Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Battle Fatigue, Part 1.1: The Military Honor Culture

Let's launch into the first topic in my series on war veterans and the challenges that they face.  If you haven't read my first post yet.  Check it out here.

Here is an introductory post to lay some ground work for my points on the first topic:

The Military Honor Culture:  Why the very high-performance culture that has to be in place to keep soldiers safe and the military so effective at what it does also contributes to soldier emotional and spiritual distress, discourages self-reporting of serious problems, and adversely affects healing.

If you have never been in the military or visited other countries, the idea of an "Honor Culture" is probably fairly foreign to you... probably something that feels hundreds or thousands of years old.  They still exist and are very prevalent.  Before we can talk about the topic we should define some terms.

Guilt Culture.  Most of western civilization in this day and age is what is considered a "Guilt Culture".  Driven largely by individualism and an individuals perceptions, cultural shame has very little impact on a person's self image and does not drive their behavior.  Biblical Christianity as we practice it can be understood as a kind of Guilt Culture.  Here is a handy chart that I stole which illustrates the various situations that arise in a "Guilt Culture".

Honor Culture.  Pure Honor Cultures are very different from the modern American experience.  In this kind of culture, public perception plays a more important role than individual perception.  These two archetypes are not black and white constants and many cultures tend to shift on a sliding scale between the extremes of "Guilt" and "Honor".  American culture as a whole has been on a 250 year slide from "Honor Culture" to "Guilt Culture" which accounts for the change in public behavior.  Both types of cultures have their strengths and weaknesses.

Here is that same stolen chart but reflecting individual reactions to various situations in an "Honor Culture".

There are some easy examples of Honor Cultures.  The stories of the Knights of the Round Table and King Arthur center around Honor Cultures.  Japanese Bushido is an honor culture.  Much of the middle east is driven by Honor Culture under Islam.  Colonial Gentlemen engaged in deadly duels over what we would consider to be minor slights because they were bound to abide by their Honor Culture.  There are still parts of the deep south that are heavily influenced by their Honor Culture.  Much of our historical Honor Culture here in the west has passed into history in modern America, but there are still places where the Honor Culture is very much alive.

The US Military is very much a fully functioning Honor Culture with slight elements of Guilt Culture artificially embedded into it.  The military is, by necessity, bound to its traditions and pragmatically glamorizes and encourages this Honor Culture through training.  While individuals from the civilian Guilt Culture will bring elements of that with them when they join (and political pressure will force the military to adapt to modern civilian expectations), military training, communal conditioning, and the needs of the very specific job demands necessitate the weakening of such individualized Guilt Culture ethics in favor of a generalized Honor Culture.  This Honor Culture starts at recruitment and is heavily pushed through the entirety of an individual's career.

In a follow up post, I will illustrate exactly how and why the US Military is an Honor Culture as well as show its similarities to other known Honor Cultures in history.  I will try to point out why this is a necessary thing that cannot be changed even while I illustrate how that very culture can harm individual members when they cannot measure up to the demands of the Honor Culture that they find themselves in.

For more information than you could ever need on honor, Honor Cultures in western civilization, and their history, check out this very detailed book on the subject.

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