This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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1.5. The Confrontation between Man and Evil (II)

The warrior and the teacher

We said at the very beginning of this discussion that there is no one-size-fits-all imperative when it comes to the form of resistance that a person must deploy. This means that although resistance is obligatory, the form of resistance is personally determined, at least in part.

The situation always carries unique complexities, but the condition of each individual carries even more complexities and these are what dictate who must and must not resort to physical compulsion. For one thing, the use of physical compulsion, especially in the extreme form of combat, carries great spiritual risks, and not everyone is able to face them. But aside from that, there are questions of general vocation and part of the misunderstanding about physical compulsion is the mistaken tendency to project these actions onto people for whom these actions would never be appropriate.

For example, if your vocation is to teach, meaning that you possess spiritual clarity and verbal fluency, which translates to a high aptitude for conveying ideas, then you would likely be called to the service of the truth using these skills. This personal calling helps us ‘delimit’ the form and degree of resistance to evil to which you are called. Note that we did not say that vocation is everything, but it is significant as a starting point.

If you possess the nature of a teacher, then your vocation would indicate that when resistance to evil is called for and the appropriate form of resistance is that of persuasion in the form of a call to clarity, hoping to awaken by words the love of truth, then you can be of great service. It is here that you provide a powerful service to the community. However, outside of that specific context, it might happen that your aptitudes do not fit, and that it would be an act of pride or ignorance for you to go further since your aptitudes and temperament will doom you to failure.

Too often we deny this complexity and unconsciously try to universalize the appropriate response to evil. It is ignored that in situations wherein verbal persuasion has proven futile, that a different sort of person with a different set of attributes is required. It requires the warrior type. This does not imply an alteration in values or morality. Just because the warrior and the teacher use drastically different means of delivery, it does not follow that one serves good and the other serves evil, or that one is weak and inadequate when it comes to resistance while the other is strong and effective. They serve the good in different capacities, and each are ‘weak and ineffective’ only when they try to switch places and step outside of their competence.

The vocation of the warrior does not require that he display verbal fluidity, and it is no insult to the soldier if he is unlearned, or ignorant of high moral theory, and proves unable to provide sophisticated justifications for what he must do. His service does not involve the use of speeches to awaken spiritual sight in the mind of the evildoer. On the contrary, those called to persuade through words have likely failed in their task by the time the warrior makes his appearance. If anyone has the right to condescend, it is not the academic but the warrior, since the failure of the teacher is what allowed the situation to get bad enough that he had to show up. At any rate, the warrior is called to meet evil by physically intervention, by using direct physical force to control the damage the evil is doing. The resulting confrontation may involve injury and bloodshed and destruction, and this eruption will naturally spread fear, suffering, hunger, death, grief, confusion, etc. But all of this is permitted on the grounds that it is the only way left to resist evil that does not involve surrendering to it and joining forces with it.

We should pause an acknowledge that even if this explanation we have had to oversimplify. It is, of course, possible that persons of mixed vocation exist who are competent in academics and at combat. We only mean to say that this is not the norm. Additionally, we do not mean to give the impression that once physical force is called for, then everything else goes out the window. Even during war, certain narrow possibilities for the expression of love still present themselves, as demonstrated by the rules involving treatment of prisoners in war and the killing of the wounded. It has always been a test of righteousness whether an army remembers the other forms of love during conflict or if, on the contrary, they give in to brutality plain and simple.

And so again, we will recall that by the time the warrior is called to the scene, the situation has clearly beyond civil discourse and rendered impossible the ‘lighter’ forms of resistance such as the pressure of social disapproval. What is necessary, in the last resort, is the clearing away of hell so that a semblance of peace can be reestablished.

Great spiritual teachers demonstrate the exception

The proponents of non-resistance will sooner or later try point to Christ and observe (rightly) that we cannot imagine him wielding a sword or a machine gun. And since Christians wish above all to imitate Christ, then that is all there is to it. Question settled, they seem to think.

But most great spiritual teachers, not only Christ but Buddha as well, tend to demonstrate through their lives the extreme of spiritual unworldliness and alienation. Their example is clearly intended to bring us to an awareness of spiritual realities. Christ’s kingdom was not of this world. Christ’s divine mission, which is to say his nature and his vocation, excluded the possibilities of outright bloodshed, to be sure, since as one man with one life he could not exemplify every possibility. But that he did not take up the sword does not mean that the sword cannot be taken up, and in fact his teaching does not exclude this, as is clear from the advice his Apostles would later offer to soldiers in the Roman military, not to mention the consistent doctrine of the Church since that time, which has always more or less allowed for the necessity of war and therefore the legitimization of the warrior vocation.

All Christians are called to be unified with Christ and to follow Christ and to integrate the truth of his Gospel, but it is simple and naïve to conclude that this requires everyone to respond to evil precisely (in word an action) as he did in every situation he faced. His responses were opportunities for spiritual education, and so they called him teacher. Recall what was said above about the vocation of the teacher, and we can say that Christ was the teacher par excellence. But not all of us are teachers.

The problem of the idealist

The pacifists are not entirely wrong in their sentiments, only wrong in oversimplifying things and, in oversimplifying, denying certain possibilities that seem contrary to holiness.

They are right is sensing that physical combat represents, in some way, a move away from holiness as an ideal, and that killing is, so to speak, a ‘descent’ from righteousness that Christ personified. Sensing only the imperfection of this mode of resistance, they deny the validity of any path that leads to such a confrontation.

The reality is that certain actions can be less than ideal but still absolutely necessary, and if they are necessary, they cannot be sinful. Moreover, if truly necessary, then they are in a sense obligatory.

We come here to a hard teaching. In the sections that follow, we will explain why the warries is called to fight on ground already lost, not physically but spiritually, and that this is the nature of his vocation and so the fact of his occupying a position of imperfection and of unrighteousness does not necessarily render it wrong, much less sinful.

This proves difficult to grasp for idealists, since they begin with the ideal and then set about trying to reconcile contingencies with the ideal and deny everything that does not lend itself to easy reconciliation. We find that the extremes of the human experience, of which physical confrontation is one, are always difficult to reconcile with ideals. This does not mean that our spiritual or moral ideals lose their value and that we must abandon them in favor of an compromising pragmatism; instead it teaches us that the real skill of adhering to an ideal is not to insist on its superficially perfect application but to be perceptive and prudent enough to see how the ideal can be adapted to concrete situations which will never conform exactly to an ideal. In other words, if you are going to be a rigorous idealist, you risk becoming useless in the face of any real-life problem.

Different worlds of meaning

This is the point at which men of contemplation and men of action show how different are the worlds they occupy. The scholar and the warrior operate via a different interpretive apparatus, a different life hermeneutic.

What is meaningful and true and good is always the same for every person in terms of ultimate ends, but in the order of human experience the locus of meaning for each is radically different. The man of contemplation (of which the teacher is an example), deals with meaning in the form of concepts and with a view toward the possession of pure unadulterated truth. For this reason, he cannot readily grasp the hermeneutic used by the warrior. For the latter, immanence, rather than abstraction, is the point of departure, and so the warrior sets himself to confronting a chao and overcoming it in the physical domain. Through this fight he approaches the same good as the contemplative, but he approaches by a different road.

What distinguishes the man of action (of which the warrior is an example) is that he begins in the here and now, in the concrete, and so takes for granted the imperfection and contradiction of circumstances. If he demanded perfect order before acting, he could never act and would become useless. For someone who must act, and act within time and place, it is absurd to demand the path of perfection and purity first and foremost, as contemplatives try to do, and only to proceed once assurances of perfect righteousness are given. Only the monk or the academic, safely walled into the convent or the university, can emphasize perfection as if that were a feasible starting point for a life actually lived.

The religious view and the humanist view

Humanism generates massive blind spots for its adherents. The foremost of these is the reality of human evil, and the fact that we are all immersed in it.

The humanist tends to imagine man according to the image or Rousseau, who thought that man was most noble in his primitive state (a ‘noble savage’) whose corruption is mostly the work of external pressure and perverse education. Civilization, in this view, is a corrupting and weakening influence. Man is naturally good but has of late become a victim of bad upbringing, etc.

The anthropology of the timeless religious teaching, on the other hand, agrees that man is in some way good, but that at the same time he is subject to a fallenness, and because of this he constantly fails to distinguish between good and evil. He is daily deceiving himself and others and although he desires the good, since it is impossible to desire anything else, he struggles to recognize it and is always choosing evil out of ignorance and blind passion.

For Christianity, this predicament is a result of the human condition and is not something inflicted on people by external pressure or distortion. In fact, the religions diverge from humanism drastically in teaching that the only thing that saves man from his moral/spiritual ignorance is precisely the imposition of an external will (or wills) in the form of community and religious education that saves him from the hell of his own ignorance.

Man desires the good but in terms of realizing this good in his being, via thought and action, it remains a potentiality and not an actuality, and he is always ‘missing the mark’, hence the idea that he is ‘a sinner’. The ‘natural goodness’ of man is but an inkling that he does not understand, it is the primordial desire that underlies all of his specific desires. He needs help to realize (make real) this beloved goodness in himself, for alone he is doomed to confusion. It is for this reason that God provided a revelation, bequeathing to humanity the spiritual truth needed to learn to recognize the good more clearly, and to realize it more fully, hence the ‘salvation’ offered by the religions, and the traditional view of the clergy as official custodians of the revelation.

This anthropology, which is taken for granted by most Christians, explains why they can understand and deal with evil more effectively than our humanists. The humanists, for their part, have inherited a peace and social order that Christendom established and now are in the process of dismantling it.

The warrior sacrifices himself both physically and morally

Having recapitulated the Christian notion of man’s sinfulness, we are now able to address another problem with idealistic interpretations of moral action.

First, without complete honesty about oneself and about man in general, it will be impossible even to formulate the right questions about confronting evil via compulsion, much less provide the right answers. We need to see everything we can see. If we are blind to man’s fallen nature, we will miss a huge part of the picture and we will offer inadequate cures or else we’ll offer cures for the wrong disease.

The greatest difficulty is this:

We cannot pose the question as if we were situated at a point of moral perfection, and as if we lived in a world that was likewise free of evil. If out of naivety or ideological blindness we begin as if we were in possession of perfect righteousness, then we make our primary struggle that of retaining this righteousness. If this were the case, then we would have to proceed by watching out for every possible imperfection that would degrade us in any way, and the only real path that would be open to us would be the path of pure and unadulterated righteousness.

If we approached things in that way, then clearly the use of physical force would be impossible to admit. This is because fighting and killing are always and everywhere imperfect in the sense that, in a perfect world, such things would never happen. In doing these things, even the hero suffers a kind of moral loss.

We do not say that the warrior sins, but that he involves himself in actions that are, strictly speaking, not righteous and that a truly righteous being, such as Christ, would not even consider.

This is why, in order to make sense of things, we must re-frame the issue and say that combat, for the good man, for the hero, takes on the aspect of a sacrifice of self, in the same way that Christ’s descent from heaven into the domain of chaos was a self-sacrifice even before the historical moment of crucifixion. Merely permitting oneself to descend from perfection to imperfection is a self-immolation. It is precisely this kind of moral immolation that the warrior suffers.

The difference of course is that Christ descended from absolute perfection, and the human warrior never possessed such a state. The analogy is therefore imperfect, but it clarifies what is missing from the purely idealistic attempts to understand violence and war. It allows us to admit that there is no way to frame this issue wherein the warrior, even in service of the good, can claim moral purity and righteousness. He cannot claim it—but he can reclaim it, and this is why the rituals of spiritual purification provided by the religions are of utmost importance to the warrior vocation. We will elaborate on this point below.

The example of the executioner

The warrior suffers, but other vocations suffer in a like manner. We could even say that his situation is not nearly so challenging as that of the traditional executioner, the ‘headsman’.

There is a reason that executioners were always outcasts. Even in the tavern they were given a separate table with goblet chained in place so that no one else could be touched by the moral contamination that followed this public servant wherever he went.

The humanists, of course, would describe this as the perverse prejudice of a self-contradicting legal system that used one man as a scapegoat to avoid the guilt of a brutal society. But based on what we’ve just explained, it should be understood that the executioner performs an action that is unrighteous but is at the same time necessary and so it is true that he suffers diminishment and distortion, hence the traditional stigma, but he is yet not a sinner and is not spiritually condemned for his service. In performing his function as the last terrible resort in the social resistance to evil, he sacrifices himself even in terms of his social standing.

The warrior does not possess righteousness

Returning to the vocation of the warrior, we can cite again from Ivan Ilyin, who described his situation well:

“Man is not righteous, and he does not fight evil either as a righteous man or among the righteous. Thinking of the origin of evil in itself, and fighting it in itself, and remaining apart from it while taking account of it to the end, man finds himself compelled to help others in their struggle to stop the activities of those who have already surrendered to evil and are seeking universal destruction. The one who carries out suppression himself stands in the marsh, but his foot rests on firm ground, and thus he helps others who are sucked down by the quagmire to come out onto the firm ground, trying to protect them and save them, and realizing that he himself can no longer come out dry from the marsh.”[1]

Like the executioner of old, the warrior takes up his sword and walks into the mire. He cannot but emerge covered in filth, if he emerges at all.

This is the absurdity of approaching the question as if we were like Christ, seated in heaven at the right hand of God, and it were a question of ‘should we or should we not rise up and go down to fight alongside the fallen’, for we are already there. The question must be posed in an entirely different way.

It is not just the warrior, although his case is more tragic. It is all of us. We are not righteous, but wish to pursue righteousness, and we cannot pursue it if we refuse to act in any way that involves us in unrighteousness, since we are already involved in it and, like the pilgrim in Dante, the road to paradise leads into the inferno.

Any thinker who ignores his personal unrighteousness, which he shares with all men, will also ignore the unrighteousness of the warrior and fail to understand that all human actions are doomed to a degree of imperfection, and so his ‘moral’ answers will rest on hypocrisy or naivety or both. And when he finally does glimpse the reality of the situation, he will become utterly frozen and useless as he searches for a ‘righteous option’ and finds nothing forthcoming, and anyone who looks to him for answers will likewise be stuck at a fork in the road that presents no guarantees.

[1] Ivan Ilyin, On Resistance to Evil by Force, p. 165.

The paralysis of the perfectionist

We must be careful, after all of that, and state clearly that we are not justifying a heretical consequentialism wherein evil means are fine if the end is good. We are not trying to offer such ‘clean’ solutions, for that is precisely what such formulations offer.

What we are trying so hard to illustrate is that an overly idealistic morality leads to a kind of perfectionism in practice and the most disastrous result of perfectionism is that it is debilitating.

Moral perfections, like all perfectionists, suffer from paralysis. They cannot move, cannot take a single step, cannot make a single decision, unless assured of its perfect righteousness. Since no such assurance is forthcoming, the perfectionist will tend to become willfully blind to the harsher realities of life. In the end, there is only one way they are enabled to act. They act by pretending (and believing) that they act perfectly. Thus, they become Pharisees. Or else they do nothing at all, deadlocked in a futile search for the righteous option they will never find.

Such people might become pacifists but depending on temperament they might err in the opposite direction and try to over-sanctify the warrior vocation. These are the people who describe the military as the ‘hand of god’, which of course leads to an attitude of permissiveness and results in all sorts of heinous behaviors on the part of warrior types who think their actions are all-too-righteous.

This latter view is the flipside of pacifism, just as naïve. It is just another idealized and ridiculous picture of war, this time as a righteous and morally cleansed affair. In any case, the idealists lead everyone astray and pretend to offer a path of simplistic perfection that ignores the ugliness of human realities.

Righteous killing is a fantasy

The path of action is an uphill struggle and only those who are both honest and strong are up to the task of facing its extremes. The warrior vocation involves resisting evil in such a way that only a minimum of violence is manifest in order to adequately defend the truth. The will to righteousness is never lost, the warrior never becomes a cynic, but remains a realist who understands that his childhood dreams of fighting through the bog and coming out clean on the other side are just storybook fantasies that can be excused in children but must be condemned in adults. “Being a saint in a dream is not the same as being a saint in practice.”[1]

We could say that the warrior must possess a vision of purity and righteousness and that his will must be upright and oriented toward this vision, but that the path of action he must tread does not perfectly reconcile with that which he loves, and in a sense he must go where he does not wish to be and suffer loss, all out of a desire for the good, or to say it another way, for the love of God.

To kill the villain is an evil, but it is a lesser evil than to let him butcher the innocent; the warrior carries out the evil that is the execution of the villain, and takes upon himself the stain of that evil, and not out of some delusion that in doing so he remains pure. Rather, he permits himself to be debased out of love for God and for the innocent he defends and because it is the only way.

The warrior never desires evil, which in a way implies that he never really wishes to kill, or would certainly choose another way if it were possible. He kills because he loves the good and because it must be done in order to protect the good and because he is in a position to accomplish this feat. He accepts the sacrifice, and he suffers the loss. This is the true nobility of the warrior, that he imitates Christ not in his purity but in his suffering. The warrior takes upon himself the sin of human conflict.

[1] Ivan Ilyin, On Resistance to Evil by Force, p. 166.

The humility of the fighter is what saves him

Perhaps what distinguishes the warrior of the idealists from the warrior of reality is that the latter has chosen humility over prideful delusion. He sees and admits the spiritual imperfection that comes with his condition, which he shares with all men but which he is called upon to demonstrate in the most pitiable way—through the killing of his fellow men. When confronted with such a duty—because for all men resistance to evil is a duty, and for the strongest it is a duty to resist in the extreme—he does not tremble or weep or rationalize his way out, but sets himself to the task in humility. He throws himself, life and limb, body and soul, at Gods feet, trusting his mercy will preserve him. No coward could understand this kind of faith.

At the risk of going too far, we will say that through spiritual clear-sightedness, through love of God, through love for neighbor, and through complete inner honesty, the moral weakness of what he is called to do becomes irrelevant in the same mysterious way that Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son was morally nullified in the face of necessity, because all he knew in that moment was that it was commanded and that he must obey.

If a primary characteristic of the great warrior is humility, then a perverse pride in bloodshed is his greatest liability. It leads directly to every violent abuse that we have ever heard of, and is, in turn, used constantly as evidence against the whole vocation.

War spiritually distorts everyone involved

War is an opportunity to surpass oneself and to become more than we would ever be if we stayed within the bounds of a comfortable existence.

Some men join the military to ‘be all that they can be’, and for some this promise holds true. But we can also see that resistance to evil by force is a treacherous path, and that everyone who walks this path suffers, including even the noble warrior, and that he suffers even when he is victorious. In fact we could say that he suffers more in his victory, since through death he would have received immediate purification but in victory he must live with the stain and find a way to cope with the inner distortions that follow from his actions.

It is obvious to any religious person that what we do in life changes who we are, that we are body and soul and we cannot do things with the body and pretend they do not change what we are morally and spiritually. To push, strike, cut, and kill are actions that effect more than just the arm that swings the sword. They involve the whole mind and free will of the one who fights. The consequences, for such a one, are vast and long-lasting.

This holds true for the judge, the policeman, and the solider, when these each perform their function of forceful resistance. It is also true for the society as a whole when war makes unusual demands on it physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

War sets us up for certain contradictions. Certain emotional responses that are good for man in general are destructive during combat. These good things must be suppressed either systematically through training, or individually by sheer willpower. And on the other hand, sentiments and habits that are very anti-social become desirable in the heat of battle and so they must be instilled, encouraged, and edified so that the solider can perform his function with some success. A whole range of attitudes and impulses are encouraged during wartime that must afterward be extinguished, if they can be extinguished at all.

It is entirely understandable that a hardened veteran might experience a kind of excitement in killing, and that he might develop instincts that we would call ‘bloodthirsty’. Provided this is kept within limits and does not offend justice, it is not wrong and is the only way that things can be. But what comes afterward? What does the ‘bloodthirsty’ warrior do with all of this when it is no longer needed, in the interim between confrontations?

Here is where the modern purely secular approach to war breaks down almost completely. Traditionally it was understood that the trauma of war is physical as well as spiritual. This trauma cannot, therefore, be effectively healed without incorporating spiritual means. The modern military knows little of this, even it does of course employ chaplains. This is partly because even modern religious thinking does not adequately grasp the nature of the spiritual means in question.

Traditionally, the solution was to situate the entire vocation of the warrior within a spiritual context, and to make his training and his mission and his return from the field a matter of spiritual preparation and then spiritual purification—and make no mistake, a purification is always needed regardless of the goodness of the cause. This is the whole meaning of the chivalric orders of the medieval period, wherein the line between monk and knight was blurred.

Modern man is horrified at the thought of waging any war in the name of God or for openly religious motives. He shies away from any religious preparation for war, and today’s soldiers are sent out into the field spiritually naked or, in the best of cases, left to his own devices since, in the secular world, a man’s spiritual life is his own private affair.

Moral heroism cannot be the norm

Any civilization that demands moral heroism as a norm is doomed to collapse from exhaustion. No person, and no community, has limitless reserves of moral courage. Moral heroism cannot be sustained perpetually and must always be an exception. Many people cannot even muster it in the exception.

This limitation, which is part of human nature, is often misunderstood in individualistic societies where morality is not thought to be a collective effort and is instead treated as if each person could and should pursue their moral perfection in isolation and without public interference. What happens then, inevitably, is that the social norms that traditionally regulated morality begin to lose their force (in the name of individualism) and certain forbidden behaviors propagate and flourish in the name of ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’ and ‘personality’. At this point, the few who wish to remain virtuous are in a sad position, because there is no such thing as a private moral life.

In the face of a society that practices vice as a collective norm, the individual who wishes to behave morally will find themselves in a situation where each day requires an immense act of moral discipline. It is part of man’s nature to be absorbed in the collective of which he is a part, and it is unnatural to have to reject what everyone else is doing. It is inhumane. Such a man will have to forcibly alienate himself from his neighbors, which is obviously not a normal, healthy social state. Quite the opposite. In other words, he will have to, each day, make a heroic moral effort to remain true to his conscience. No one can do this perpetually.

It is a horrible injustice to moral people to treat them as if it were up to them to go against the grain of a society that has no regard for moral behavior and prefers to let anything go. Modern people imagine that they exist in a context of near total freedom, where behaviors are mutually exclusive, but this has never been the case.

Licentious communities persecute those who do not wish to degrade themselves by forcing them to live out an anti-social lifestyle, deprived of the essential goods of community life.

We see the same difficulty during wartime, both for the solider and society at large. The sacrifices and the forms of discipline that a solider survive during war are so extreme that they require a heroic level of effort to emerge spiritually intact. Likewise, in the face of fear and hate, any society that participates in war must also muster a moral energy that approaches the heroic in order not to lose itself to the negative passions that flare up. Such states should never be prolonged.

This is one of the primary reasons that perpetual military action is morally destructive not only to the members of the military but to civilization in general. It permits an exceptional experience (from which we can theoretically recover) to become the rule of daily life. Exceptional situations can demand exceptional responses, and we can often endure them, but we cannot expect exceptional responses every day, forever.

War that never ends, and a ceaseless propaganda of war, to which all modern societies are subject thanks to technology, is corrosive to all that is healthy and normal.

Military service is not a direct road to heroism

To those who seem to place military service on a kind of pedestal, such that anyone who enlists is granted something like secular sainthood, it would be good to make the observation that although military service offers an opportunity for heroism and therefore spiritual realization, it is one of the most indirect and hazardous paths to that destination.

To become good, the normal means is to flee from evil. That is undeniable and ought to be the normal way of pursuing virtue and goodness. The soldier does the opposite. His challenge is to find a way to become good while running toward evil and entering into a reciprocal relationship with it and even sacrificing himself to its power. Do we really need to emphasize the problems that come from making light of this path, encouraging all young men to see it as sure title to virtue and public respect? Chosen lightly or for the wrong reasons (for example, social clout or college tuition) it creates a class, not of heroes, but of mercenaries, and that is an entirely different thing.

The perks of military service

One of the biggest distortions that the warrior vocation has undergone in modern times is its transformation into a form of indentured servitude for the purpose of future economic benefit, with the payoffs being free education, medical care, and perhaps an immediate monetary payoff just for signing up.

We have already mentioned the distinction between combat as a spiritually perilous duty, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the career of the ‘mercenary’ who is basically a body for hire and may or may not have any concern for love and spiritual realization.

Economic bribes aside, there is the additional problem of young men being lured into military service due to the social status it accrues. Membership in the military in the United States automatically translates to strangers going out of their way to offer praises and thanks, and this has become so normal that it is almost a faux pas to omit it. No distinction is made between veterans of actual battles and those who may spend one weekend per month out in the field doing routine drills half an hour from home. It is not so much a problem of undeserved merit but of pseudo-religious patriotic zeal on the part of the public, which in America has taken on disturbing proportions. Not to genuflect in front of ‘men in uniform’ is tantamount to spitting on the flag.

We do not object to practice of showing respect to respectable men, and there are plenty of cases where soldiers deserve the respect they are shown, but we would like to point out that this automatic and indiscriminate form of soldier-worship ends up perverting military service into a kind of purchased flattery for egotistical young men.

In view of this combination of monetary reward and immediately elevated social status, it is difficult to imagine recruiters having to put forth much effort at all. One wonders why they are even needed. The answer to this last question is of course that there is no such thing as enough soldiers in an age when warfare has become total. No matter how many sign up, more will be needed, and once the willing are enlisted, the rest must be baited.

If we speak with hostility about these practices, it is because they tend to overshadow all of the essential considerations, all of the factors that must be discerned in order to know that military service is in fact one’s vocation and that it will not turn out, on the contrary, to be a soul-destroying experience for a given individual. We would perhaps be more accepting if the spiritual questions were more seriously addressed as part of the ‘marketing’ strategy used by the state to increase its ranks, but instead it is ignored completely, and this cannot be condoned and renders all other tactics perverse.

The problem of the idealization of the military

The problems just mentioned are partly the result of painting a too romantic and idealized picture of the military vocation.

In some cases, this has been the work of the pacifists themselves who always go too far and say too much in their protests. One example of this heartless pacifism was the treatment of soldiers returning from Vietnam. To welcome a soldier home by spitting in his face is not exactly in line with justice and says nothing to him that would dispose him to hear your concerns. Nor is it even reasonable considering the fact that soldiers do not decide when and where they fight, and so to blame them for an unjust war is to completely misunderstand the order of things. All the important decisions were already made before the soldiers arrived at boot camp, and those decisions were not made by the soldiers themselves. But that is another subject, which will be addressed if time permits.

For now, we only wish to say that those who are more sympathetic to the situation of the soldier, and who also sense the duty of those with power to resist evil, naturally respond to the cruelty of the pacifists by running to the opposite extreme and elevating all veterans to a kind of special social class entitled to unqualified adoration.

This idealization, which is a confused response to a noble intuition, is made more confusing when we see that the supporters, much like the protestors, do not understand the difference between those who fight the wars and those who determine which wars ought to be fought. Not only do they demand respect for soldiers who fight (this much would be reasonable) but, without knowing they have changed subjects, they also demand respect for the government officials who decide what wars can justly be fought.

Through the conservative slogans about ‘supporting our military’, they loop all those bureaucrats into the fold with the actual soldiers and demand that neither of them be criticized or questioned in any way. In this way, a respect for soldiers is perverted into bootlicking servility to government authority, which amounts to an inability to question the government as a political organization. It is impossible for these military-worshippers to understand that a person might respect soldiers and at the same time question whether or not the politicians who control them have their best interests in mind, and that on this basis it is entirely possible to object to military intervention on behalf of the soldiers themselves and out of respect for their dignity. But no, we find that the ‘pro-military’ crowd indirectly becomes the ‘pro-government’ crowd, and a deceitful politician gains protection under this umbrella of patriotic zeal.

Anything less than perfect is distasteful

It is natural to wish to be faultless, and to try and find perfection in our acts. It is natural to be disturbed at the presence of ambiguity in our motives. This is true especially for the weak-willed, since they more others must have assurances that their acts are ‘safe’ and that there is no risk involved. If they saw the truth about their mixed motives, then they would not be able to bring themselves to act at all. It takes great courage to act in spite of doubt and without any assurances that the decision we made was the right one.

This is true also of collective actions. A nation wants to believe that its military interventions are acts of unquestionable heroism and goodwill. We strive to imagine our country as the noble savior coming to the aid of the weak and persecuted. Our national motives must be pure, and the means honorable. To question this narrative, and to wonder if perhaps our motives are sometimes mixed and our means a bit too pragmatic, is to be unpatriotic.

As individuals or as a collectivity, we yearn to be blameless so that we do not have to question our moral uprightness.

This is why conflicts, whether political or military, tend to be presented as matters of black and white, Christ vs. anti-Christ. We enemy must be ‘all wrong’ because if they were ‘partly right’ then this would have implications. We cannot admit of any good in the enemy, no legitimacy can be granted to their complaints. If that were the case, then they would have a certain share in heroism and this could mean that we have a certain share in unrighteousness, and although this is always and everywhere the case to some degree, we cannot admit it consciously or else we would not be able to bring the full force of our wills to the task.

The mark of the truly courageous and strong-willed man is that he can act even in the face of his own personal unrighteousness, in the face of a real antagonism between the God he serves and the imperfect way he serves him. He is able to fight while admitting that his opponent has some good in him, and that he must in some way respect his enemy. He can fight with all his will, allowing all the while that, yes, he too is a sinner.

The immediately feasible or the impossible perfect

It boils down to the necessity of making a choice and taking a stand once it becomes clear that the perfect is not an option and that in most cases we find ourselves scrambling to salvage the least imperfect outcome. This is why spiritual sightedness and honesty are so important for the warrior, the statesman, or anyone who must take decisive action when confronted with so many unpleasant and potentially unrighteous choices.

The priest or the academic, for all their lofty achievements, do not really have to face this mess. The monk can turn the other cheek because in the end he is absolved of responsibility to anyone but God, and we can assume that this is pleasing to God. But the same is not true of the policeman, the solider, and the parent. To these, God has entrusted the care of a whole society, city, or household, and when confronted with a violent evil, to turn the other cheek out of some lofty sentiment would be to betray their vocation. The monk sacrifices himself when he turns the other cheek; the father would sacrifice his whole family. The two situations are not comparable and to apply the same moral calculus to each is both cruel and superficial.

The skill that must be developed in the man who resists evil by force is not a willingness to endure evil, but rather the ability to discern between the unachievable ideal and the immediately salvageable good. This is not the same as turning to the lesser evil out of laziness or moral indifference: it is a matter of acting in a context of imperfection.

What the warrior must find in every situation is the actual best, as opposed to the abstract best. Being called to action, he realizes the good here and now and not according to a theoretical formula, and therefore the good he actualizes through his choices will always be a relative good.

Justice and morality are not coextensive

When it is said in the Gospel of Matthew that the Father ‘maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust’, we are given an excellent starting point for a necessary observation about the distinction between morality and justice.

Sometimes acts of God, which must be good, and therefore moral, are also, from the point of view of human legal calculus, unjust. It is worth repeating: God’s morality is unjust, but in the sense that his love exceeds justice and consumes it.

Examples of this holy disregard for justice abound. It is shown to the prodigal son, and in the parable of the workers who were paid a full day’s wage for a partial day’s work. The other workers (like the obedient son in the first parable) were justly irritated at the master’s decision. Here we can see the discrepancy, the master departs from the logic of justice but never from the essence of the good.

What we are trying to show is, firstly, that justice does not provide an exhaustive account of the moral, and in the same way that a truly good act can offend legal justice, so also can legal justice offend the good.

To reframe this concept in the context of war and the warrior, we can say that the vocation of the warrior is the vocation of justice, and that the actions of a just warrior can still be described as morally imperfect, since as we have just observed, justice does not encompass the entirety of the good. In using force to harm or kill an enemy, the warrior offends perfect righteousness, but he conforms to justice.

Here is the principle that must be grasped:

For the warrior, justice is enough, and in humility he acts knowing that according to his earthly duties he must settle for something less than moral. His duty represents the inverse of God’s mercy, and he trusts God’s mercy to exceed his justice and cover its imperfection.

The warrior lives in the cold shadow of the gratuitous love of the Father. It is not given to him to bask in the warmth of the sun that does not distinguish between good and evil men. The warrior must distinguish, sometimes with brutal finality.

In this light, are his actions good? Yes and no. The justice brought by the sword is superior to the injustice brought by the villain, but in relation to the moral perfection of divine mercy, this justice is inferior. We can see, then, that the man of action occupies the position of justice, and this is an intermediate position between evil and righteousness.

Having said all of this, do we imply that the warrior who carries out his work through love of God is accounted sinful in the sense that, in resisting evil, he participates in it? The answer is not simple. Although every sin can be called unrighteous, not every unrighteous act is a sin. Sin can be seen as a particular category of unrighteous deeds, leaving open the possibility of certain unrighteous actions that are not sinful. The deciding factor in this question is necessity.

If the objective conditions of the situation allow for the possibility of a truly righteous, morally perfect action, and we opt for an unrighteous action, then we may speak of sin. However, if conditions exclude all righteous outcomes, and in pursuing the good we fall short of righteousness out of necessity and without any other possible option, then this cannot be a sin, since we are not held liable for unrighteousness when the limits of our worldly situation exclude righteousness.

This is important, and when we speak of the spiritual compromise demanded by the warrior vocation, it is this difficult situation we have in mind, and it will be necessary to deny the false equivalence that presents unrighteousness and sinfulness as synonyms.

The spiritual compromise

The situation of the man who takes up the sword is this:

He turns to the use of force as a last resort and therefore as a necessity, and this last resort is morally imperfect. In doing this, he does not sin, since although the use of force is morally imperfect, and therefore unrighteous, he has no other choice, given the circumstances, unless of course he were to give up resistance to evil and to surrender to it, which is not an option because this would carry him even further from moral perfection.

Here we must address the subjective condition of the man who resists evil in this way, out of necessity. The noble man does not choose this course out of a weakness of character, which is to say, from subjective unrighteousness, but due to an objective situation that only permits certain imperfect and undesirable outcomes. From among these outcomes, he salvages whatever good he can salvage, choosing the outcome which is least unrighteous, which at this point becomes mandatory for him due to his vocation, accepting that in any case he will suffer loss. This is the spiritual compromise he is called to make.

If a righteous outcome were objectively possible, and if he did not choose it due to cowardice or indifference or some subjective weakness, only then would he be culpable for the moral imperfection in which he is involved.

The spiritual compromise is inherent in the human experience

It may sound as if we are painting an unfortunate picture of the warrior vocation, since we have said that it involves a necessary spiritual compromise. However, it may help things if we point out that this ‘necessary spiritual compromise’ is not at all specific to the warrior vocation but only takes on special significance in that context.

Anyone who must live ‘in the world’ and perform actions of any kind is constantly confronted with the necessity of this ‘compromise’, only to a somewhat lesser degree and with more mundane consequences. We have merely been describing a ‘compromise’ that is an aspect of daily life and, in the case of the sword, taken to its extreme.

As we have already said, anyone who insists on perfection will be frozen and useless and will be left at the mercy of circumstances. Likewise, the warrior who insists on perfection before acting will be left at the mercy of his enemies. We do not call for an abandoning of moral principles, but rather the honest admission of certain unpleasant facts about the moral life, first and foremost being that perfect conformity is not achievable while we live.

The doctrine of the fall and ritual absolution

Perhaps it is helpful to recall at this point that the doctrine of the Fall presupposes a state of imperfection in all men. If we use this as our starting point, all that we have said makes more sense.

It is, again, not so much that the warrior is somehow more unfortunate than others simply by vocation, but that the vicissitudes of his vocation amplify the spiritual dangers that are, at any rate, already present to all people everywhere. War subjects the soul to trials that are unknown under normal circumstances and puts men through a trial by fire. While the glory is therefore amplified for the one who prevails, the flipside is that the danger of spiritual collapse is amplified as well.

To situate this within the Catholic context, we could point out that the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which provides absolution from sin, is part of the normal spiritual life of all believers, even the saints. Our of all of the vocations possible for man, we would suggest that Reconciliation is most crucial for the warrior due to his direct contacts with evil in its most extreme manifestations.

Does this make the warrior ‘unclean’, either morally or spiritually? Of course not, for as we have said, the saints themselves were often known to frequent the confessional as often or more often than the weakest of sinners. Priests themselves have their own confessors, and they avoid the confessional at their own risk. To need confession is not to be weak.

The state of sin is a basic condition for man, and it is not a special insult to point out that certain vocations require constant spiritual maintenance in order to continuously repel the assault of evil. The greater the struggle, the more it is always considered necessary to return frequently to the refuge of spiritual purification and light.

The monk also makes the spiritual compromise

If it still sounds as if we’ve made the warrior vocation a sorry one, insisting repeatedly that it involves a willful departure from certain aspects of righteousness, we could say that the same compromise is made by the cloistered monk in every age. The only difference is that Christianity has taken pains to provide elaborate justifications for why the compromise of the monk actually constitutes a benevolent sacrifice and not a sin. But it remains a ‘spiritual compromise’ in the sense we have explained.

Consider the fact that, if the life of Christ is again presented as exemplary and if we take the Gospel teaching as a ‘norm’, we can say that the lifestyle of the desert fathers involved an obvious departure from the normal Christian vocation of involvement with the world. The hermit always ignores some important components of Gospel teaching or at least ignores their full development.

The discipline of celibacy, for example, and the obligation to perpetuate humanity through marriage and family life, which are not spiritual opportunities but obligations under normal circumstances, do not apply to the priest or the hermit. The cloistered life seems to ignore certain aspects of Christian life, or perhaps it does not so much ignore them as it re-presents them in an exceptional way.

In other words, the ascetic vocation compromises so that it can rise above the norm and present for it a kind of exception, on the grounds that even if it is exceptional in a limited way, the good it achieves thereby actually far exceeds whatever loss is suffered by the compromise. What the monk does not experience through sexual relations and family life (which, among other things, constitute his sacrifice) he makes up for in a kind of spiritual realization, one that benefits all of humanity indirectly.

The monk in the desert ignores the call to actively and directly serve his fellow man, he disdains participation in political activities, he avoids responsibilities to family and friends. He replaces these things, in some cases, with a more condensed form of community life amongst other ascetics, but this is not a thorough replacement for life in the world and it is naïve to pretend that a monk among monks is shouldering the same kind of burden that a citizen among citizens must shoulder as he makes his way in society. Yes, monks have involved themselves in affairs of state and been influential there, but again it is naïve to act as if this proves that they effectively function in that capacity, and anecdotes about saints influencing heads of state are memorable mostly because they are so anomalous.

To present the hierarchy of brothers as presenting challenges identical to the hierarchy of parents and children is again absurd. Whoever speaks as if interactions with peers in an isolated and controlled atmosphere are just as challenging to moral discipline as the raising of children—a task of such spiritual magnitude—is to speak as someone who has been too long removed from the activities of the world and has become ignorant of what it entails.

We are not at all trying to degrade the life of the ascetic, and we do in fact grant to it all the esteem it has been shown throughout the ages. Nonetheless, it is harmful to ignore the fact that it involves a compromise for the sake of an extreme: the ascetic life, the spiritual development that it supports, and the ’perfume of the sacred’ that emanates from the monastery and makes present in civilization a locus of spiritual realization, is worth whatever it may forgo of the normal life the Christian.

We can conclude by saying simply that what we provide in these pages is a justification for the warrior vocation that corresponds to the justification carefully provided by Christianity for the ascetic vocation of the monastery. What Christianity has developed for that form of compromise is what we are offering in different context, not because Christianity has never offered it, but because the former has been retained to the present day, while the latter has been forgotten and is not readily available.

The vocation of the warrior and the vocation of the monk, therefore, are analogous in being exceptional and although they represent opposite extremes, we can say that if they appear to ignore certain things, it is due to the special nature of the vocation. They each suffer loss, they each make a sacrifice of themselves, they each do so for the benefit of mankind and out of love for God.

The danger of absolute justifications for the use of force

As we might expect, well-meaning pastors are sometimes tempted to ease the conscience of the warrior by providing easy justifications for the terrible work that must be done. Usually this justification is formulated in such a way that it relieves the warrior of any responsibility for his actions, offering him the false assurance that he can emerge from this bloody trial as white as snow. This was the approach of Martin Luther, as one notable example, but Catholics as well are not immune to the impulse, and we find similar attempts in the writings of the Jesuits. We can summarize their rationale as follows:

Government authority was instituted by God and has its justification for exercising its power. Since the exercise of this power has always and everywhere involved the use of the sword, then it is not the human actor who is morally responsible for the bloodshed, but God Himself, via government authority. In this way the responsibility for the havoc is at the feet of God, and although the sword is in the hands of the soldier (or the policeman or the executioner), it is truly the hand of God that does the work. Man in this case is merely the instrument of God’s justice.

This is all very clean and pleasing but it must be rejected for several reasons. First and foremost, it degrades the soldier by robbing him of his moral participation in his own vocation. If it is really the hand of God, then the soldier himself is neither good nor evil but is a dehumanized vehicle for divine action. Second, it blurs the line between the imperfect human order and the perfection of the divine, offering a promise of moral perfection on a plane where such a state is not possible. Third, it hides the fact that the execution of the work is done by a flawed human being, and presents it as the direct work of God, and since the work of God is always perfect and blameless, certain actions that should never be construed as perfect are whitewashed. That is to say, the imperfect human actors smuggle in evil under the umbrella of the divine prerogative. This is when we find inhuman and immoral means deployed in war, for example the dismissive attitude toward collateral damage, or the use of torture against prisoners. All of these cease to be ‘lesser evils’ and become an expression of God’s pure will, purely realized on the temporal plane.

In his efforts to ‘reassure’ the soldier, and to reinforce a conscience that might otherwise be doubtful and hesitant, such teachers do great violence to their patients. This approach eliminates the need, not only for a serious spiritual preparation for the work, but for spiritual cleansing after the fact. Why would anyone need inner healing after an act that was merely the will of God? It also encourages just the kind of naivety that we’ve been arguing against, since once these assurances are made it becomes far more difficult to stop short at the minimum necessary force and to understand that even the warrior for good suffers the more damage he must do to the villain. The moral ambiguity of the thing disappears, and what perhaps should have caused hesitation now proceeds unquestioned and even glorified.

Again, when we come to the writings of certain Jesuits we find that, on the basis of certain Old Testaments scriptures, it is apparently permissible to commit acts of wanton unrighteousness by order of God. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, and the wars fought by the Hebrews in order to establish themselves in the promised land, all of these are interpreted in such a way that suggest we should not really consider righteousness at all once we are convinced that we are acting on good authority, since in a convoluted way all authority is from God.

The problem here is that these explanations not only pave the way for heinous violence and harsh punishments (since we ‘the righteous’ suffer nothing by dealing them out, we deal them out freely), but they also commit a dual injustice by (1) distorting the image of God and (2) relieving men of the need to answer for their own unrighteousness.

It is far more realistic, honest, and spiritually healthy to take up the sword with the understanding that what we are about to do is not ‘sanctified violence’ but is rather a mandatory work of unrighteousness and that we are not saved from the consequences of this work simply because we are delegates of the divine will.

The sword is a duty, not a prerogative

Perhaps another way of showing the evil of the above solutions is to say that the use of the sword is never permitted but is rather necessitated. The difference is that if we identify ourselves with God and our acts are His, then my work is construed as a privilege or even a right, and this becomes something very open-ended as if it were a power bequeathed to me for my use. Instead we must see this work as mandatory in certain situations where no other path is available, and so it becomes not a right but a duty, not a power bestowed to me but a burden that I must shoulder, and it is a very heavy one.

Those who live by the sword die by the sword

It will probably strike some as objectionable that we seem to be degrading those who take up the sword by calling what they do a kind of mandatory unrighteousness, but it should be remembered that we also said that it is no sin, precisely because it presents itself as a spiritual imperative. Not to resist in precisely this imperfect manner is to betray one’s responsibility to the good, nor can one hold out for a clean solution. The only chance of an ideal and perfect outcome is to hope that God will wipe the cosmic slate clean before we have to strike, that some other force will intervene on our behalf and do this unpleasant task for us. In other words, to demand an unambiguous solution is to either stall or to be enlisted in the work of evil by allowing its expression through evil deeds and to the detriment of the villain and everyone else.

In a certain sense we can say that the choice, for the man who insists on perfect righteousness, is this:

Betray God’s cause and his own vocation in favor of ‘righteousness’ or, on the other hand, confidently and clearly perceiving that evil threatens and no righteous outcome is possible, to remain faithful to his vocation, and to resist by taking a path that is unrighteous because imperfect and undesirable.

The warrior is called to selflessness, to acceptance of sacrifice, to humility, to suffering. On this basis the warrior, the vocation of the sword, is given special honor. People in every age have sensed this and acted accordingly, until times of decadence when spiritual disease rendered the vocation perverse, because in the absence of spiritual sightedness, this vocation cannot maintain the careful balance of sincere pursuit of the good and humble acceptance of the imperfect.

The fate of the warrior is to confront uninvited evil and to be wounded by it, and to some degree he surrenders any ideal happiness that he might have dreamed about and pursued and instead sets himself to the accomplishment of feats other men cannot imagine and could not endure.

The tragic dilemma of this vocation is that the warrior is right even if unrighteous, good even when immersed in evil. He shoulders the burden of killing but at the same time the burden of being killed. It is perhaps not without reason that the medieval sword was often in the shape of the cross, since to take up the sword is, in a certain sense, to agree to be crucified upon it.

To hide from the sword is to invite evil

Those weak-willed leaders who deny the function of the sword delude themselves by thinking that they can avoid this problem by hiding from it. The same goes for movements that would remove this vocation from society.

Evil wields the sword and when those who organize themselves in favor of God and of goodness refuse to allow also for the presence of the sword, they exclude the strongest from among them, or at least render them useless by robbing them of their function. This is not courage, it is ignorance and naivety, and the exclusion of the strong-willed and the clear-seeing in such movements creates an imbalance and perpetuates weakness. Those who will not face the harsh realities of resistance to evil ensure that they will be ruled by the weakest among them, who will often wind up promoting and enabling a different kind of violence in their turn.

They think that they are choosing the high road by refusing the necessary compromise, but it is a timeless fact that always and everywhere the best are called to fight and to sacrifice for those who will not and who tremble at the call. And just because these individuals fight by means that are not the best, it does not follow that they are not still the most noble.

Only the strong can endure this pseudo-participation in unrighteousness without being overrun by it, infected by it, conquered by it. Only the bravest who at the same time know the good and love it can take the spiritual blow and recover from it.

The monk and the scholar have the advantage of carrying out their good work and of serving the good with clean hands; the warrior must serve the good with hands stained with blood, not because he is bloodthirsty, but because there is no way around it.

Only the strong

The vocation of the warrior shares a danger similar to the possession of great wealth. It is not a sin in itself to possess a massive fortune, but wealth is rightly termed an occasion of sin by the Catholic Church because it presents certain dangers and easily distorts the soul of anyone exposed to it.

The vocation of the sword carries a like danger, as an occasion of sin. To be presented with the duty to expose oneself to such risk, to the vicissitudes of combat, to the split-second decisions where life hangs in the balance and is extinguished in a moment, is to be exposed to a thousand occasions of sin, and the potential for so many crucial moral errors is far more immediate and graver than what might afflict the millionaire. An abundance of economic power is one thing: an abundance of military power is something else.

For this reason, we can say again that only the strong should take up the sword, and by strong we do not mean the reckless, the wanton, the violent. We do not mean those with a will to violence or an excess of testosterone. We do not have in mind the man that the film industry and popular culture present to us as the manliest. We intend something very precise. By strong we mean the one in whom the conscience is both well-formed and powerfully operative, and this latter depends on strength of will. The strong warrior remains safe from spiritual peril by resting with confidence in the health of his conscience, and he can only rest in this after undergoing rigorous spiritual formation.

It is said that power corrupts but this is not true. It is rather that power is magnetic to the corruptible and draws them to itself. Great wealth attracts the corruptible. Likewise, the warrior vocation is susceptible to being degraded by the degenerate man, the weak man, who cannot endure the demands of the compromise and in the face of necessary unrighteousness grants himself liberties, who goes further than necessity demands, who perhaps vents his rage or lets his impulses run too free. Such are the behaviors of those who are not up to the demands of the spiritual compromise. The strong come out wounded but spiritually intact and they recover through cleansing, which we will describe below. But the weak are not so lucky; they may not recover at all and even when they survive physically, they are mortally wounded internally.

The conscience is not deadened but sharpened

In a situation of moral ambiguity, how does the conscious speak? And in the situation of the warrior, how does he listen? Given the complexity of his situation, is he to ignore the voice of conscience, to numb it in some way so that its voice is not heard in the moment, and so that he cannot hear the inner call to perfection?

On the contrary, it is all the more necessary that the conscience, in these individuals, be strengthened and that it speak with utmost clarity, since in these desperate hours the conscience speak through the chaos and over the noise of the battle and in spite of the ambiguity of the context.

By walking the treacherous path between mandatory imperfection and avoidable violence the warrior, like the king or judge or policeman, blazes a new path each day. There is no set of easy precepts written down for him indicating exactly how he can cope with each situation he faces.

Theorists and critics tend to speak from the point of view of theory and pronounce on the ‘excessive use of force’ seen on television, where a police officer shot and killed a person who in hindsight might not have actually been a threat.  This is a sad situation and everything possible must be done to prevent it, but the problem in the criticism is that the critics are speaking in hindsight, and from the point of view of mental reflection. They speak from the perspective of ideas, where things can be paused and replayed, but the police officer is immersed in time, where things happen in quick succession and there is no getting out of the way. Here things are not neatly divided into a clean sequence of events, but rather time proceeds without regard for the limits of human comprehension, and things happen too fast. It is a denial of the limits of the human condition to condemn men for not being omniscient.

Of course, we must admit that if there is a lack of preparation or an emotional imbalance in the individual (and this certainly must be common) that the critics are justified to an extent in calling for greater care in what kind of person is placed in these situations. But it would be easier to accept this criticism if the critics acknowledged the hard truth that when the situation deteriorates to the point that force is necessary, there is no desirable outcome. Too often the politicians and reporters pretend that a perfect outcome could and should have been realized, no matter how impossible the scenario.

We use these observations not to lighten the load placed on the shoulders of the warrior, but to highlight the gravity of things and also the necessity of a very thorough spiritual education, which is the only thing that can endow a person with a sense for justice and an instinct for appropriate limits so that when the moment comes, he is able to be decisive and forceful, but restrained, and without losing himself to the terror of the moment.

The warrior walks on shifting sands where each situation must be judged on the fly, and where he cannot afford to stop, regain his balance, and patiently contemplate an appropriate response. He cannot rely on reflection and mental processes to determine his course of action, but only on ‘training’ and too often his training is purely technical.

Legitimate departures from moral perfection

We’ve repeatedly pointed out the compromise that must be made when confronting evil, but it will probably help to point out some instances where this might occur. Take for example the situation of the spy working to infiltrate an enemy organization for the sake of learning their secrets. If this kind of work is legitimate at all it must involve numerous acts that would be called immoral in any other context: lying, betrayal, manipulation, theft, every kind of deceit up to and including the taking of life.

These things are necessary in the confrontation between man and evil and although they are certainly unrighteous (we cannot imagine Christ using sabotage and intrigue to overcome the Pharisees) they are precisely the sort of mandatory departures we have in mind but played out on a larger scale and in a context that makes them easy to see.

The situation of the spy is also indicative of the kind of ‘fine line’ that must be walked and the danger that hounds anyone who must use these means. It is easy to go too far. What happens when leaders who rightly develop counterintelligence techniques retain them and, in addition to deploying them out of necessity against enemies, they use them domestically, spying on their own citizens and using the same kind of intrigue and betrayal against their own people?

Here, in a clearly visible way, we see the danger of corruption in men who do not have the spiritual sight  or strength of will to know that although we must enter the swamp to save those trapped there, we cannot bring the swamp home with us.

Here, then, we can perhaps move to the necessity of spiritual cleansing, which involves a kind of decontamination after our immersion in combat with evil.

The necessary spiritual cleansing

We have established that to be adequate to the task of wielding the sword, serious spiritual preparation is necessary; now we can complete our picture by adding that, after returning from the battlefield, a spiritual cleansing is essential.

This should have been obvious from the start, but in a secularized age it is easily overlooked. How could a spiritually awakened soul hope to cope with the demands of this harsh vocation without recourse to the purification rituals facilitated by religion?

Just as religion was shown to be indispensable for the maintenance of a healthy warrior vocation, so that it does not become monstrous, so also religion is necessary for the on-going recuperation and sanity of these men.

The very existence of evil draws us away from the contemplation of the divine. Merely by looking at it and seeing it for what it is, we become marked by it and even at this early stage we can feel the need for cleansing. People readily admit this when, after witnessing some atrocity, they say that they ‘feel dirty’. The problem is so much more extreme for the fighter who must interact with evil through force and physical contact. It is ridiculous to imagine that these inroads into hell do not tear us away from whatever spiritual harmony we might have enjoyed back at home. This harmony must be re-established at every chance. The warrior, after defending the temple, must enter into it and be cleansed.

Here is the key to true victory over evil. Here the warrior truly and decisively vanquishes his foe. We are not victorious when we repel evil by force; we are not victorious in the act of killing our enemies, no matter how necessary it might be. We are victorious when, after this contact with evil, and after the suffering of this departure from righteousness, we return and wash ourselves clean in the presence of the divine. It is only at that moment of absolution that the laurels are bestowed and only then is evil truly vanquished, since whatever ‘transfer’ it brought about by forcing us to enter into relationship with it is reversed and nullified.

It goes without saying that, since everyone experiences evil and resists it, everyone must make a habit of spiritual cleansing, and this is of course the whole reason for the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation; but for the warrior, this all takes on a special meaning.

Even for the brave and the most noble, even for the strongest among us, it is not possible to withstand these repeated excursions deep into enemy territory without becoming weakened by the trial and in some way tainted by it. If the warrior does not frequently return to the temple for purification, he risks forgetting where it is, and holy places may even become odious to him.

The purification following the shedding of blood removes incurred traces of corruption and is therefore the salvation of the warrior, and more pressing for him than for vocations not subject to such tests of spiritual endurance. For one who has faced death and dealt out death to other men on any scale, it is spiritually risky in the highest degree to ignore the cleansing rites of religion.

We must be very careful adapting traditional teachings in the present

In spite of all that we’ve said, we must admit that the traditional wisdom presents war not so much as a necessary evil and more as an opportunity for the emergence of heroism and the refining of oneself in favor of a superior character. Does this mean that we’ve taken up a position against tradition? Not hardly, although this requires some explanation.

First, it should always be understood that we are not addressing the same human type as that addressed by, for example, St. Bernard. Or, in the East, we could say that we do not have in mind, and could not possibly have in mind, the same intended audience as the Bhagavad Gita.

We address ourselves to the modern type, and to the traditional vocations insofar as they express themselves in decayed and partial form within the modern world. For this reason, we find that we cannot prescribe the same methods and attitudes as what might have been prescribed to the medieval crusader. To do so would be to completely ignore the drastic change in conditions and in humanity that have taken place since then, which involved a disorientation of the human psyche.

It would be an abuse to tell the solider of today that he should operate by precisely the same principles as what we find in the Hagakure, intended as it was for 17th century samurai.

This is a very important admission, and this is why we have hesitated even to mention any of the traditional attitudes prescribed for the warrior vocation, in fear of the possibility that this fact might be overlooked. Modern men have been rendered modern and while the old ways can still be applied in a certain sense, they cannot be carved out of their ancient context and pasted into the modern one.

Having emphasized this point, we will proceed with caution and offer a few remarks on what, in a different world, were the opportunities for true spiritual development that the warrior vocation presented; and at the same time, when possible, we will provide adaptations that might help the man who finds himself called to this vocation in the modern world, where it exists only in a very degraded form, so that he can make the most of his situation.

Heroism as an opportunity for transcendence

We can summarize the ascesis of the traditional warrior vocation in a single term, or goal, which is heroism.

If the monk intends, through his own form of ascesis, to awaken the saint within himself, then the warrior, with his own form of ascesis, intends to awaken the inner hero.

If the monk’s practices and procedures, in addition to the environment he seeks or constructs for himself, are all geared toward facilitating the awakening of this inner saint, we can say that the practices, mentality, and environment of military discipline and war present the warrior with a corresponding opportunity to cause the emergence of the inner hero.

Both of these approaches are examples of asceticism, although in the Christian world it is largely forgotten that there are varieties here in question and that the way of the saint is not the only valid path to spiritual realization. This has been much to the detriment of cultural development, but there are reasons for it.

Both of these approaches (each adjusted to serve a specific spiritual type) involve an emphasis on one’s mortality and an acceptance of frailty and death as integral to the kind of spiritual sightedness that is desired, and as supportive of the emergence of the qualities that are needed.

Death is not contemplated for its own sake but as the obstacle to be overcome, in the sense that the practitioner reaches a point where he is able to face this great evil without wavering and without fear. For the saint, this culminates in death by martyrdom, as is well-known; for the soldier, this culminates in a heroic death on the battlefield. The parallels here should be obvious, and in both cases we can speak of victory through death and over death, which means that we are dealing with transcendent victory with a view toward immortality.

What is also brought into focus is the relativity of earthly life. Both the warrior and the priest are taught to be aware of how earthly and all its temporal values are only meaningful in view of some greater end, beyond life.

We know from the traditional teachings of religion that it is not absolutely necessary to die a martyr in order to achieve this kind of transcendent victory, and that it is possible for the saint to live as a saint. Likewise, it is possible for the warrior to act heroically and be forever changed by the act without that act having to be his last. Yet the extreme of death allows us to more easily demonstrate the convergence of the vocations.

Caste regression and the evolution of war

Having very briefly described the traditional ascesis of the warrior vocation, it will be good to show how this has been altered throughout history and why we have so emphatically stated that the situation today is not conducive to the warrior ascesis, and why it is, in fact, very dangerous to misinterpret the situation as we find it today.

To help clarify this, we will refer to what is called the regression of castes, which is a way of describing the collapse of traditional civilization and the emerge of the modern world. Although we’ve described this elsewhere, we will re-present it here from the point of view of the warrior vocation specifically.

In short, the regression of the castes is a process whereby the traditional order of civilization, consisting of four primary castes organized hierarchically according to nature and function, collapses from the top down.

The four principal castes are: 1) the priests, 2) the nobility (the warrior is situated here), 3) the merchants/tradesman, and 4) the general laborers or ‘peasants’.

In terms of function, the corresponding hierarchical breakdown is: 1) knowledge, 2) temporal power and war, 3) commerce or trade or production, 4) labor.

Again, we do not wish to repeat here the depth of analysis that is provided in other sections, but suffice it to say that this organization is in keeping with logic and the nature of the human condition, such that it permits society to achieve a kind of unity, since unity is only possible when differences of vocation are acknowledged.

In the latter part of the Dark Age, when the process of decay and inversion takes its toll, the structure begins to deteriorate through stages of devolution. First, the authority of the priestly caste is set aside, and the aristocracy absorbs its authority and usually its property, just as the European princes absorbed the land and authority of the Catholic Church after the Reformation. The aristocracy (which, again, would traditionally have also been the warrior caste) then operates without regard to the dictates of religion or is no longer answerable to any religious authority. Since this is not a stable state, social entropy increases and eventually the ‘Third Estate’, in other words the merchants or middle class or ‘bourgeoisie’, realizes that it could disenfranchise the nobility, just as the nobility disenfranchised the Church, and so it does. This took place in the West under the guise of liberal Enlightenment philosophy, and entailed the establishment of democracy via the French and American revolutionary wars. Finally, since this third stage is in fact the most unstable, the fourth stage of regression comes quickly, and here the lowest elements, representing labor, aka: the proletariat, seek to overthrow the bourgeoisie, hence the barbarism of Marxist movements and Russian Bolshevism.

Now, having provided that brief outline, we wish to point out that at each stage of degeneration, war itself takes on new meaning and it is as if a whole new vision of anthropology is adopted. This has incredible import for the warrior vocation, which, in the ‘normal’ traditional structure, was primarily the responsibility of the aristocracy.

That war could ever be the responsibility of the wealthiest class is an idea that comes as a shock to us today, and this shows the distance between ourselves and the traditional norm. For us anyone and everyone is called to war, just as everyone is called to statecraft via modern elections.

When a hierarchy collapses, the functions of the higher do not simply disappear since they still must be performed. Responsibilities drop to the next level and are absorbed into the adjacent caste, even if the original caste is still allowed to exist in some manner. Thus, after the reformation, the priests were allowed to remain, but at the same time they had no real social function because, in the new religious mentality, which was Protestantism, all men were construed as theologians with interpretive power and religious prerogatives, and obedience due to any member of a religious hierarchy was felt as an offense. The same became true after the aristocracy was overthrown: no man after that point feels he is rightly subjected to another’s rule.

The important distinction, here, is that all that was said concerning the possibilities of the warrior vocation, its spiritual power, and the instructions pertaining to a warrior ascesis, originated in a context where the warrior vocation belonged to a minority social element. It was given to the nobility, a professional class of soldiers. This made sense, since war itself was the responsibility of that minority, and because only that minority was in possession of great wealth and education in statecraft and was able to dedicate itself to the business of ruling and of war in a way that is no longer conceivable for us. It is almost unthinkable, today, to suggest that the fighting of wars is something that ought to fall to our leaders and their private entourages. And yet that was the historical norm.

To return to our point, we can see that alongside the stages of social decay, we are presented with varieties of meaning attached to war, corresponding to the new human type responsible for fighting.

If war is waged under the flag of Christendom, it takes on a certain meaning for those who fight in it. It has a spiritual motive. If war, in the second stage, is waged under the flag of temporal power—for example the banner of a prince, then it goes without saying that its motive becomes worldly, and we will already have difficulty speaking of a true ascesis. Nonetheless, these first two situations were always more or less present and so the ascesis was still accessible through an emphasis on fides with respect to one’s superior.

The third stage—the ascendance of the bourgeoisie—is heralded by the establishment of democracies and the spread of industrial capitalist economies. Here we come to the most profound transformation in the meaning of war. Here we come to the point where the warrior vocation is robbed of most of its spiritual potential and the spiritual dangers involved in the vocation, which were always present, are amplified to an unimaginable degree due to the absence of any neutralizing spiritual framework.

Because in these societies mankind is viewed as homogenous, there is no reason to speak of a warrior vocation, or any kind of vocation, since any man could just as well be any other man. Here we find the nobility and any other traditional designation (knight, samurai, etc.) is replaced with the citizen and the citizen-soldier, and this soldier fights at the behest of politicians who themselves remain hundreds of miles from battle. As for motives, he fights for reasons that are mostly unknown to him and in the end, with few exceptions, are of an economic nature.

The new citizen-solider is, from the point of view of his rulers, nothing but a unit of human material, a tangible resource to be spent on the battlefield: he is cannon fodder. The nation with the largest reserve of this material resource, or who proves most willing to spend it without scruple, is the nation who wins. War becomes a question of the combined use of technological advance and human quantities.

In the last phase of degeneration, when the proletariat overthrows the bourgeoisie, the warrior vocation suffers little since there is little left of it to be destroyed. The main difference is seen in the attitude of the individual, the soldier, toward himself, toward the value he places on his own life and the loftiness of his vocation, and also in the attitude of the rulers toward the people they use to achieve victory. If we have anything positive to say about bourgeoisie war, it is that its ideals, as naïve as they are, tend to be more noble, and the individual is perceived as having some dignity beyond his use as a bullet sponge.

All of these stages involve rhetoric about the hero, about the nobility of war, but it will be obvious now that the significance behind the words is entirely different, as if proceeding from different worlds of meaning. This is why we stress so much the fact that it is dangerous to try and transplant whatever might have been said to the medieval crusader into whatever ‘military intervention’ or ‘liberation’ might be underway here in the 21st century. Not all worlds present the same vocational possibilities, and not all wars present the same spiritual opportunities.

The samurai and the Way beyond righteousness

Now that we have entered a discussion of the traditional teachings on the warrior, how does this align with what we’ve said about the distinction between what is just and what is good—and on the complex nature of righteousness?

Here we will cite an enlightening passage from a famous manual for samurai, the Hagakure:

“To think that being righteous is the best one can do and to value righteousness exclusively will bring many mistakes. There is a Way beyond righteousness. This is very difficult to discover, but it is the highest wisdom. When things are seen from this standpoint, things like righteousness are rather shallow. If one does not understand this on his own, it cannot be known.”[1]

“…there is one transcending level, and this is the most excellent of all. This person is aware of the endlessness of entering deploy into a certain way and never thinks of himself as having finished. He truly knows his own insufficiencies and never in his whole life thinks that he has succeeded. He has no thoughts of pride but with self-abasement knows the Way to the end. It is said that Master Yagyu once remarked, ‘I do not know the way to defeat others, but the way to defeat myself.’ “[2]

This is similar to the Taoist saying: “When the Tao is forgotten, there is righteousness. When righteousness is forgotten, there is morality. When morality is forgotten, there is the law.”[3]

This also allows us to understand the way that traditional writings on war seem to make light of death or even present it as if it were to be sought. We can see that there is a victory that is more important than death, since it is at any rate inevitable. Another passage from the Hagakure runs as follows:

“A certain person was brought to shame because he did not take revenge. The way of revenge lies in simply forcing one’s way into a place and being cut down. There is no shame in this. By thinking that you must complete the job you will run out of time. By considering things like how many men the enemy has, time piles up; in the end you will give up. No matter if the enemy has thousands of men, there is fulfillment in simply standing them off and being determined to cut them all down, starting from one end. You will finish the greater part of it.

“Concerning the night assault of Lord Asano’s ronin, the fact that they did not commit seppuku at the Sengakuji was an error, for there was a long delay between the time their lord was struck down and the time when they struck down the enemy. If Lord Kira had died of illness within that period, it would have been extremely regrettable. Because the men of the Kamigata area have a very clever sort of wisdom, they do well at praiseworthy acts but cannot do things indiscriminately, as was done in the Nagasaki fight.

“Although all things are not to be judged in this manner, I mention it in the investigation of the Way of the Samurai. When the time comes, there is no moment for reasoning. And if you have not done your inquiring beforehand, there is most often shame. Reading books and listening to people’s talk are for the purpose of prior resolution.

“Above all, the Way of the Samurai should be in being aware that you do not know what is going to happen next, and in querying every item day and night. Victory and defeat are matters of the temporary force of circumstances. The way of avoiding shame is different. It is simply in death.

“Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate. Neither wisdom nor technique has a place in this. A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing this, you will awaken from your dreams.”[4]

[1] Hagakure, 19.

[2] Hagakure, 20.

[3] Tao Te Ching, Ch. 38, trans. By J.H. McDonald.

[4] Hagakure, 25.

Holy War and the Crusades

Christianity has always held as axiomatic the saying vita est militia super terram, that ‘life is a struggle on Earth.’ For this it has often been condemned as pessimistic, and it is sometimes said that Christianity holds a dim view of man and of life as a ‘vale of tears’, etc. Of course, from our point of view, this is merely a statement of fact, and it would be dishonest to say otherwise, and this is why humanism is a fundamentally dishonest worldview.

But to return to the idea of life as struggle, we can now point out the fact that this struggle, for the spiritual man, has a dual aspect. In every act of resistance to external evil, man fights on two fronts, one spiritual, which is to say, against evil, and the other physical and temporal, against this particular man. Each act of resistance is what it is in the concrete, but it is also a specific battle on the universal front in the war between good and evil that continues throughout cosmic history and transcends time, place, and individual.

From this religious view of conflict, we come to the traditional distinction between the lesser holy war and the Greater Holy War. A famous statement of this comes from the Prophet Muhammad, who said upon returning from a military outing: “We return from the lesser jihad (‘holy war’) to the Greater Jihad.” He continued by specifying that the lesser holy war was fought externally and was to defeat the external infidel, but that the Greater Holy War, the Greater Jihad, was against the infidel within each of us, who must always be kept at bay.

This notion is key to understanding the Crusades, since the Crusades are not ‘typical’ of traditional war, and it would be wrong to present them as ‘normative’ since they are rather exceptional in many respects, the first and foremost being the fact that they were so clearly based on a spiritual understanding of life and of war.

To leave one’s home to go to the Holy Land and to fight the infidel was, in a sense, to leave the worldly plane altogether and to fight on a front that transcended politics and earthly concerns. There were, of course, political motives, and as we should expect, these were usually imperfect, but that does not change anything.

It is important to emphasize this point: when historians describe the Crusades from a purely materialistic or ideological point of view, as the result of racism, bigotry, wealth, political advantage, etc., they are not necessarily wrong, except that they are only described the most superficial aspect of the thing, and not its essence. In other words, what they say is true, but there are other things to be said about the phenomenon that are more true in the sense of being a more complete or adequate explanation, and this more true explanation is that the two sides both entered into a sacred space and fought a holy war that transcended the worldly and therefore offered a different type of victory to those who fought, whether they lived or died.

We will add here that what we have said about ‘motivation’ remains true even if most of the participants were not consciously aware of all that we’ve said. It would be silly to expect such men to be able to enunciate with any clarity the nature of such an endeavor, but the collective spirit of the thing speaks for itself and ‘does the thinking for them’.

In the Crusades, Jerusalem was truly a geographical point with political significance, sought after for worldly advantages, but at the same time it was symbolic of the Kingdom of Heaven, for both sides. The Crusades were both spiritual pilgrimage and earthly conflict in the same moment.

This is evidenced in the sermons preached to knights of the time, which promised them a ‘celestial fief’ as a reward (either in victory or heroic death), as opposed to the earthly fief which would have normally been the spoils of war.

What is interesting is that the Crusades are criticized as being the most ridiculous, excessive, and perversely motivated expression of the ‘ignorance’ of the Middle Ages, when in fact what we see is an exceptional instance of collective action and self-sacrifice for motives that are predominantly supra-human and supra-political. But of course we would expect this to appear insane to a secularized people.

Only the lesser war remains

Referring again to the Prophet’s distinction between the lesser and greater wars, we will say that in order to appraise war as advantageous for spiritual development, it is necessary that it emphasize to a maximum this same teaching. If we say that modern warfare does not present the same opportunities for heroism as traditional war, this is first and foremost because only the lesser war is acknowledged.

We should pause here to say that fighting for freedom or democracy or equality, whatever the value these ideas may hold in practice, is not the same as fighting for sacred purpose. These values are pseudo-religious values that have risen to prominence (and could only have done so) in the absence of a religious climate, and they are not adequate replacements. None of them are transcendent and none can serve as a support for the heroism that we have in mind.

Any time the spiritual component is excluded from the affair, the Greater War, which is the only justification for seeking it out, no matter one’s vocation, recedes further into the distance.

We do not wish to say, here or anywhere, that no contemporary soldier could utilize his circumstances or his vocation to realize the hero in himself, and that it is all for naught; we only wish to repeat our constant warning, which pertains to the dangers of the confused nature of the modern worldview, and to be honest about the difficulties presented in the modern context. It is possible to pursue the greater holy war on one’s own effort, but this is not desirable and is for the most part a serious handicap in practice.

The real enemy and the real victory

War at any point in history can present itself as a spiritual opportunity, because war places man in a situation of struggle in such a way that it draws into the open the inner infidel. This spiritual ‘enemy’ emerges and stands before us to test us in the extreme, and victory over this enemy is the true victory, since after all there will always be evil in the external world until the end of time and so we are only permitted small victories on that front, which are never final.

We do not intend to devalue the temporal good that might be brought about by a truly just war, and we are not trying to say that there is no value in fighting external evil in the world in order to establish that good; but it cannot be said too much that if the individual is spiritually mutilated by the experience, then what good is it that an evil man was killed and some political villain was destroyed? It is possible to win on the earthly front, which is a relative good, while suffering catastrophe on the spiritual front, which is the true and lasting good.

If your vocation is war, proceed, but proceed with utmost caution and with brutal honesty regarding your own corrupt nature.

The statesman is gone, replaced by the politician; the artisan is gone, replacement by the machine attendee and the wage slave. The warrior too is gone, replaced by you. Your vocation remains only as a husk of itself. You are not alone, and you are in no more pitiable a state than the next man, for everyone is subject to the same law of universal degeneration.  Just as every vocation is degraded, so is yours, and because you must operate in the extreme, more will be asked of you than perhaps anyone else.

You will, of course, have every incentive to ignore this in favor of a more flattering view of your calling. Your friends, family, and neighbors will pat you on the back; strangers will buy your dinner and your drinks. Politicians will use you like a prop or a mascot for political gain, and you will undergo a powerful indoctrination into the pseudo-religious motivations for war and the social fearmongering that cloud all judgement. Everything is set against you, psychologically, emotionally, socially, spiritually. Should you enter the warrior vocation of today, it will fall to you to find your own path to the celestial front, to draw out the inner infidel and to face him: everyone else will tell you he doesn’t exist, that you are already a hero, that your laurels are in your possession already.

Everyone will be ready to lie to you, and in this way your challenge is far more complex than that of the traditional warrior. He fought on two fronts simultaneously; you will have to fight on three. You will have to fight the external enemy and the internal enemy, but in addition you will have to fight against the false affirmations, romantic exaggerations, patriotic excesses, ideological pressures, and pseudo-religious valuations shoved in your face by your own culture.

You will be defending yourself from your neighbors, even as you defend them from alien evil. If you retain your honesty, which again must be a brutal and unsparing kind of honesty, it may be possible that, against all odds, you find a way to fight on all three of these fronts. Your victory will be invisible, and you will, for the most part, be externally indistinguishable from those around you; but you will belong to a different world of meaning altogether, and victory for you will be more comprehensive, more profound, and may have little to do with what they call victory, and it may come in spite of what they call defeat.