Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Code of the Warrior

The Code of the Warrior: Exploring Warrior Values Past and Present is by Shannon French, who teaches ethics at Annapolis Naval Academy. She asks why warriors needs a code (short answer – to distinguish warriors from murderers), examines various historical warrior codes (Heroic Age Greece, Rome, Vikings, Plains Amerindians, Shaolin monks, Samurai), includes a chapter by Felicia Ackerman on Malory and concludes with a chapter asking whether terrorists are warriors (no, since their notion of violence is explicitly and purposely unbounded – they are political murderers). The importance of purpose and context for the development of warrior codes is brought out.

The book is workmanlike and enjoyable. The use of fiction and literature (The Illiad, Norse sagas, Morte D’Arthur) is very reasonable, given the concern with conceptions of the warrior. Much of the discussion is penetrating, clearly showing the benefit of years of wrestling with, and teaching, the material—for example, that vengeance is a way of stating the worth and importance of the wronged. Or that—as I know from personal experience—outrage is a moment of great moral danger. I particularly enjoyed her references to responses of her Naval and Marine students to the issues.

Some of it read a little sadly after the Abu Ghraib revelations (but, it wasn’t her Naval and Marine students doing such things). But I appreciated and enjoyed the book.

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