There is a thin yet substantial line between the romantization of a warrior and the glorification of war.
Death and carnage, atrocities and destruction, wars are never desirable, and fictional heroes are always seeking to end wars and bring peace. Yet at the same time, the traditional romantization of a warrior, from Sengoku to Three Kingdoms, from Valhalla to Camelot, will always paint them as eager for combat. As Reinhardt and Ruenthal realizes in Legend of the Galactic Heroes, true soldiers by nature are drawn to the call of battle, that they would never feel satisfaction within an era of peace. But there is a huge difference between that and warmongering. It may seem like a minor distinction, but eagerness to fight and willingness to kill are completely different things, and our Sengoku heroes are anything but blood-seeking war-addicts.
There are dozens of ways to look at military troopers: idealism portrays them as protectors of the peace, realism treats them as tools of international diplomacy; states train them to murder and destroy, while civilians see them as both heroes and victims. But what about how the soldiers view themselves? It’s not just a matter of Esprit de corps either, but far simpler than that: many (whether they realized it or not) might think of soldiers merely as machines of war personified, forgetting that soldiers are still human, entitled to a sense of purpose, a sense of fulfillment.
As a recent BBC article paints the misunderstood frustration of US soldiers who never saw deployment.
I wanted to fight, not to earn a badge of honour or a ribbon. It was the job I trained for.
The moral acceptability of war is beside the point. The profession of the career soldier remains the art of war itself. They may not enjoy killing, but they were trained to destroy the opposition. Battle was a duty, an obligation to be fulfilled, a challenge to prove their worth. Those who served became soldiers for a reason, and no decent individual would like to become a mere freeloader of public funds earned by others’ hard work.
Military fiction always strive to paint a soldier’s view of their own duty, and amongst them was the difference between ‘fighting’ and ‘killing’. To the bystander, war and death may be mere cause and effect, but god help a soldier from becoming a murderer if they cannot separate the difference between fighting on the battlefield and killing another man (in any other circumstance). It is the same mentality that allows Sanada Yukimura and Maeda Keiji to sympathize so personally with widows and orphans and brothers and comrades, despite shattering entire armies and bringing death to hundreds of husbands and fathers without blinking an eye.
It’s not like I was bloodthirsty and wanted to hurt people, it was more of a camaraderie feeling for me to fight alongside my brothers and serve my duties
The fact that ‘fighting’, by itself, contains no malice, also paves the path to an entire field of thinking (and idealism) on its own. Camaraderie is unmatched on the battlefield, where comrades entrust one another with their life and death, forming brotherhoods even truer than those of flesh and blood (where would the Three Brothers of the Peach Garden be had they not fought a war together?). Honor and trust was not merely shared between allies, but also between enemies, as tales of chivalrous rivalry, from Takeda Shingen and Useugi Kenshin to Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, were forever engraved into tales and legends. These romanticized relationships particularly contrasted the self-invested attitudes of modern businesses, where coworkers guarded against one another as they ascended the corporate pyramid, where market rivals would use all kinds of dirty tricks against one another.
Combine all this with the fact that romantization highlight the purest of human virtues; where soldiers were blessed by indomitable fortitude and fearlessness, where they remained professional, civil, and never wracked by bloodlust or the hatred of watching one too many comrades fall in battle. Then what remains is…
The ideal soldier: ever the honorable warrior, always the respectable gentleman, one who desires no war upon the masses, but always glad to meet a worthy rival in battle.
Chivalry shall live on~