By Stacy Bare
Best Defense rugby correspondent
I wonder if there is not something deeply cathartic about the infantry unit performing the Haka, an ancient ritual designed to intimidate opponents, while also honoring them. In a few moments, the unit is able to express incredible, unified emotion, and sadness, while at the same time letting death know it will not break their unit's camaraderie.
There is a respect shown to death itself here, a worthy opponent in its own right that accompanies the warrior regardless of the battlefield. Does the warrior culture of the Ma'ori people, seeped so thoroughly through the NZ Army, allow for greater resilience in the modern day soldiers? The first time I watched it I had tears streaming down my eyes and imagined myself and my old units performing the Haka for a dozen or so fallen comrades.
As a former rugby player I can relate to the strength and power of the ritual. When we had a large number of Fijians, Kiwis, and Samoans on the team we did a similar dance before games. Most of the Islanders were warriors and soldiers themselves. We do not have this kind of coming home in America, this reinforcement, even in death, of the inherent strength of our warriors. Are we overly sensitive, overly surprised that in war, maiming and death occur?
Then again, one wonders if the number of deaths of the NZ forces equated to ours, would this Haka happen every time there?
Still, I can't help but think if when our brothers and sisters came home, if we allowed ourselves the opportunity to yell, to scream, and to shake our tongues at death, we wouldn't be a far healthier society.
Stacy Bare served as a captain in the U.S. Army from 2000-2004 and again from 2006-2007. He served as the Counter Terrorism Team Chief in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 2003-04 and as a Civil Affairs Team Chief in Baghdad, Iraq, from 2006-07. He is now the Director of Outdoor Programming for the Sierra Club.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.