[December 8, 2020] The life of a Soldier is one of both honor and hardship. Therefore, it is understandable that all relationships with their comrades must be via unconditional honesty. This is why, today, I write about a man called Diogenes of Sinope, for he spent his life looking for an honest man.
Most have heard the story of Diogenes, the Cynic, who walked through the sunlit streets of Sinope and Athens, lantern in hand, looking for an honest man. He is remembered for mocking the possibility of finding human virtue.1 It follows that his quest would be an eternal one; as symbolized in the lantern’s use during broad daylight. Can a truly honest man exist? That is the question Diogenes raises.
In Catholicism, there are several patron saints for Soldiers, but the primary one is St. Michael the Archangel, the defender of heaven. If there were a patron-philosopher for Soldiers, it might be Diogenes of Sinope. A comparison of his philosophy and the life and that of Soldiers in combat cannot be untangled.
Diogenes believed in self-control, the importance of personal excellence in one’s behavior, and the rejection of all that is unnecessary in life. Thus, he rejected personal possessions and social status. He was so ardent in his beliefs that he lived them publicly in the market place, taking up residence in a large wine cask and owned nothing.2
Perhaps the life of Diogenes explains why so many of my military peers were fans of his simple lifestyle. It is not that we would live in a wine cask but the fact that we share a similar experience on the battlefield; the brutality and starkness, the need for fierce honesty, and a code of behavior that rewards excellence.
Many thought Diogenes to be crazy. Yet, he was also one of the most respected and loved Greek philosophers of the 4th century BC and one of the most famous.
The story of Diogenes says that he did not exactly say he was looking for an honest man. He said, “I am looking for [or seeking] human being” – an exemplar of humanity.3 Diogenes sought the real human, one worthy of a truth-speaking embodiment of man having the power of articulate speech.
Soldiers on the battlefield are both honest cynics and realists. In place of the Diogenes lantern, they light their journey with great books, the company of reliable teammates, and great leaders who are on a similar quest.
- He owned a cup that served also has a bowl for food but threw it away when he saw a boy drinking water from his hands and realized one did not even need a cup to sustain oneself. https://www.ancient.eu/Diogenes_of_Sinope/