Are soldiers heroes or victims?

In many traditions, warriors were often praised as heroes; in much postmodern thought, they are often seen as victims.

Why victims? Because nowadays soldiers often become puppets in the self-serving machinations of political leaders. While those leaders live in safety and even luxury in their plush bungalows, they send soldiers to battlefields to damage or be damaged, to destroy or be destroyed. Those who know how realpolitik frequently works naturally see soldiers as victims.

Why, then, were soldiers seen as heroes in the past? Weren’t the wars of the past also fought for selfish gain? Most of them were, but not all. Some wars were fought to stop tyrants who would plunder property, ravish women and massacre or enslave civilians. And the same principle holds true for some wars even today. 

Even if soldiers aren’t fighting a righteous war, the glorification of soldiers serves a bigger purpose: to inspire a sacrificing spirit. Entering into a battlefield, knowing well that the next moment may be one’s last, requires a heroic level of courage. Doing this for a bigger cause such as protecting one’s community or country requires a laudable sacrificing spirit. Pertinently, the Bhagavad-gita (18.43) lauds warriors’ heroic fearlessness. 

Every society, if it is to flourish, needs members ready to sacrifice for a larger cause. Otherwise, the default human tendency towards selfishness will cause social degeneration. For inspiring a sacrificing spirit, every society needs living examples. And prominent among such examples are soldiers. Their example inspired citizens to sacrifice in similar, albeit smaller, ways in their daily lives.

Therefore, rather than deconstructing soldiers’ heroism till it becomes reduced to victimhood, we need to appreciate heroism wherever it is found, even if its form be under-developed or direction be ill-informed. And according to our ability and position, we can intelligently channel that sacrificing spirit in more spiritually evolved directions.

One-sentence summary:

Appreciate a sacrificing spirit wherever it is found; channel it spiritually whenever possible. 

Think it over:

  • Why are soldiers considered victims nowadays?                                                                                                                  
  • What is laudable about soldiers?
  • Do you know anyone with a sacrificing spirit? Can you help them channel that spirit more constructively?


18.63: Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kshatriyas.


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