Stephen Pressfield’s The Warrior Ethos

In Stephen Pressfield’s book, The Warrior Ethos, the Marine Corp warrior spirit is outlined. Pressfield analyzes the beginnings of Warrior Ethos through ancient warrior cultures. Ethos refers to the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, or a culture. Understanding this definition allows us to understand how today’s warriors embody this Warrior Ethos. As new Marines, the indoctrination of the Marine Corps Values: honor, courage, and commitment begin upon stepping onto the yellow footprints. Paralleling the roots of the Warrior Ethos and the Marine Corps underscores the character required to serve in the Corps.

Pressfield states the roots of the Warrior Ethos can be traced to the beginning of human existence. In the beginning, it was man’s primal need to survive that exists between man and self, man and man, and man and his environment. In the collective wisdom of banding together, a social ethos begins to develop within the tribe. This tribal culture and primal need to survive was on display in the Sparta, Infant Spartan males who did not meet their tribe’s rule of physicality were left to the wolves. Young boys were taken and turned into warriors. The entire warrior culture was supported by all its members to include its mothers and women. Mothers longed to see their sons win in battle or die valiantly in fighting the enemy.

This Warrior Ethos begins as family members support their Marines to enlist. It is taught at Boot with the removal of “I” for Marines. Marines are taught to think about the collective needs of their brothers and the Corps. Marines are tested on their spiritual, physical, and mental readiness to serve the Corps. If they are not prepared in all three domains, a recruit will not successfully become a Marine. The Marine Corps’ value of Commitment is tested early and often.

This same sense of self-preservation from the individual and tribe leads to three competing impulses: shame, honor, and love. According to Pressfield, each of these impulses implies moral judgment that leads to an ethical code that explicitly or implicitly defines wrong, right, good, evil, cowardness, and depravity. And, as a group, this ethical code becomes normed.

The Marine Corps’ ethical code of conduct is highlighted in the Marine Corps Values of Honor and Courage. Marines are urged to do their jobs with dedication and passion, as Marines and Riflemen first, and then within our military occupational specialty. Further, General Mattis captured the Marine Corps’ sense of tribalism in the book entitled “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy.” adapted from a Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla. As Marines, we must keep our ethical code and conduct to engage in a war that may have us serving a humanitarian mission on one corner and engaging the enemy on the next corner. We must show uncompromising personal integrity and hold others accountable as well.

Moreover, as Pressfield describes another Warrior Ethos, Courage, which is embraced in the Marine Core Values. Marines can overcome and endure adversity and stay in the fight. Pressfield narrates a Marine Corp example wherein a Gunnery Sergeant is speaking to his Marines on their rewards: financial and psychological. The financial salary is meager, but the psychological salary is intangible: pride; honor; integrity; valor; glory; and brothers willing to lay down their life for you are among those.

And finally, Pressfield describes how another Warrior Ethos is love. This ethos seems to be counterintuitive to a Marine from an outside perspective. Others may view our time away from them as a selfish act. However, Marines live a life of selflessness. The group comes before the individual. The greater good of the people we protect comes before our own needs. And it is through this precept that Marines will follow a good leader into battle without hesitation, as he is placing himself in danger too. Marines must have the will to victory.

Finally, as Pressfield describes, Marines are warriors living in a civilian society. At times, the Marine may question his ability to connect to home or other civilian places. After all, the Marine enlisted to be one of the few, the proud and to earn the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. Pressfield points out that warriors may not understand their worth if no longer affiliated with their tribe. Pressfield does not view this as a disadvantage to the warrior, but rather, an opportunity to reapply the Warrior Ethos into a civilian job.

In conclusion, Pressfield’s The Warrior Ethos is a practical guide for Marines today. There are parallels throughout the book with the Marine Corps Values, and provides alternate points of views from past warriors on how they are applied.

Works Cited

  • Pressfield, Steven. 2011,
  • Resources/Reference-2_The_Warrior_Ethos.pdf?ver=2018-10-12-135250-303.
    Accessed 16 Nov. 19.

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