Soldier vs. Warrior

Canderous Ordo: Carth, you fought in the Mandalorian Wars, didn't you? We may have faced each other in combat. What battles were you in?
Carth Onasi: I try not to think about my past battles too much. The horrors of war are something I'd rather not relive.
Canderous: The horrors of war? My people know only the glory of victory. I'm disappointed in you, Carth. I thought a warrior like you could understand.
Carth: I'm not a warrior, I'm a soldier. There's a difference. Warriors attack and conquer, they prey on the weak. Soldiers defend and protect the innocent—usually from warriors.

In a story that involves a Proud Warrior Race or fighting culture, you'll eventually have the eternal debate: Is it better to be a soldier, or a warrior?

  • A Soldier is a fighter that gives his loyalty and service to fulfilling a cause. Soldiers are typically disciplined, well-trained, well-equipped, and often The Fettered. They follow the orders of their superiors and put more emphasis on the success of the mission than battle superiority.
  • A Warrior is a fighter that fights for glory, personal gain, or some sort of Darwinian philosophy. Warriors are more about heart and fighting spirit, often shunning the conformity of an organized army. When they are part of an army, they're typically competitive and eager to demonstrate their superior prowess.

A work that pits these two together typically invokes Romanticism Versus Enlightenment or Order Versus Chaos, and either side can be shown as right or wrong. A work favoring the Soldiers will typically portray the Warriors as The Horde or some other disorganized mass of wild, bloodthirsty, and barbaric creatures. A work favoring the Warriors will typically portray the Soldiers as a Red Shirt Army that have superior tactics and equipment, but no individual "soul" or flexibility. Some works may not favor either, but simply show them as two different (but necessary) fighting philosophies.

See also World's Best Warrior, which shows how a single fighter can become the best in either culture. Compare Technician Vs Performer, Force And Finesse, and Quantity Versus Quality and Quality Over Quantity.

Ironically, in the Humans Are Warriors trope, humans tend to be the soldiers while the other species are warriors, and that is why humans are better at war.


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     Anime and Manga  

  • In Turn A Gundam, there's a lot of discussion in the last arc about the proper reasons for fighting. Loran is on the Soldier side; he fights only at need to protect people because living at peace is nice. Gym Ghingnham believes that Humans Are Warriors and thinks endless warfare is the only way for the species to advance.
  • In Attack on Titan, this is used within the Narrative, and explicitly brought up by several characters. The enemy Titan Shifters refer to themselves as "Warriors", drawing a line between themselves and the soldiers they oppose. On the surface, the trope is played straight with human soldiers serving the cause of humanity's survival and the warriors being shown to be proud and even competitive. But then it becomes more complicated, with the lines becoming blurred as the warriors' identities are revealed. Reiner Braun best illustrates the blurring of things, struggling with his conflicting loyalties/identities. Both sides have much more in common than they would like to admit, and there is plenty of debate over what it means to be a soldier. It isn't really clear which, if either, is actually better.
  • In Nanatsu No Taizai, the two leaders of the Liones Holy Knights are rather unique cases. Dreyfus is a Soldier as he genuinely wants to protect people from the prophesied Holy War. However, he is a Well-Intentioned Extremist who is willing to trample down anything or anyone for his ambitions. Hendricksen on the other hand is a Warrior as he is basically a Colonel Kilgore who believes that war is the only reason the Holy Knights exist in the first place. He believes this so much that he is willing to revive the Demon Clan so that the Holy Knights can have a Worthy Opponent. Though it turns out that both are being manipulated by a demon. One who is possessing Dreyfus.

     Comic Books  

  • This notion was raised by Marvel writer Walt Simonson as the reason why Captain America can't pick up The Mighty Thor's hammer.
    Walt: [The enchantment on Mjolnir] means someone else can pick up this hammer and get this power, if they're worthy! [...] I liked the idea of Cap walking to the bathroom and seeing it, and grabbing and just tugging, not being able to. [...] Captain America, he's too patriotic. He's too much a symbol of America to be chosen by this Norse artifact. So he couldn't get it. So I created Beta Ray Bill because he's noble, and he's designed to kill. He's got a great purpose as a warrior, and also the noble ability. That makes him "worthy" whatever that may be.


  • Wookies versus Clone Troopers in Revenge of the Sith.
  • Discussed in Patton by Generals Bradley (soldier) and Patton (warrior).
    Bradley: I do it because that's what I'm trained to do. You do it because *Beat* you love it, George.

  • In Larry Niven's Known Space verse the Kzin are obsessed with personal glory allowing humanity to lure them into several traps. And they seem to have no concept of "total war" while the humans carved a ten-mile long and mile-deep trench on a Kzin-held planet.
  • In Gor, the main character of most of the stories, Tarl Cabot, is a trained Warrior. He is a member of the Warrior caste, who have their own Codes and consider their calling honorable. Even between warring cities there is an inherent respect between them. On the other hand, any shlub could pick up a sword and become a brigand, mercenary, or soldier. They don't follow or respect the Codes.
  • Discworld has a variation: Vimes is adamant that the Ankh-Morpork City Watch are not military, despite wearing swords and armor. This having as much to do with the fact that Armies Are Useless in most situations (thanks to Vetinari's diplomacy preventing most conflicts), that Vimes has a very strict code of conduct (having aided in kicking out the former, extremely corrupt Watch) that soldiers won't understand or that military leadership is composed to a man of spectacularly inept bunglers (one of them insists troops move in arrow formations like they appear on maps, others count victories by substracting their losses from the enemy's, another is "the gods' gift to the enemy"...).
    • Interesting Times plays this mostly from the warrior's side, Cohen and his band (six old 'heroes' and a teacher, with only the latter being under 80 years) go up against five armies, and are making a pretty good go of it for a while. Justified in universe because they're Conan-style heroes, and Discworld runs on this sort of narrative.
  • The distinction between Soldier and Warrior is explained in Cursor's Fury, the third book of the Codex Alera. The distinction pointed out by Antillar Maximus is that a warrior generally fights alone on his own skill in duels and the like, while a soldier is part of a unit that watches over the man next to him and trusts the man next to him to do the same.
  • In Belisarius Series, the Rajputs are warriors, with an exagerrated sense of honor, who boast of their Heroic Lineage and take delight in Combat by Champion. The Romans are soldiers with a professional organization and a capacity for engineering and the use of technology.
  • During a battle in The First Heretic where the Word Bearers fight alongside Custodes, they comment that although the Custodes are peerless warriors and superior to Astartes on an individual level, they do not fight as a unit or look out for each other the way soldiers do. Consequently, the Word Bearers stop respecting them.
  • Adumar in X-Wing: Starfighters of Adumar is a culture that glorifies fighter pilots, and the pilots themselves are Proud Warrior Race Guys who fight for their own personal glory, with battles between nations frequently devolving into a melee of personal duels. When Wedge Antilles et al. ally with a coalition of Adumari nations opposed to the more powerful government of Cartann, he tells them flat-out that if he catches any of their pilots flying for glory instead of victory, he'll shoot the offending pilot down himself.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Though not explicitly stated, this dynamic exists between the Night's Watch and the Wildlings. The general consensus is that the Wildlings are better in a fight, but the Night's Watch's discipline makes them better at winning battles.
    • The Unsullied are individually weaker than most warriors because of their castrations. However, their lack of fear, full commitment to following orders, and their use of phalanx tactics makes them a formidable army. During one battle, an Unsullied force 3000 strong held back 50,000 Dothraki. Only 600 of the Unsullied survived, having killed 12,000 Dothraki. The Dothraki were so impressed they rode out to the Unsullied line and threw their cut braids down in front of them as a show of respect.
  • Raj Whitehall of The General makes a point of this distinction in conversation with a young 'barb' hostage and then proves his point when his 'soldiers' slaughter the barbarian 'warriors'.
  • In Ranks of Bronze, one of the Romans (forcibly recruited to serve as muscle for an interstellar alien Mega Corp. due to interstellar law prohibiting using advanced technology against primitive worlds) highlights their status as disciplined soldiers and not barbarian warriors as the main reason why they keep winning. Their alien masters, of course, doesn't care so long as the victories keep coming in and the Romans stay loyal.
  • In People of the Wind the Terrans are shown as being a more pragmatic and bureaucratic force fighting for the strategic interests of the Terran Empire, whereas the Ythrians and their human allies are willful, individualistic folk fighting for "deathpride". Sympathy is on the Ythrian side on the whole but the Terrans are WorthyOpponents.
  • In The Heroes of Olympus, the Roman demigods tend to fulfill the "Soldier" archetype while the Greeks fulfill the "Warrior" role. Both are shown to have strengths and weaknesses.
  • Discussed in the Prince Roger series. When Captain Pahner proposes to train an army in a few weeks one of the (alien) allies protests that it takes months to train a warrior. Pahner counters that they aren't going to train warriors, they are going to train soldiers and they can do that in a few weeks. Largely justified in that they are pretty much just training the new soldiers to hold a pike and shield wall so the training is mostly about getting them to march together and follow orders.

     Live-Action TV  
  • Star Trek
    • The Next Generation in particular does this with their Proud Warrior Race Guy(s), the Klingons, who love fighting for fighting's sake and have a lot of warrior-honor traditions and disdain for the weak, contrasted with Starfleet, who fight only when they're forced into it. However, Starfleet's We Help the Helpless attitude eventually forged an alliance when one Starfleet ship tried to fight off three enemy Romulan ships to save a Klingon outpost. They all died, but the act of courage impressed the Klingons enough to end decades of animosity.
    • In Deep Space Nine, the Klingons' Warrior is contrasted with the Jem'Hadars' Soldier. The Klingons have a very effective army, but they still care a lot about personal glory and honor and can come into conflict with each other when in pursuit of those goals. The Jem'Hadar, on the other hand, adhere to the Soldier's credo of discipline and obedience to a degree that seems flat-out insane to the Starfleet characters. They will knowingly walk straight into their deaths without batting an eye if they are told to, because that is "the order of things."
  • In the DVD extras from Game of Thrones, there are segments on the history and legends of Westeros, which serve to flesh out the back story of the series. The one where Stannis Baratheon discusses the failed rebellion of House Greyjoy and the rest of the Ironborn against the kingdom discusses this trope at length, talking about how the warrior lust for glory of the Ironborn was used against them.
    I set a trap for the Iron Fleet off of Fair Isle. As sailors and warriors the Ironborn are unparalleled, but they're not soldiers. They have no discipline, no strategy, no unity. In battle each man fights only for his own glory, and their ships are built for lightning strikes and shore raids. Once the captains rushed in, I smashed them with our larger war galleys.
    • Another strong example is the contrast between war buddies Robert Baratheon (warrior) and Ned Stark (soldier). Robert truly loved war and fighting, while Ned just saw it as a grim task and clearly does not have fond memories of it.
  • This is the main strength of the SGC against the Goa'uld Empire in Stargate SG-1. For all their initial technological superiority the Goa'uld approach war as an exercise in self-aggrandizement, and their armies are warriors fighting for the glory of their gods. The Tau'ri, meanwhile, are modern-day Earth humans who bring to the table an industrialized military machine and fight to achieve specific objectives, innovating as needed. This difference is specifically called out in "The Warrior" by way of comparing the two sides' main weapons:
    Col. Jack O'Neill: (hefts a staff weapon) This is a weapon of terror. It's meant to intimidate your enemy. (hefts an FN P90) This is a weapon of war. It's meant to kill your enemy.

     Tabletop Games  
  • In the MechWarrior/BattleTech universe, this is one of the reasons why the Inner Sphere is able to hold off the Clans. Despite the Clans being a faction of humanity who embraces this, having superior technology, a highly militarized culture, and with genetically enhanced soldiers, the clans are more like honorable combatants, fighting for individual glory and honor. The Inner Sphere, though less unified and with inferior mechs and technology, fights like soldiers, and manage to trick the clans multiple times into ambushes, one-sided routs, and more. At one point, a Clan fighter pilot pauses after damaging an Inner Sphere pilot, to salute her... and then gets blown out of the sky by the Inner Sphere pilot.
    • There's a notorious story about a group of Clan warriors who challenged a group of Inner Sphere warriors to individual combat. The Inner Sphere soldiers opened fire. The last words of one Clan warrior: "This isn't fair!"
    • In-Universe, the senior commander of Com-Star forces comments (after routing the Clans at Tukkayid) that although each individual clan warrior is better, and uses superior equipment, the Clans as a whole have spent centuries in what amounted to gladiatorial games with limited civilian fallout while the Inner Sphere factions spent centuries of total war trying to extinguish each other. This resulted in Clan leaders that could win any individual engagement but were totally unprepared to fight a campaign lasting more than a few days.
    • However, the Inner Sphere does get some of the Warrior traits depending on the Great House - House Kurita values "honor", and many commanders emphasize melee combat even when it's disadvantageous.
  • Magic: The Gathering: The designers split some synonymous roles of creatures amoung the five colours of Magic. It is possible for any Class Type to be in any colour, but the examples here assume where you can find the role 80% of the time.
    • Barbarians VS Berserkers: Both are classes that tend to live in the moment, and fight in the Red color pie. They are distinct, with "barbarians" being primitive and "berserkers" having some way to increase their power, or being forced to attack each turn.
    • Soldier VS Warrior: A "soldier" is a part of a formal army, in white usually, sometimes blue. A "warrior" is usually alone, or in a loose horde, in the red or green.
    • Mechanically speaking, soldiers tend to be defensively minded (they have higher toughness than power) and are often paired with abilities that help when defending, such as pumping toughness or preventing damage. Berserkers are offensively minded (they have higher power than toughness) and have offensive abilities like pumping power or trample. Warriors tend to be in the middle; they usually have good power and toughness but rarely have strong or complex abilities.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Soldiers would be the Tau, Imperial Guard and Necrons. Both Tau and humans have a strict, no-nonsense approach to fighting and winning war, just with different tactics involved: the Tau are like the US Army, winning battles through superior technology and precise long-range firepower, while the Imperial Guard are more like the Soviet Army, winning through bloody attrition and sheer weight of firepower and manpower. The Necrons are unthinking constructs with little in the way of a warrior culture, but are fanatically determined to slay every living thing they can get their metal hands on.
    • Warriors would be the Orks and Eldar. The Eldar have a warrior culture that has been refined over thousands of years, and view war as just as much an art form as painting or singing. The eldar, however, will have nothing against dirty tactics. As for the Orks, WAAAAGH IZ JUST A BLOODY GUD LAWFF AN' EVEN DA RUNTIEST OF BOYZ LOVES IT.
    • The Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines are a mix of both. They bear more of a resemblance to knightly chivalric orders than a traditional army but exactly where they fall depends on the chapter. The Tyranids are neither: they just want to eat the galaxy and multiply.
  • Dungeons & Dragons / Pathfinder:
    • In a full meta-perspective, the Soldier represents the Lawful alignments while the Warrior represents the Chaotic alignments.
    • The Paladin typically fills the role of the Soldier to a "tee," both in form and in theory, being restricted to Lawful Good alignment only; the Antipaladin, therefore, fills the role of the Warrior, as it's required to be Chaotic Evil - Paladins often act as The Cape, while Antipaladins are typically either dragons or Big Bads themselves.
      • A more benign pair of examples are the Monk, who is restricted to any of the Lawful Alignments, and the Barbarian, who cannot be Lawful (and are typically therefore played as one of the Chaotic alignments). While the Monk supports its teammates and strives for personal enlightenment, the Barbarian typically keeps count of the bodies it wracks up before anything else. However, either can be a hero, villain, or somewhere in between.

     Video Games  
  • Carth Onasi of Knights of the Old Republic is not happy to be called a warrior when Proud Warrior Race Guy Canderous compliments the Republic as Worthy Opponents. In Carth's view, a soldier's job is to protect the defenseless, and they usually have to fight conquering warriors.
  • In Mass Effect, the two different types are reflected in the turian and the krogan races, both examples of a Proud Warrior Race but in two distinct flavors:
    • Turians are extremely disciplined, organized, and collectivist soldiers. They boast the most powerful Navy in the galaxy, and every turian is expected to serve in the military once they come of age. Even those that aren't currently serving are taught the importance of following orders, performing your duties earnestly, and both understanding and following protocol. Even their civilian society is Mildly Military in structure.
    • Krogans are walking Berserkers, each one boasting nearly unparalleled strength and toughness. Their culture is extremely Darwinian, with the weak culled either by natural dangers or battle, and leaders typically chosen through Asskicking Equals Authority. They make perfect infantry and shock troops, but with an unpredictable and unreliable nature. Their extremely long lifespan and high fertility meant that they could afford to fight wars of attrition.
      • In the Great Offscreen War in the franchise backstory, the turians entered galactic society while the krogan were threatening to overrun the standing government. The turians (with help from other races) devised a countermeasure, the infamous Genophage, which made their primary strength (We Have Reserves) a liability instead.
  • Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War bases its Karma Meter on this dichotomy, although it further splits the Warrior into two more archetypes: Mercenary (Only in It for the Money) and Knight (Glory Seeker). You conduct on the battlefield decides which type you'll be assigned to, which in turn determines which bosses you face.
  • Star Trek Online puts the Klingon Defense Force, which is no longer all Klingon, on a bit of a spectrum here, which is exemplified by the command crew of the flagship IKS Bortasqu' (the Klingon counterpart to the Enterprise). On the soldier end we have Doctor Harza-Kull, an Orion, and Lieutenant Commander Tarol, CMO and chief engineer respectively and who both view "honor" more along the lines of professionalism. On the other end is the tactical officer LCDR. Hark, a straight Glory Hound implied to have his eye on Captain Koren's job.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The dynamic between the Imperial Army (Soldiers) and the Stormcloaks (Warriors). The Imperials are often seen training and performing drills, and possess uniform equipment. The Stormcloaks are basically more free-spirited and less disciplined, and there is more variety in weapons they wield - Imperial troops usually have a short sword as standard, but Stormcloaks can be armed with swords and axes of one or two-handed varieties. It also reflects in their performance in battle: a lone Stormcloak vs. a lone Imperial usually results in a Stormcloak win, but a bunch of Stormcloaks vs. a bunch of Imperials tends to be a more even fight. Also, the Imperials are unquestionably the better archers, with better bows and greater accuracy.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has several factions which fall along these lines:
    • The NCR are the most obvious "soldier" faction, having based their government and military on the model of pre-apocalypse USA. The NCR is noted to have tons of money, greater numbers, and better equipment at their disposal.
      • After them, other "soldier"-type factions include the Brotherhood of Steel and the Enclave.
    • Caesar's Legion is the most apparent "warrior" faction, with a culture modeled on a fusion of the Roman Empire and the Mongols. Legion soldiers aren't much for individual tactics beyond Attack! Attack! Attack!, and they tend to carry much more primitive equipment compared to other factions. Legionaries are also encouraged to show their strength and courage in battle, as seniority means nothing and rewards are given based solely on merit.
      • The majority of other combatant cultures also follow a warrior culture, including the Fiends, the Great Khans, the Jackals, the Vipers, and so-forth.
    • The Boomers are kind of a mix of the two. Despite being settled inside of an Air Force Base, and equipped with all sorts of destructive pre-War tech, they have a fanatical reverence for explosives and gleefully use them when given half an excuse. They're considered the ultimate Wild Card, to the point that even the NCR and the Legion are scared of going up against them.

     Web Original 
  • The Salvation War pits the Forces of Heaven and Hell, generally Warriors, against modern-day humanity, shown as Soldiers. The point here being that Angels and Demons fight with honor, while Humans simply fight to win, while trying to minimize loss of life on their side. Humans win, partially because of above, partially because of More Dakka.

     Real Life  
  • Roman legions versus Gallic warriors. It initially went well for the Romans, until political infighting sent the Western half of the empire on a path to self-destruction and the "barbarians" moved in to pick up the pieces in the 5th century.
  • Chinese soldiers found themselves overrun by the Mongol hordes in the 14th century.
  • This is often the distinction made between The US Army and The US Marines, to the point that it's considered an insult to call a Marine a "soldier". Further, commanders of said soldiers don't like elite groups like the SEALs, Rangers or Delta Force hanging out with their men, because soldiers tend to start trying to emulate them by improvising instead of keeping cover and formation, compromising the entire operation.
  • Generally (but not exclusively), Colonial forces versus natives - particularly US Army versus Native Americans, and the British versus Dervishes, Afghans, and most African groups (but technically not the Zulus, who also had an organized army). Exceptions largely prove the rule; after victories such as the Little Bighorn and the Monongahela, native forces were typically disorganized or shattered by casualties, and failed to follow up. This enabled the Europeans to come back later and clean up the pieces — "punitive expeditions" were innumerable in the colonial era.
  • Native American auxiliaries vs. Scottish Highlanders, on the same side. The native warriors would find it difficult to replace their numbers, and thought that any deaths were a failure. For this reason, they refused to do very dangerous jobs. By contrast, Scottish Highlanders were perfectly happy to charge straight into musket fire; they'd lose a few, but they'd slaughter the enemy in the ensuing close combat, and their professional status meant casualties could be replaced. As a result, the Scots thought the Americans were cowards, while the Americans thought the Scots had a deathwish.