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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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