t’s been close to thirty years since I last read Plato’s Republic. In it, if memory serves, he uses the terms ‘soldier’ and ‘warrior’ interchangeably. That’s understandable since in his day and land roughly every able-bodied man of military age served as a ‘warrior’ in the army. However, I have always found a slight incongruence when applying this to our time. In America, where roughly one percent of the population serves in the military, this Ancient Greek idea inadequately encompasses what surely must include women who are warriors, soldiers who are not warriors, and warriors who are not soldiers. It is this latter category, the warriors we find in every day society outside of the army, to which the subject of genealogy seems most salient at the moment. To discover the near-universal struggle of our warrior ancestors, who carved out our nations and gifted us our very lives, infuses our more mundane modern existence with a new sense of purpose.
For Americans especially, we inheritors of individualism from the Enlightenment, a great gap exists in family histories. Our immigrant ancestors came here throwing off old values, old systems, old traditions, and sometimes even old names, to embrace the new. Disposing of Old World notions of inherited status, titles of nobility, and class by birthright, these young Americans sought success through individual effort. An unfortunate side effect of burning bridges across the Atlantic was that a part of us remains adrift in history, detached from where we came from and devoid of identity. In leaving behind religious persecution and congenital dictatorships, Europeans also left behind what may have been noble about a family name. In being rent from their lands as property, Africans lost touch with their pasts wholesale. In the inexorable Westward expansion, Native Americans were marched away from their ancestry at gunpoint. This is the condition we find ourselves in, and if ever there were a source of our current social woes this is it. As Butch tells the cab driver in Pulp Fiction, “I’m an American, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.”
Take heart. Our nation is still young. We the People have invented the modern world, including amazing powers of genetic research and the astounding instrument of the Internet. We can use these tools to link ourselves with the past warriors in our ancestry, who carried on and built their societies even in the face of plague, invasion, natural disasters, and some man-made ones. This is of urgent importance to the nation’s youth, who too often feel themselves detached, isolated, and that their names “don’t mean shit”. A little research can enlighten them to the struggle that got them this far, and to share in that pride. While the 800 year old Gilbert line has been noted as being “of much estimation [esteemed]” and “of knightly rank”, it is not necessarily the wielders of the sword who are the warriors. Anyone may be such in their daily lives. I believe a warrior is anyone who has seen farther and finds it incumbent upon him or herself to protect those who haven’t. If we are diligent, we still have time to patch the hole in our history.