The Warrior Hero: Reality and Myth

Who was Joseph Campbell? What is a myth? What does "Follow Your Bliss" mean? If you are new to the work of Joseph Campbell, this forum is a good place to start.

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Post by nandu » Sun May 20, 2007 4:35 pm

I have a slight difference of opinion here. I find it difficult to call the terrorists who blow up innocent people, warriors. The warrior fights only other warriors; putting a bomb in a crowded restaurant seems to me a form of cowardice.

I recently bought a DVD of "High Noon": I had not seen the movie, even though I had read umpteen number of reviews. The character of Marshall Kane is one whom I'd call a real warrior hero. In the last scene, after he has written his will and ridden out to certain death, Kane actually defeats his opponents... then throws away his tin star, and rides away. The sequence was really mythical.

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Post by creekmary » Sun May 20, 2007 4:48 pm

Well, OK. I do concede the point of innocence as a factor. But so many innocents die during war. My father, old boss and my father's cousin still have problems from war because of killing those they perceived as innocent. Left on their own, as warriors, it might not have happened. Following orders, it happened. Maybe another example of following man's "good" and "right" instead of "that voice". Or their lack of detatchment. I think though....thinking about it...that the conditions of war would be condusive to allowing that detatchment if you choose to look for it. Not following that voice has created "the torments of hell" for them in this case though, and I can see how karma can result.

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Post by A J » Sun May 20, 2007 5:05 pm

High Noon was based on the closing chapters of one of my long-time favorite novels, The Virginian, written by Owen Wister in 1902 - one of the earliest "westerns." A truly mythological book and a very good read.

A movie that explores the situation in Missouri during the Civil War, Ride with the Devil, directed by Ang Lee and starring Tobey MacGuire (e.g. "Spiderman"), I think, goes a long way to explain why someone might be called either a warrior or terrorist, depending on the perspective.

There is a tendency today, insofar as that bit of American History, to think of Jayhawkers as warriors and Bushwackers as terrorists, but there were many instances when Jim Lane and his Kansas Jayhawkers were at least as brutal. One of their targets was the town of Osceola. My 3rd great-grandparents farm was just outside. Both that incident and the retaliatory and more famous (or infamous) attack on Lawrence, Kansas involved brutal murders of innocents, and the burning and sacking of the towns involved.

Notice my terms have been "were called" or "might be called" warriors. The hard fact is that they were primarily terrorists on both sides by the time the war was over. Try the movie. It makes the point better than I can.

AJ
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Post by noman » Mon May 21, 2007 4:28 am

There is one question, AJ, I wanted to ask you after reading your book. From what I’ve learned Audie Murphy was such a good person – not just a good soldier but a really good person. And I was wondering where that goodness came from when he had such weak parents. Also, there’s a saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. Did he have any interest or exposure to religion at all?
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Post by A J » Mon May 21, 2007 4:40 am

noman wrote:There is one question, AJ, I wanted to ask you after reading your book. From what I’ve learned Audie Murphy was such a good person – not just a good soldier but a really good person. And I was wondering where that goodness came from when he had such weak parents. Also, there’s a saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. Did he have any interest or exposure to religion at all?
His mother was very religious, but that seems to have done more harm than good. He wrote an article for one of the popular magazines where he talked about his beliefs. I will go through my files and get back to you in more detail.

Basically, the answer is no. He was not, at least not in a traditional sense.

Back soon.
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Post by A J » Mon May 21, 2007 5:54 am

Modern Screen, January '56

During the war, we soldiers would catch up on sleep at every opportunity. For me, very often, the peacefulness of an Army church service on a sunny Sabbath morning would lull me to a quick slumber. Once our chaplain kidded me about it. “I'm not satisfied with the amount of praying you do,” he said to me. My answer was:

“You do the prayin’
And I’ll do the shootin’”
By Audie Murphy

That’s what I said then. I feel differently now. I have come a long way since the bitterness of wartime in general and my smart alecky reply of that day in particular. The truth was, as the chaplain well knew, you prayed all the time you were up in the battle area. But for a nineteen-year-old it was hard to reconcile being blessed for killing, in the face of the Fifth Commandment, “thou shalt not kill.”

Those days, in between being hungry and being scared, I walked around full of question marks, which I sometimes tried to sort out but never could. Part of what I was doing then, it seems to me now, was trying to get a sense of relationship to life beyond the actual moment of living it—in other words, beyond the moment that a bullet might anytime end it.

......................................

I first knew God, in my Texas boyhood,
as a fire-blasting monster who, I was told, would take great delight in throwing the likes of child sinners like me into a hot place called Hell. The man who thus interpreted Him for us was the preacher of our little backwoods church..... Listening to this preacher, and to others of the district who were like him, I came close to never having any religion at all. I went to church in the first place seeking comfort, and, I think, reassurance about life. I wanted to be told that it could be better than the way we in our family lived it, cursed by poverty. But what I sought in that church I didn't get.......I would sit and listen while fire and brimstone thundered from the pulpit. I remember, when I was about ten years old, sitting on a back bench in church one Sunday, and coming to the conclusion that I didn't believe Hell could be worse than the particular patch of Texas I lived in— as my mother, my brothers and sisters, and I found it to live in, anyway.

But my mother's religious ties to the church remained as strong as ever, no matter how wretched her life. I used to sit and watch her in her pain, wondering, childlike, at God's failure to relieve her suffering. Occasionally I would express my doubts to her about Him. She never chided me. I am sure she thought I was too young to know any better. But her faith never wavered.

.......................................................

If I wasn't forever turned from God those days I think it was because man's instinct is to believe. There came other times and places in my life when the idea would strike me that He was perhaps making Himself known to me. I would be sitting somewhere quietly—on the bank of a stream, in a deserted chapel or church I happened to enter—when I would experi¬ence a feeling that He must be. No more than this—and sometimes it is a little saddening that it is no more than this. But if He will not give any more definite sign of Himself, or define His wishes, there is at least the compensation of being able to invest Him with such qualities as one thinks He must have.

This God, whom I can neither prove nor disprove, is not to me a complicated Being who has to be made understandable via long and involved interpretations of Biblical passages. God, as I see Him, must be truth itself, and the truth is always simple. On this I base my faith. My everyday practice of this faith takes the form mainly of conducting myself so that I hurt no man willfully, myself included.... My faith tells me too that fear is no part of God's ways; there is no fear or any threat of fear, of any kind and for whatever reason...... I think a preacher should be a teacher, a gentle, understanding teacher, and never a voice of doom continually threatening all within earshot. I think it is shameful to be frightened into anything, even into religion...... It seems to me that out of fear come many evils, selfishness, lack of self-respect, cruelty. A group of soldiers are ordered to advance against heavy fire and they all have fear. If one of these has no self-pride to call on then his fear will cause him to hang back while the others go ahead and take the brunt of the punishment. You are very conscious of this when it takes place in battle area. It is not that cowardice is a sin; no man has a patent on fear, and I never met anyone who hadn't tasted it. What you hate is the selfishness in a man who won't try to conquer his fear, and instead uses the lives of his buddies to shield his own. In the front line especially, and I think it is true in all life, the answer to "Am I My Brother's Keeper?" is an emphatic yes.
........................................

I can recall being under massive artillery barrage in France and hearing fellows pray all around me. For some reason I would always be irritated when I would overhear the words, ". . . please God, save me . . ." Then one day, as we were out in pretty open country and being pounded by heavy shelling, I heard a GI mumble these same words again and an answer formed in my mind. "Hey, why save just you?" I wanted to ask. "There's a whole company of us out here!" It seems to me that if a man can help it he ought not to try and whine himself into Heaven.

.....................................................

Nor do I think that God wants credit for our achievements. I remember someone telling back home about a farmer who bought a terribly run down place. The house was a splatter of broken boards, and the fields were a tangle of weeds. He worked hard for months and finally had the farm in fine shape; the house neat and paint fresh, long straight lines of cotton in the fields, and hogs and chickens in the yard. Then the local preacher came by and introduced himself. He welcomed the farmer to the community. He said he hoped to see him in church regularly. "And son," he ended up, "you and the Lord have done a good job fixing up this farm. I want you to know that. You and If the Lord have done right well here." "Thank you, Reverend," said the farmer. "I think so, too. But you ought to have, seen the place when the Lord was farming it by Himself!"

...............................................

I have quite an active wonder about religion. I often carry this wonder into a places where I think I can best commune with it, and that place often is a church. And it seems to me that God would not stay out of any church in which men have gathered to be near Him. I think that way back in Texas, when I sat all through that hellfire in church, waiting to hear about the loving God mother used to tell me about, I felt I might meet Him anywhere, anytime. I still do.

While I believe, from the rest of my reading, that what he says here is not inaccurate, it could easily be overemphasized. He had a movie, soon to be released, called Walk the Proud Land, a relatively true story where he played the part of John Clum, the Reformed Church minister who became an Indian agent in New Mexico, and had dealings with Geronimo. Universal Studios would have thought it prudent for him to let his public know that he did have some beliefs, and as an actor, he would have likely been exploring this side of himself in preparation for the role. He was a very honest man, too honest for his own good at times, so I feel sure he believed what he said. I just don't think it was a major part of his life.

He had an awesome sense of responsibility, even as a child. The people I spoke to in Celeste, Texas, where he lived most of his childhood, said that he took it upon himself, at an early age, to try to take care of the family, looking after his mother and siblings, working extra jobs, and finally, when he was 12, dropping out of school. He did the same thing during the war. One of the reasons he didn't want a commission was that it meant even more responsibility, but he took the commission, and to him, that meant keeping as many of the men under his command alive as he possibly could. And that meant putting himself in the line of fire. The same attitude continued after the war. He hated hypocrisy, he had a strong sense of injustice, he was always down-to-earth, he always looked out for his friends. When he was in Saigon filming The Quiet American with Joseph Mankiewicz in '57, he saw an orphanage, and as soon as he got home, he emptied his savings account and donated the money to that orphanage.

He spent a lot of time alone as a child, roaming the woods,getting close to nature. I think much of his sense of right and wrong came from those times - from a boy's contemplation. You may remember this passage from the chapter on his childhood: "Left to his own devices, he studied nature, where Campbell says the mythological child finds 'a zone of unsuspected presences, benign as well as malignant: an angel appears, a helpful animal, a fisherman, a hunter, crone or peasant.' The hero is 'fostered in the animal school, or… below ground… or, again, alone in some little room…' Like these future heroes of myth described by Campbell, Audie Murphy was, 'thrown outward, into the world of nature, [where] he developed a lasting rapport with animals; [and] inward, to his own thoughts,' and in that 'darkness unexplored,' somehow found the strength, not only to survive, but to become extraordinary." That's my best answer for where his "goodness" came from.

AJ
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A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living
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Post by creekmary » Mon May 21, 2007 11:58 am

I am very moved. No wonder daddy thought so much of him. They were similar.

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Post by noman » Sun May 27, 2007 9:53 pm

Thanks AJ,

It’s my experience that people exposed to religion, or with a religious upbringing have, on average, a stronger moral compass than those without it. Of course, there are perhaps more important factors involved. A sense of trust in the system – I think that’s what he had in his miserable Texan environment.
I was about ten years old, sitting on a back bench in church one Sunday, and coming to the conclusion that I didn't believe Hell could be worse than the particular patch of Texas I lived in…

- Audie Murphy
LOL. I know that, for many Texans, Texas is heaven on earth. I’ve made a few smart alecky remarks about Texas. But I was just following a tradition. It may have started with Civil War General Philip Sheridan who said that if he ‘owned Texas and Hell he’d rent Texas and live in Hell!’. This was the same man who reportedly said that ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian.’ Some have suggested his body be exhumed from Arlington National Cemetery and interred some where in Texas. That way he can be both in Texas and Hell at once!

Anyway, Sergeant York, from the ‘Great War’ was a deeply religious man and an excellent soldier. I tend to think of a combat soldier as requiring what Campbell referred to as ‘invisible means of support’ - but not necessarily institutionalized religion. I think it will always be a mystery as to where such ‘natural’ goodness comes from – or more vexingly – from where ‘natural’ evil cometh.

- NoMan
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Post by A J » Mon May 28, 2007 4:44 am

NoMan,

I just finished reading Lionel Corbett's new book, Psyche and the Sacred. He writes about how some people experience the numinosum in nature, with, "his or her spiritual feelings triggered by the natural world, not primarily by religious services in a place of worship." That seems to fit Audie Murphy. He was more highly attuned to that world than most of us are today, a natural hunter - as I said in the book, more hunter than warrior. And while the northeast plains are far from being my favorite part of the state (I need to go there for the annual AM Days in a few weeks. Will be participating and signing books, etc. It's going to be very hot and dry - dry in more ways than one. No wine or alcohol is sold in the area.), I think Murphy's "hellacious" experience had more to do with the social aspect than the natural. My mother's family lived a bit south of those plains, in the pine forests of central East Texas. During my visits to my grandparents' farm I would experience something of that sense of a spiritual presence, especially walking in the woods on a sunny day, with the sunlight filtering through the trees. That's about as close to Heaven as I can get, personally. My father's family were seamen and shipbuilders, so we lived nearer the Gulf Coast, in an area of giant oaks and bayous with knobby cypress trees and knees. They had more of an eerie feel, but still "otherworldly," dark, though not in the sense of Hell, exactly. Today I live in what I feel is the most beautiful part of the state - the central Hill Country, but I have never been to West Texas, so I can't comment on that. But I have no trouble seeing how Murphy might have developed his sense of responsibility from observing nature at work., and the Texas of my experience has as many places where one might find a sense of Holy presence as there are devoid of it. (I must admit, though, it does get hot, but even there, we have a saying: If you don't like the weather in Texas,..wait a minute.)
Back to nature and its spirituality, though. The shamanic experience goes along with hunting over planting. Sgt York, from what I know of him, was a hunter, too. They seem to have much in common.

AJ
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A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living
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Post by CarmelaBear » Mon May 28, 2007 3:52 pm

Can't resist this thread. Have to jump right in, with apologies for not having read the book.

Here's what hits me on the forehead like a lead pipe:

About 5% of all the violent deaths of the 20th century were caused by all the criminals and all the terrorists in the whole world. The rest were caused by nation-states.

There are two general kinds of American/Anglo law, criminal and civil. In criminal law we have punishment, including the death penalty and the most prisoners in all the free world, including a huge overrepresentation of the poor, the obscure, and the people of color. Our response to a property crime is to arrest someone, put them in jail, require large payments of money and the hiring of lawyers who can only help one person at a time. The civil side requires a complaint and a request to have the court take someone else's property by force. Rarely does the law achieve anything positive without doing violence to someone or something. Laws are rules of order, but unlike all other rules of order, they are en-forced by coercion, the threat of violence and outright violence.

Again, 95% of the 200 million violent deaths of the 20th century were carried out through the use of law, often created and maintained by democratic and republican and representative means.

Audie Murphy, as an individual, was the picture of humility and warrior virtue. As a symbol of the helplessness of defenders, he's the king.

Defenders are reluctantly responding to someone else's violence with their own violence, hoping all the while to see the end of violence. Sad story. Endless, really, since the people against whom we defend ourselves are usually defending themselves against our assertiveness and law and polite, well-ordered governmental force.....against the will of someone, somewhere, humiliating those who were born to adversity.

Fighting fights leads to fighting.
Once in a while a door opens, and let's in the future. --- Graham Greene
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Post by A J » Mon May 28, 2007 5:05 pm

The part of my mind that seems to run on a single track is being activated these days, and I am again drawn by CarmelaBear's post to the book I mentioned earlier as the one I most recently finished reading, Lionel Corbett's Psyche and the Sacred, this time to the portion of the book called "The Problem of Projection," from the chapter, "A Depth Psychology of Evil."
Each of us has his or her own way of dealing with our sense of darkness...[M]ost of us have to struggle with our impulses and desires when we attempt to adhere to the standards of traditional morality...[W]e consciously use our willpower it inhibit our less acceptable impulses, albeit at the cost of a vague feeling of guilt, which must constantly be assuaged. In order to comply with what is considered socially acceptable, we have to repress our desires, with the result that we prevent ourselves from even being aware of the negative impulse...we very often project our badness onto others...we find a scapegoat to carry our darkness [and] we are able to put on a moralistic and self-righteous front....The projection on one's unconscious darkness onto others is at the root of wars, witch-burnings, genocide, pogroms, Crusades, ....Alternately, instead of projecting the shadow, we may simply dismiss it as unimportant; that is, we may be aware of it, but we do not admit its emotional significance.. In the long run, these splitting mechanisms do not work; the shadow, that part of the personality that we would like to repudiate, leaks out, even from the saintliest of containers....The use of splitting and projection onto others to maintain a sense of personal righteousness means that some aspect of our self has to be sacrificed as opposed to being faced consciously and worked through. When the shadow is denied, we may see a persona of goodness, a facade that hides the shadow but does not deal with it. It is dangerous to maintain such a radical split between good and evil.
which brings this thread back to NoMan's original post, and the quote from my book that expresses what I see to be its major theme:
In our own time, especially during the last thirty years, we have attempted to deny the reality of the archetypal “warrior” hero, because of our knowledge of the total devastation another major war would bring. War in our time is a terrible and fearsome happening, but rejection and repression of the warrior archetype, which is a psychological reality within each of our own minds, will not eliminate war. Repressing the aggressive side of human nature doesn’t get rid of it. It is merely removed to what Carl Jung called our “Shadow, “ the parts of our personalities we don’t want to see or have recognized.

Refusing to accept our Shadow qualities may very well cause us to externalize our aggression and project it onto others. Refusing to admit that as humans we are naturally aggressive creatures might also prevent us from recognizing the danger from outside our own communities when it is present. The warrior must be remembered, upheld as an essential part of our selves and our culture and retuned to a place of honor, if we are to survive.
AJ
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A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living
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Post by CarmelaBear » Wed May 30, 2007 2:58 am

As a metaphor, the warrior hero is magnificent.

Having said that, and acknowledging that we each have this shadow warrior within us, it would seem that we have created abstractions that shield us from the direct personal experience of the damage we cause. We find moral safety in numbers.

We organize as nation-states. We create infrastructure and exclusivities that require aggressive defense. We generate military hardware and plans to anticipate imaginary scenarios. We prepare for collective action. We expect trigger actions. We go out of our way to provoke defensive violence. We prepare for war. We expect war. We create an emotional compulsion for war. We yearn for violent conflict as a collective. The individual is shielded completely from much of the detail, and our personal complicity is minimized.

We may never learn who killed on our behalf. We may never become aware of the body count or the number of children involved. We may never find out why our guns and money and our covert government agencies were deployed in lands far away. We may be subjected to violent reactions to such operations without an appreciation of of our own role in provoking serious hatred and conflict.

We receive the benefits that accrue to our "national interests" as a consequence of violent aggression by our government. We have only to show minimal curiosity and remain silent. We vote for the front runner in the media competition for the most attractive political celebrity. We are "chosen" by our elected officials who construct oddly-shaped districts that contain overwhelming numbers of voters who consistently support the incumbent. We live in a safe, peaceful bubble and channel our collective energy through institutionns that take our tax money and leave us biting the dust.

We delegate the risky task of facing the wrath of enemies we created on the basis of beliefs with which we only vaguely familiar. We literally know not what we do.
Once in a while a door opens, and let's in the future. --- Graham Greene
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Post by nandu » Wed May 30, 2007 4:06 am

I think, as most of the associates who post here are Americans, the Warrior Hero archetype gets intertwined inextricably with Uncle Sam. War is always seen as aggression on a large scale; death, destruction and pillage in large numbers.

I invite my friends here to step back a little, and view the warrior in isolation, as a human being like you and me. Forget the backdrop of the burning cities and screaming children for a while. There is this guy, positioned between the warring armies (like Arjuna): he is here on a job, to earn a living, to support his family. He has not thought about the politics of the conflict, neither of the black, white and grey areas of the moral correctness of waging war. Suddenly he is struck by the enormity of what he is doing: he must kill others like himself so that he can live! And each of the other soldiers is facing the same choice! How does one survive without going mad in such a scenario?

I find this moral dilemma to be root of the Bhagavad Gita. Even though it is touted as the heart of Indian ethics by many Hindus (surprisingly, even by Gandhi!), it is, in essence, a war-mongering philosophy. You won't find a way to save the world in the Gita. As Octavio Paz points out very perceptively, Krishna does not give Arjuna a way to save the world: he gives him a way to save himself. Detachment: that is the key.

The warrior hero doesn't covet war: he doesn't hate his enemies. He is out there to do a job, and that job involves killing others like himself. This is a very tough philosophy to digest, but one that has carried many a warrior through the trauma of battle, I think. And it is this detachment that gives the Warrior Hero his aura.

Nandu.
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Post by CarmelaBear » Wed May 30, 2007 5:37 am

Hi Nandu.

The job of killing other people is an intriguing life's work, indeed. The moral dilemma is compounded by the idea that the individual is detached. Isn't that the essence of the Nuremberg defense that was roundly rejected?......"Yes, I killed Jews, but I was only obeying authority".

There are a thousand ways to compel the services of individuals who would prefer to be able to serve in a more productive and helpful capacity.

In addition, if all aggression is a defense, (and the best defense is a good offense), then our species is in terrible trouble. But for the threat of total annhilation, we have no practical incentive to live in anything like co-existence.

I feel lucky that I did not find myself in that awful vise that squeezes a young person into risking life and limb for paranoid wonks in D.C.

Carmela
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Post by nandu » Wed May 30, 2007 12:58 pm

Killing defenseless people and participating in war are slightly different, IMO. The warrior hero puts his life on the line, where the prison guard does not.

But the idea of detachment is the same. But if you go by the Bhagavad Gita, your karma will come back to you: you don't have any control over the result. This goes very well with the Nuremberg defense being rejected: if killing Jews was your karma, you have to face the results. There is no way you can escape from the backlash. And that also, you have bear with detachment.

The philosophy of karma is very cruel. In ancient Indian society, your karma was fixed by your caste, and there was no way you could escape. If you were born a Kshatriya, it was your karma to fight. This is very hard for us to digest in the 21st century, where freewill is taken for granted.

But are we free? Can all of us choose not to fight? If we look at the armies of the world, the majority of the soldiers are made up of people who are out to make a living. They choose between starvation or dying/killing for one's country. Can we condemn them all as war-mongers? It's easy to say that all people should choose not to fight as a matter of principle: then there'd be no wars. But is it practical?

Detaching oneself emotionally from one's action is an effective way to keep one's sanity. Mind you, this is not abrogation of responsibility. The soldier who sets out to kill is very much aware that his actions will find him out. There is a bullet out there, waiting for him. The challenge is to accept that also with detachment.

Nandu.
Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavanthu
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