Louis Awerbuck believed that societies fell to folly when they drew distinct lines between their warriors and scholars. What this ultimately led to was a society’s thinking being done by cowards and its fighting done by fools. Awerbuck saw himself as the keeper of a tradition, a heritage of warriors in ages past, and civilization’s protectors today.
And yet I seem to know this simple truth:
If the bestowing of the famous armor
Had rested with Achilles while he lived,
To give them as a war-prize to the bravest,
No rival then would have filched them from my hands;
The Greek playwright Sophocles once wrote the tale of a great warrior and his coming to learn the sobering reality that his time had come. Second in might only to the demigod Achilles, Ajax once served valiantly for the Greek host as it waged its epic war against the defenders of Troy. So bravely and ferociously did Ajax defend his men and visit destruction upon his enemies, that none other than the great Prince Hector himself bestowed upon the Greek his own Trojan blade as a token of respect; the kind known chiefly among men who had mutually survived the ravages and fire of battle.
Alas, when time came for the hero to reap the rewards for his service, rewards much deserved if justice indeed guided the affairs of men, Ajax was denied this by both man and fate. Odysseus, the crafty lord of Ithaca, would use fine words to win the armor, words Ajax had shunned as he believed his actions suitable testament of his worth. More importantly, he was denied by the goddess Athena, Odysseus’s patron, who cared not for Ajax’s heroism, but rather the man who most matched her skill, cunning, and guile.
Ajax’s death reminds the reader of the dual tragedy of his tale. First, it is a historically observed reality that peoples quickly distance themselves from the brave men of gravitas responsible for winning their lives of security and comfort. This is evidenced by Winston Churchill’s being voted out of office after he had given himself completely to the freedom and safety of the British people. Second, and perhaps the more poignant point, is that though the loss of a warrior and hero is itself the cause for woe, what is more injurious to a society is that it would view such a man as no longer necessary. It would at least make more sense, and be seen as just, if one can be so nostalgic for times when such ideas drove the thoughts of mortals, for a people to in the very least, remember its warriors.
Louis Awerbuck traveled to the United States in the mid-1970s after serving his nation of South Africa as a member of the 1st Special Services Battalion. He came to be employed by retired Marine Colonel Jeff Cooper as an instructor, and ultimately Chief Rangemaster of the widely respected Gunsite Academy. In those capacities, Awerbuck saw to the successful instruction in armed self-defense of countless civilian students. In addition, some of the United States’ most esteemed protectors, be they from backgrounds in law enforcement or the military, learned the finer points of their craft at his side. Among these were the Marine Corps Security Battalion Atlantic, members of the Department of Energy’s Central Training Academy, and Special Forces units. Possessing not only skills in performing the arts of the warrior, but also in being able to teach these skills, he was widely held as a “Yoda” figure in the industry, a warrior/scholar who trained future warrior/scholars.
Apart from this, he was also a prolific writer, authoring several books and regular columns for Soldier of Fortune and SWAT magazines. In his voluminous writings, the reader witnessed not only a soldier, but a historian and philosopher who was equally adept at discussing Soviet bloc small arms, and the lessons of a civilization’s rise and fall found only by thorough examination of ancient texts. In one of his recent columns from SWAT, Awerbuck remarked that societies ought to remember the warnings of the Greek historian Thucydides, perhaps the greatest historian in ancient history. As Awerbuck related, societies fell to folly when they drew distinct lines between their warriors and scholars. What this ultimately led to was a society’s thinking being done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.
In both his writings and spoken words, Awerbuck did not see himself as a man who needed to loudly proclaim the vastness and depth of his acumen. Rather, he quietly plied his trade, producing each year more conscientious, skilled, and thoughtful police officers and soldiers. He saw himself as the keeper of a tradition, a heritage of warriors in ages past, and civilization’s protectors today. If anyone could have deservedly used lofty turns of phrase to elevate himself to the mountains inhabited by the gods, it was he. Instead, he spoke often and well of others in his trade that he believed students could also benefit from encouraging them, like Bruce Lee (a philosopher he admired), to seek out what amount of learning and experience best fit them. So unique it was to have a man who could have easily and often resorted to self-praise choose to elevate others he deemed were worthy of this honor.
In a conversation I had with him in Arizona a few years ago, he remarked that he was often asked by others to elaborate on his “war stories” and of how he had dealt destruction to his enemies in the turbulent African Bush Wars generations ago. He said he never did choose to elaborate, as he reached into his pocket and showed me a medal earned by his father in wars even older. He said that what most motivated him in life was to never bring dishonor and shame to his parents’ memory, and that his father’s medal of sacrifice should be enough of a testament.
By ensuring that the nation’s best protectors went into the field with the highest level of training and preparation, thus safeguarding their civilization, Awerbuck did keep true to his parents’ memory. He and his students were indeed the hard men who made it so we all are able to sleep peacefully in our beds at night.
I will miss my conversations with Louis, and write this as a small effort to make it so that unlike the tragic tale of Ajax, some of us today may humbly remember our warriors and the heavy prices they have all unflinchingly and profoundly paid. Requiescat In Pace.
This essay first appeared here in July 2014.
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