It is the wind in his soul and the wall we build around ourselves to tell us who we are.

Before there were cities or nations, and railways and airports, computers and telephones-- the tale was told around campfires. Acted out in pantomime, dressed up in animal furs and cave paintings. But the tale was the same. The people were confronted with a threat and they called upon the best and strongest of their men to go out and fight it. These were their warriors. What they did in the face of that threat is the tale.

The tale has many variations. Sometimes there are many warriors, sometimes only a handful. They march into the village of the enemy in triumph, or they make a last stand on a rocky outcropping, spending the last of their heart's blood to buy time they will never know. There is the weak man who becomes strong, the strong man who becomes weak, the woman who mourns the man who will never return, and the man who goes off to battle with nothing to lose. These tales have been told countless times in the ages of men, and they will be told again for as long as men endure.

It is not only the warriors who need the tale, or those left behind. Future generations learn who they are from this tale. "We are the people who died for this land," is the unseen moral of each tale. "We bled for it. Now it is yours to bleed and die for."

The warrior's tale tells each generation that they stand on the wall against a hostile world. And that the wall is made not of stones, but of their virtues. Their courage, their integrity and their craft.  Theirs is the wall and they are the wall-- and if they should fail, then it will fail. And the land and the people will be swept away.

What happens to a people who forget the warrior's tale and stop telling it around their campfires? Worse , what of a people who are taught to despise the figure of the warrior and what he represents? They will not lose their courage, not all of it. But they will lose the direction of that courage. It will become a sudden unexplained virtue that rises to them out of the depths of danger. And their wall will fail.

It is the warrior's tale that makes walls. That says this is the land that we have fought for, and we will go on fighting for it. It is sacrifice that makes mere possession sacrosanct. It is blood that turns right to duty. It is the seal that is above law, deeper still to heritage. Anyone can hold a thing, but it is sacrifice that elevates it beyond possessiveness. And it is that tale which elevates a people from possessors of a land, to the people of the land.

Universalism discards the warrior's tale as abomination. A division in the family of man. Their tale is of an unselfish world where there are no more divisions or distinctions. Where everyone is the same in their own way. But this tale is a myth, a religious idea perverted into totalitarian politics. It is a promise that cannot be kept and a poison disguised with dollops of sugar. It lures the people into tearing down their wall and driving out their warriors.  And what follows is what always does when there is no wall. The invaders come, the women scream, the children are taken captive and the men sit with folded hands and drugged smiles dreaming of a better world.

The warrior's tale explains why we fight in terms of our own history. The Great Swamp Fight. The Shot Heard Round the World. The Battle of New Orleans. Gettysburg, San Juan Hill, Belleau Wood, Pearl Harbor, Heartbreak Ridge, the Tet Offensive, Kandahar, and Fallujah. Generations of sacrifices must be defended. And those who wage war on us must be made to pay.

Universalism demands that war must answer to universal aims and objectives. That there is a universal law higher than war. But this is a children's story. The laws of men derive from their own interests. Those who can rule by force or coalition make their laws to serve their own ends. This is the way of the world.

Those who pretend to live by universalism will still fall to the law of steel. Rhetoric is no defense against fire and lead, and international codes have no defense against those who will break them. The talk may go on, but it is the warriors who will end it. It is still the warrior's tale to tell, even if all others have forgotten it.

The warrior's tale is no happy thing. It is bitter as bile and dark as death. But it is also a grand and glorious thing. For even in its full naked truth, it is the story of perseverance in the face of every agony and betrayal. It is the tale of how we live and why we die.

Even when all others forget their tale, the warriors remember. Even when they are called peacekeepers and turned into an army of clowns for the satisfaction of their political masters. The armies may decay, but warriors still remain in their cracks, on their edges-- men who are not wanted, but are needed because they are the only ones who can do the grim work and do it well. They may only be a hundredth of an army, or a thousandth. A fraction of a fraction. But without them there is no army, only empty uniforms.

When the warrior's tale is forgotten, then they become shadows. Dangerous men despised and feared. Thought of as killers, dismissed as monsters and stared at like beasts in a cage. But the society cannot deny them. It cannot deny that part of them. When the warrior diminishes, the energy is directed elsewhere. Sport becomes an obsession and matches end in bloody violence. Crime increases. Prisons fill up. So do police forces.

As the external war fades, the internal one begins. Barbarians come from without. Buildings burn, mobs rage and there is a savagery in the air.

No law can protect a society that has forgotten the warrior's tale. It will turn outward, and adopt the warrior tales of outsiders. The samurai will replace the cowboy. The sports star will be an outsider. Its heroes will become foreigners. Men who understand the virtue of violence and will do what their own people have been forbidden. Who have the vital energy that a society without a warrior's tale lacks.

When a people give up their own warrior's tale for that of others, they lose the ability to resist them. For each people's warrior's tale says that we are people, and they are enemies. We are warriors and they are murderers. When a people have no other warrior's tale but that of their enemies, they will come to believe that they are monsters. And that their enemies are brave warriors.

The day will come when they are asked who they are, and they will not know. They will point to their possessions and the names of their streets and cities. They will speak of higher ideals and cringe for not living up to them. They will be asked why they fight, and they will say that they do not want to fight. That all they want is peace at any price.

Even the most powerful of civilizations with the mightiest of cities becomes prey when it forgets the warrior's tale. It takes more than weapons to defend a city, it demands the knowledge of the rightness of their use. It is no use dressing men in uniforms and arming them, if they are not taught the warrior's tale. And it is nearly as little use, sending them off to watch and keep, if the men above them discard the warrior's tale as violent and primitive gibberish.

An army of millions is worth little, without the warrior's tale. Strategy is technique, firepower is capacity, both begin and end with the human mind. "Why do we fight," is the question that the warrior's tale answers far better than any politician could. "We fight because this is ours. It is our honor, our duty and our war. We have been fighting for hundreds and thousands of years. This is what makes us who we are."

We are the people, says the warrior's tale. But we are every people, says the universalist's tale. All is one. There is no difference between us and them. And we will prove it by bringing them here. Then the walls fall and it falls to the warriors to make their last stand. To tell another warrior's tale with their lives.

This is the quiet war between the philosopher merchants who want trade and empire, and the warriors who know that they will be called upon to secure the empire, and then die fighting the enemy at home. It is how the long tale that begins with campfires and ends with burning cities goes. The story that begins with cave paintings and ends with YouTube videos. Whose pen is iron, lead and steel. And whose ink is always blood.

We have been here before. Told and retold the old stories. The forest, the swamp, the hill and the valley. And behind them the lie, the maneuver and the betrayal. The war that becomes unreasoning and the people who forget why they fight. And one by one the warriors slip away. Some to the long sleep in the desert. Others to secluded green places. And still others into the forgetfulness of a people's memory. The hole in the heart of a people who forget themselves and become nothing.


  1. fodderwing25/5/13

    Comfort confuses. Calamity clarifies.

  2. I am guessing this essay, wonderfully evocative, was prompted by the savage murder of Army Drummer Lee Rigby in London. I will say that a soldier ultimately fights and risks his life to defend a value. So it's not necessarily an issue of sacrifice. Sacrifice isn't even necessarily his motive. That is never a soldier's motive, whether he attacks an enemy's machine gun nest or throws himself atop an enemy grenade. It's to defend and preserve a value.

  3. A brilliant and prescient enunciation of simple reality. In the end it all boils down to the facts of human nature. I'm not sure though that the warrior and the "merchant" are at odds. (although you do call it the 'philosopher merchant')

    Always people will want trade with other people. This is the story of civilization. Without trade we all die slowly of stultifying technological and (often) physical starvation. Yet always there will be those who want to extort trade and seize it for their own gain. And there enters the warrior...

  4. I should add to my earlier post that an Islamic "freedom fighter," or "martyr" is a self-sacrificing cipher who "sacrifices" himself as a way of destroying values. He has been taught by his ideology to not even value his own life, never mind the lives of those who m he wishes to destroy. A suicide bomber or a jihadist does not act to preserve anything. He is the nihilist tool of a nihilist philosophy.

  5. Lee Rigby is on my mind as well during this Memorial weekend. Perhaps because he was murdered at the hands of our common enemy, or perhaps his murder was so publicized and so recent. We all better arm ourselves because war is coming.

  6. Thank you for this sterling article, Daniel, with much appreciation from this Mom of Soldiers and daughter of two WWII Vets.

  7. "I've never been to New Zealand before. But one of my role models, Xena, the warrior princess, comes from there."
    Madeleine Albright

    .....and you claim internationalists aren't warriors?

  8. Anonymous26/5/13

    Perfect! and so appropriate for Memorial Day.

    and ...

    Sometimes your warriors diminish to not even to a hundredth or a thousandth but to a single leader who is able singlehandedly to re-awaken the warrior spirit in his countrymen and rouse them to the defense of their country. The West has had able leaders in the past, but where are they today?

    The warrior's tale is a hopeful story, but after Humpty-Dumpty has fractured the country and the fifth columnists and America haters have done their work it may not be possible to undo the damage they have done. It may be that America will not be a unified country again for a long time. It may be that we are in for a hundred years or a thousand years of Balkan wars in America where people struggle to throw the enemy out and to piece their country back together again. What we see in the Balkans today and in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya... may be the fate that will soon befall America itself.

    Warriors are not an end in themselves, they can't just fight against the enemy, they must fight For something, I know that the thing we've forgotten is Western Civilization, the thing we used to fight for was Western Civilization and the thing that our children need to know again is that the thing that is most valuable is Western Civilization. Three thousand years of history of the greatest accomplishments of the human race. A battle to preserve Western Civilization expressed so eloquently and forcefully by Winston Churchill but also by a thousand others heros of the West. Most have been forgotten but this is the essential thing that must be remembered, the heros of Classical Greece and of Greek Mythology. The saviors of Europe in their battle against the darkness of Islam. The struggle of the Jews to keep alive their covenant with God against the depredations of those all around them. Science, the Judeo-Christian traditions, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment.

    But sometimes the warrior doesn't even fight for values, he fights for his own people first and then if his people embody God's values that gives him the strength to be victorious.

    I'm beginning to think that our Second war is against the foreign invader parasite, but that our First war is against the "philosopher merchants". The insidious fifth column America hating treasonous "so called" leaders who have betrayed us, who have nothing but disdain and contempt for their own people and seek only their own self-interest in their own lifetime and care nothing for the consequences of their betrayal that will last for a thousand years after they are dead and gone. It's the treasonous so-called leader who keeps the warriors on a leash. We won't be able to deal with the invader until we've found a way to remove our misleaders and replace them with patriots.

  9. Anonymous26/5/13

    Some amazing writing, Mr. Greenfield! Thank you!

  10. Anonymous26/5/13

    "It's to defend and preserve a value."

    True Edward, and a great warrior is virtuous and knows what truly has value. What is valuable enough to fight for.


  11. Anonymous26/5/13

    Ditto. A truly thought provoking piece. As I'm musing about this column, once again I'm troubled by a trend in this society that I cannot quite interpret. Putting aside civilian 'militia' types for a moment, the warrior class in this country would seem to be the military; young idealistic men and women drawn from society at large, who fight in the Kandahars and Fallujahs of the world for our freedom and ideals.

    But I cannot help but consider that they are being used as pawns in a larger scheme of betrayal. Evidence: why we do we all go out of our way, in countless ways, to honor them as heroes? The dual truth is that we owe a significant debt to them, of course, but almost by definition a warrior would not need recognition of this fact.

    My father, a WWII vet, never talked at all about the war. There was a job to do, an enemy to defeat, and they went and did it. But by elevating all servicemen to the level of Hero, don't we degrade what the term Hero means? Politicians tripping all over themselves, including our esteemed president (with a small p) to honor servicemen is nauseating.

    The endless Main St. parades, and prolific U-Tube videos of returning conquerors, seems to have blinded our military class to the outrages happening domestically, and desensitized them to the danger. If the veterans in our midst won't stand up, we truly are in trouble. Fort Hood should have opened a lot of eyes. The fact that it didn't is truly troublesome.

  12. Anonymous26/5/13

    Yes, a wonderful essay, Mr. Greenfield, and a very insightful reply, vladtepes2
    Perfect for sharing this Memorial Day.
    Thank you both.

  13. That the wall on which to make a stand is virtue got my attention. Do national governments provide a source of inspiration or example? There is only one possibility that comes to mind, and it is not in the western hemisphere. Perhaps the current institutions are indeed dissolving. But this would be discouraging only if we have not discerned a new Source of civilization, and, yes, it brings a worthy universal administration. The ayatollahs in Iran fear it. We should investigate it.

  14. Well said Daniel, as always.

    We hear it, those drums that call to us. And we strain at the leash....

  15. Mao said "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." And he was undeniably correct, although incomplete.

  16. Anonymous26/5/13

    Excellent! Thank you!

  17. Anonymous26/5/13

    I thank you; for my grandfather, father, brother, uncles, cousins and friends who were warriors and have since passed. And I thank you for myself and brother warriors who are still here, watching the things we fought to preserve, slowly being eaten by rats, maggots and cockroaches.

    My father was a combat infantryman in WWII. He never spoke of it - it was just the job he had to do, horrible beyond the comprehension of ordinary people. He was in the 3rd Inf Div, same as Audie Murphy, who he scoffed at, saying, "He didn't do anything different than the rest of us."

    Years later, I read up on Murphy and he had the same attitude as Dad - a warrior's humble deference, almost embarrassed by the praise for doing what had to be done - confront and kill the enemy.

    I am so moved by this article, I'm doing my best to spread it across this country. It should be required reading for ALL Americans, as we observe Memorial Day.


  18. anonymous,

    thank you


    indeed, there is trade, but there is also a notion of trade that transcends national identity


    thank you and for your family's service

    Madeleine Albright,

    I don't think it was the warrior part that drew her


    our internal fight is against the transnationalism of the left and the right that makes it impossible for the natural 'immune system' of the warrior to assert itself


    the crimes committed against servicemen abroad by their own government are being covered up, see Extortion 17

    Neil Chase,

    governments don't create civilization, they emerge out of civilization


    thank you


    There is always the good fight

  19. ... the wall is made not of stones, but of their virtues.

    Very true and very insightful. It brings to mind Nehemiah rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem.

  20. Anonymous27/5/13

    Just as the statement "Truth needs no defense" is understood, it is often mis-understood that the statement "Heroes need no recognition" is true. Warriors do what they do because they are warriors. It is society that needs heroes, and because of this, heroes are often created to satisfy the needs of that society for the purpose of a feel good attitude.

  21. Except the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; except the Lord keeps the city, the watchman wakes but in vain.


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