The Strength of a Symbol

July 14, 2017

The items pictured here all belong* to me. Each represents a different degree of investment and meaning. In order, let me go through each one, what it required to achieve, and what its significance is for me personally.


First, in the center, is the National Defense Service Medal. To earn this, one must serve in the armed forces, in some capacity, during particular designated periods of war. That's it. No actual combat, no hardship overseas, no extensive training, endurance, or sacrifice is required beyond being in the military.


I almost threw it away when I was downsizing my belongings, but decided to keep it on a whim.


To the left of the medal is a patch from the Wolves of Vinland. Unlike the National Defense Service Medal, anyone could, in theory, buy one of Operation Werewolf's patches or shirts and wear them. I bought this patch for $8. But despite this appearance of arbitrary consumerism, the patch holds deeper meaning for me than the medal. I had the pleasure of being invited to several moots here on the West Coast, including an initiation ritual which I will never forget.


 I'm second-from-the-right, looking down.


It took a great deal of reading, intellectual openness, physical fitness, and interest to become the sort of person who might be invited to a single event like this, let alone multiple. Although it was less of a commitment hanging out with the Wolves for a few days out of a few months, the patch has more meaning for me than the service medal. There's something tighter, something closer, and more precise in being one of the people who owns that patch than there is in being one of the millions who can wear that service medal.


Above all of the other items is a black belt. I earned that in early high school, after 5 years of shudokan karate training. For every hour of class I attended, I practiced at home for an additional hour. The time, sweat, blood, frustration, and money I burned through to achieve that black belt were all part and parcel of the meaning imbued in that piece of fabric. It is an achievement which I have, sadly, fallen off the cart in maintaining. However, no amount of time will ever take away the fact that I did achieve it. To date, it is among the greatest achievements I've earned. Those who wear black belts all know this feeling, and everyone who sees someone else who wears the black belt knows what it means, and what went into earning it.


In the center, there is a trident. It signifies membership in the United States Navy SEALs. It is mine only in that I own the device as a collector item. I have never worn it, because I did not earn it.


What does it take to earn it?


Your soul.


You must endure 6 months of some of the most grueling military training ever devised. You must endure sleep deprivation, cold, wet, hunger, physical challenges the vast majority of people could never endure, and the psychological stresses of instructors doing their best to get you to quit. Your health suffers. Your relationships suffer. You may be injured, and will be expected to either carry on through your injury or quit. The only way, psychologically, to achieve this trident is to want it and to value it more than anything else in the world. More than your own life. Because that's what will be going on the line when you represent its function, sighting down the barrel of a gun in some foreign swamp or desert.



Everyone on earth knows who the SEALs are. They are respected and feared, and will be remembered for the rest of time, just as the Spartans, the Vikings, and the Samurai will be remembered. That is the reward for their sacrifice. And the power of the trident is built through the commitment the individual SEALs have to their purpose. They give everything.


Beneath that is my wedding ring. This one really is mine, and it is the biggest commitment I will ever make in my life. Its meaning to me is greater than anything else in this collection of items. Unlike these other items, its power is not inversely correlated to its popularity, because it is a personal, and not a tribal, delineating symbol. Yet it requires a deep commitment, and an investment of will and dedication, a submission of personal interest and ego, greater than anything else ordinary people can expect to give. And like these other items, the reward is proportional to the sacrifice. The more you give, the more you receive.


There is one more item here. It is a symbol designed to represent a group. The patch is a stand-in for a greater designating symbol, which full Legionnaires will receive. As it stands, the meaning of this symbol is ambiguous.


Where will its meaning fall on the continuum? Will it be like a National Defense Medal, given without restraint to anyone who asks? Or will it be more like a Black Belt, or like a SEAL Trident, given to those who want it, who wait, and pay, and sacrifice for it?


Many members of the Cascade Legion, or would-be members, joined in pursuit of some sense of brotherhood and community. They wanted to be a part of something meaningful, and something to be proud of. They wanted to be a part of something like the Wolves, if not something like the SEALs, because they know that anything that requires little of them won't give them much in return.


If you are looking to join the Cascade Legion, you will be expected to sacrifice. You will be expected to give your time, your money, and your attention. You will be expected to improve your body and your mind, to modify your schedule, and possibly to reorient a number of personal priorities. Every group that has ever accomplished anything has required these things as a minimum, and we cannot, and will not, change the laws of what works and what does not in managing successful groups.


For our membership in this tribe to mean something -- to mean anything -- it must require sacrifice. It is only a secondary fact that without dedication of blood, sweat, and money, in a focused and decisive fashion, the odds of the Cascade Legion being effective in its ostensible mission are reduced to near zero.

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