Lady Catriona McDonald, FSOS - August 1, 2007

The difference between warriors and soldiers has been turning over and over again in my mind. The warrior’s path is what I am interested in, but it often seems to be defined by saying, “a warrior is not a soldier.” Then what is a warrior, in fact? And how do these two groups differ?

One of the first hurdles is the tendency to want to judge one as better or more valuable than the other. Personally, the soldier holds no interest; as a result, I tend to view it as a less complex and ultimately less prestigious calling than that of the warrior. But I also realize that the soldier has had a valuable role to play in our history, and the fact that it does not interest me does not, in fact, invalidate it as a choice for others.

That disclaimer being made, I think the choice of the putative superiority of warrior vs. soldier is largely a function of both the times in which the argument is being made and the biases of the observers. In Continental warfare and tactics up through WWII, the soldier is the ideal—a person who fights as part of a unit, does not question his duty, and is ready to sacrifice all for the completion of the larger mission.

The warrior shares many of the same qualities. He also is able to fight as a part of a greater whole. He also follows orders. But a warrior’s explanation of his actions is rarely solely because he was “following orders.” A warrior owes allegiance not only to a lord, but to a higher moral code. It is this very allegiance which demands that his choices never be made blindly, that he takes responsibility for his own actions and how they affect others. It is the acceptance of moral, ethical and spiritual responsibility on the part of the warrior which sets him apart from the soldier.

There are other differences as well. Where a soldier often will only kill or protect, a warrior has the added task of being able to heal. With the responsibility of the ability to take a life should come the complementary duty of being able to mend those who have been injured. Much as a physician gains the knowledge of how to do great harm in the course of his studies, so too does a warrior lean how to do great good.

The warrior is also required to be an ambassador. He is the face of his order or community and as such has the responsibility of presenting the appropriate image to the public. How he carries himself reflects not only on his own nobility, but on the reputation of his cause. He has the ability to provide a personal, individualized connection that others outside his order may reference when recalling his larger cause. In many ways, this is the weightiest responsibility as it requires the warrior to adapt and be sensitive to a host of different people, each with his or her own needs and views, while still preserving his own integrity and that of his office.

In recent years, American culture has seen less and less need for the warrior. On the whole, our nation prefers soldiers who will hold the line and never question their orders. But I think the time has come when each of us needs to take responsibility for our own actions. The time has come where we need to question what we are being told. We need to speak out where injustices are being done—towing the party line is no longer acceptable. “Following orders” should never be a permitted excuse.

We can no longer cast about blindly, hoping that our government, our parents, or our lovers will be able to save us from ourselves. This does not mean that all are suited to follow a warrior’s path. It does mean that each of us should live deliberately.

We have free will. Use it.