"Blod and wræc min sweord singeð; ðurh ban and flæsc; wiges weg is æfre deað."The warrior who is, paradoxically, most prepared to die in battle, is the one least likely to do so.
A successful society must win wars and this is the function of the military. Warfare, however, unlike normal life, is characterised by chance and uncertainty. The military ethos; the warrior virtue, is society's evolutionary response to these factors, seeking to minimise their impact.
Indo-European culture, dating from 4,000 - 5,000 B.C., replaced the existing, mainly agricultural, societies in Europe and placed value on the ability to protect herds and flocks as well as raid those of others. Armed confrontation gave great value to the possession of good weapons but also to bravery. Organised military campaigns gave rise to the need for a 'super-leader' or hero. As battle required superior male strength, these societies thus became patrilinear and a single male god, the sky-god, took prominence. Faint echoes of these changes are recorded in the Norse myths, where the Vanir fertility gods are, after a war, essentially absorbed by the militaristic Æsir.
One may ask how warrior virtues can be inculcated; for despite some opinions, such controlled violence is a learned behaviour and is not innate. Do folk from harsh, unforgiving climes with little to lose make the best warriors? ("Conan the Barbarian Theory") or do richer folk with more to defend and greater material resources make the best soldiers? (Roman Army Theory). The answer lies in the distinction underlying the two words "warrior" and "soldier". Here the word "warrior" carries the assumption of heroic single combat, whereas the word "soldier" carries the assumption of disciplined combat as part of a group!
|Woden / Odin : God of War, but also not to be trusted.|
premium on such factors as unit cohesion and morale. The "glue" of the military ethos is what the Greeks called 'philia' - friendship, comradeship or 'brotherly love'. 'Philia' is the bond which links the disparate individuals in a military unit who have nothing in common but the prospect of facing death and misery together. This is the source of the unit cohesion which is so critical to success on the field of battle. Across the ages, numberless men have given their lives, more or less willingly, not for country or honour or faith but because they knew that by fleeing and saving themselves they would expose their companions to great danger. Thus loyalty to the group is the essence of fighting morale. The leader who can preserve and strengthen it knows that all the physical and psychological factors are relatively minor in comparison. This feeling of loyalty is the result, not the cause, of comradeship: comrades are loyal to each other spontaneously and without any need for reasons.
The ability to stand and fight, rather than flee, is, however, not all the warrior must have. He must be able to kill, preferably without damaging emotion. This is, in modern societies, increasingly difficult, as the thousands of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder bear witness to. It would have been easier in earlier days: folk lived nearer to nature and were much closer to death and suffering than are we. The Romans, of course, schooled their society to actually enjoy killing and taught that the barbarians they warred with were intrinsically less worthy of life, a view to re-emerge in Nazi Germany with reference to the Slavic races. Men can only be taught to kill dispassionately by long, hard training. Few of us would be incapable of killing under the right circumstances but this would be as a result of massive adrenaline secretion. The Berserks of the Sagas must have been terrifying - both to the enemy and their normal comrades - who would want a man who is out of his mind with battle fury guarding ones flank? Berserks make poor soldiers because they are ruled by their 'ellenwod' (fury) rather than 'siðscipe' (fellowship). The good soldier does, however, need a little of this battle-fury to give him "fire in the belly". This was regarded as the gift of Woden. It is likely that in Old English / Anglo-Saxon armies this was produced by group chanting and the beating of weapons on shields. One of the reasons for most ancient battles being over relatively quickly has always been thought to be the exhausting nature of the combat and this is true, however, it is also true that one can only rouse oneself to fighting pitch so many times before one runs out of adrenaline and fighting becomes automatic and the "fighting edge" is lost.
Warriors must be fit; both physically and psychologically: a certain mental toughness and elasticity being required. This is achieved by reasonably harsh training, which, at some stage, must involve practising with real, lethal weapons. A modern example can be seen in the S.A.S. whose members are, even today, sent to foreign war-zones to experience the sensation of being under hostile fire to see if they have "the right stuff"! A sense of eliteness is helpful, for if a military group 'know' they are superior to their enemy, morally, physically and technologically, they will have a large advantage. Where the sense of superiority is mistaken, however, there can be disastrous over-confidence; the best examples being Germany's attack on Russia in W.W.II and the Vietnam fiasco.
|Brihtnoth, defeated at Maldon|
|The Battle of Hastings|
At least they were right about that !