combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 03 Summer ©Jul 2005

Bugle and Bell
musings on the soul of war

Saints have no moderation, nor do poets, just exuberance.
by Anne Sexton ["The Saints Come Marching In"]

The Holy Man and the Wholly Man

The Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, has said, "The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on land."

A distinction is often made between the shaman – the Holy Man – and the warrior – the Wholly Man. After all, the Wholly Man responds to the call to BE ALL YOU CAN BE while the Holy Man responds to the call just to BE, fully and completely.

Yet the cult of the shaman and the cult of the warrior are, each, concerned with a sense of mission. They do not represent the ordinary, mundane missions of those with worldly preoccupations; each is called upon to undertake the essence of Mission Impossible. Congressional Medals of Honor and saintly canonizations are not awarded for simply dotting one's i's and crossing one's t's. And it is not the prospect of reward or recognition that is the primary motivation of the shaman or the warrior – the finest of whom often remain anonymous and unsung.

This inquiry explores the possibility that the shtick of the warrior and the shtick of the shaman overlap considerably. After an abstract exploration of these worldviews, there will be posited two individuals who, each, exemplified in himself both the qualities of the Holy Man and the Wholly Man. One was a Thirteenth Century shaman – Francis of Assisi. And one was a Twentieth Century warrior – Smedley Butler, U.S. Marine Corps.

A shaman is defined by Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary as "a priest who uses magic for the purpose of curing the sick, divining the hidden, and controlling events." In so-called primitive societies, he is the medicine man. Perhaps the most famous Native American medicine man has been Sitting Bull.

A traditional shaman was initiated into his ministry by a guru or mentor who provided and guided him through a near-death experience. If he survived this physical and spiritual trial, the newly ordained shaman embodied the otherworldliness thus encountered. The medicine man managed – by means of the initiation and eventual renewals of it – to return to everyday reality in order to serve his fellow tribesmen as one now, ironically, more intimate with their world than themselves.

One becomes otherworldly in order to become truly worldly. One figuratively dies in order to truly live. The supernatural is not the unnatural nor anti-natural; it is the mega-natural.

The present-day religious seminary and military basic training contrive a dimension of otherworldliness in order to enable their graduates to, conversely, more effectively grapple with the world. In utilizing bells or bugles, vestments or uniforms, and rituals or drills, these guru-like institutions may fall short of providing the near-death experience to which primitive shamans have been exposed. However, anyone who has undergone training in a seminary or boot camp may attest to the fact that it is, at best, a near-life experience.

Rumi, the Islamic mystic who wrote Mathnavi – commonly referred to as the Persian Koran – offered this caution: "Whoever enters the Way without a guide will take a hundred years to travel a two-day journey."

Post-traumatic stress disorder is the label given to the ongoing journey of the warrior who has discovered – on the battlefield – that that near-death experience which, in a more orderly dimension, may serve a positive, initiatory purpose for the shaman and his guru. For the returned warrior, however, that experience which he cannot shake is presumed to be negative. It has been unbidden. It has been unguided. It serves no discernible purpose. And the civilian society that assigned him his combat mission may see the returned warrior in the same negative light in which he sees himself – as a spiritual ugly duckling, awkwardly and cruelly misplaced into a flock of blissfully normal ducks.

Peter Bernardone, the father of Francis of Assisi, was convinced that his son had somehow become ducked up. He had given the boy everything. He furnished Francis with handsome armor, colorful clothing and banners, and a magnificent steed when the twenty year-old strutted off to war on behalf of his native Assisi in 1202. Had not Peter Bernardone, as well, paid a ransom to the enemy Perugians to return his son after the lad, with his peers, had been broken in battle and he had spent a year as a prisoner of war?

The father, more disturbed by his son's resultant disinterest in materialism than he was by the materials that he had wasted on this ingrate, asked the bishop to implore Francis to return to him what was his. If the offspring was not going to exploit the material investment bequeathed to him for the sake of individual and family success, should he not stop lavishing these things on the beggarly in body and spirit who were just using him?

And Francis, in the presence of the bishop and the gawking socialites in attendance, completely disrobed and proferred his garments so that he might hold nothing back which was rightly the possession of his biological father. And, thereafter, the beggarly with whom he had taken up company shared with Francis their rags.

Had Francis lost his nerve while a warrior? Had the world become repulsive to him? Hardly. He perceived his father and others to be using their material blessings as a buffer to insulate them from the world for which they felt more fear than love. Did not God so love the world that He gave it His only begotten Son?

Was it not with a warrior's courage that Francis met with Sultan Malik al Kamil during the siege of Damietta – at the height of the Crusade – in an attempt to broker a peace? Was it not with a warrior's courage that Francis secured an audience with Pope Innocent III at a time when he and his offbeat companions were considered by many within the decadent Church to be heretics? Was it not with a warrior's heart that Francis bivouacked at the hermitage of La Verna and supernaturally received the marks of the stigmata?

Unlike Francis of Assisi, Smedley Butler – one of only two U.S. Marines to ever receive two Medals of Honor – was raised in a household that placed a higher premium on spirituality than materialism. Butler was raised as a Quaker and always remained true to the ideals of the Religious Society of Friends.

It was Butler's tendency to ask questions first and to shoot later, though to shoot with accuracy and élan if necessary – thus not expending lives recklessly – that earned him the respect of his fellow Marines. It was his use of diplomacy in Haiti and the banana republics that earned him the respect of his would-be adversaries. It was Butler's integrity that occasioned the City of Philadelphia to ask the Marine Corps to loan him to them as a police commissioner to clean up their corrupt department.

And it was Butler's patriotism that inspired him to reject the proposal of the American Liberty League in the 1930's to lead a march of veterans on Washington to demand the imposition of a fascist dictatorship, which would have left President Roosevelt as an impotent figurehead. As a whistle-blower, Butler enabled Congress to head off the march and its wealthy backers, and to preserve our way of life and its freedoms – both religious and secular.

If the reader is unfamiliar with this important but downplayed crossroad in our nation's history, he or she is encouraged to do a little research on either Smedley Butler or the American Liberty League, but be aware that some sources will erroneously characterize Butler as a socialist – there are still sour grapes among the philosophical heirs of the thwarted goose-steppers after all these years.

If Butler had a seminal conversion experience such as Francis of Assisi may have had while languishing as a prisoner of war, it is by no means as evident or identifiable. Butler may have experienced some PTSD as the result of being raised in a Quaker household. In previous centuries, some Quaker households were so anti-material, anti-sensual, and anti-ceremonial that a small but disproportionate number of Quaker children have exhibited an indifference to color as well as color blindness. Butler may have reached for a balance of worldly lights in his identity in a sort of flip-side but similar gesture as that with which Francis reached for the balance of otherworldly lights in his identity.

It is important to point out that neither Butler nor Francis disparaged his upbringing. Neither presented the dualistic exhibitionism of any of those preachers who brags about having been a dope dealer or Hell's Angel or ne'er-do-well before seeing the light and getting his act together. Francis appears to have been a Wholly Man and Holy Man. And Butler appears to have been a Holy Man and Wholly Man. They arrived at the same synthesis from different directions.

Both those who are called to BE ALL YOU CAN BE and those who are called to BE seem to share an inordinate capacity to love, and an inordinate capacity to play.

Each loves that which he cannot have at present as well as that which he can now have. The Wholly Man loves the girl back home as well as the orphans whose homeland he is trying to rebuild. The Holy Man loves the God that he can neither touch nor see, as well as the spiritual orphans – his peers – whose heavenly home he is trying to make discernible to them.

Love and play overlap in romance. The Wholly Man and the Holy Man share a sense of play and a rediscovery of innocence from the vestiges of their youth.

Vestiges are remnants – sometimes overtly useful but more often not – that we bring from one dimension or era into another. This handing on of remnants is like the reincarnations of sourdough pancakes. A physical vestige of one batch is saved after its use so as to provide flavor and character when mixed into a successive batter for sourdough pancakes at a later time.

It is like the dot of yin in the semicircle of yang. It is like the dot of ardent Quakerism in Smedley Butler's ardent Marine Corps service. It is like the dot of thesis or antithesis in the resultant Hegelian synthesis. It is like the spicy dot of Tabasco sauce in the C-ration can of drab-tasting ham 'n' mothers.

The sourdough essence of this first installment of Bugle and Bell will, likewise, be pre-served and then mixed into future installments when they are formed and baked – etcetera, ad infinitum.

contributed by B. Keith Cossey

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