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Call of Apathy: Violent Young Men and Our Place in War
March 2, 2012 8:35 AM   Subscribe

People need to realise that their wars are not fought by the guy on the news that lost a leg and loves his flag — he was the FNG [f--king new guy] that got blown up because he was incompetent, who left the fight before it turned him into one of us. A private military contractor and former infantryman talks about the military PR complex.

viareddit
posted by bumpjump (64 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Rated M for mature.
posted by Fizz at 8:43 AM on March 2, 2012


This guy is in the minority. He is also conflating desensitization with sociopathy.
posted by Xoebe at 8:44 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, of course, losing a leg to an IED is due purely to the incompetence of the injured rather than the competence of the enemy sapper.

In summary: Internet Tough Guy, as tough as ever.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:47 AM on March 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


Just a point, before the stereotyping starts -- this guy is British. The Military Cross he refers to is a UK award, not American.
posted by Etrigan at 8:47 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


If we're going to make video games more realistic, can I have one in which I ignore my laundry until I have nothing to wear?
posted by Pecinpah at 8:48 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The quote in the FPP is cut off. It's also not the best excerpt, in my opinion. The article was much more interesting than the quote suggested.
posted by jedicus at 8:48 AM on March 2, 2012


I can't reach the article. Is there a cached version available?
posted by zarq at 8:49 AM on March 2, 2012


> He is also conflating desensitization with sociopathy.

Is he, though? Since the US military is a volunteer force, and for the most part enlistees can opt which units they want to serve in. So, the soldiers who are actually in the forward combat positions ("warfighters" as the establishment likes to call them), are for the most part a self-selected group. I personally think it's fucking insane to want to do something like that, and it seems that the military is adept at channeling the energies of these people very effectively. "Sociopathy" is a sloppy term, but there has to be something of an imbalance in a lot of these young men even before they score their first kill. I might be pilloried for saying something like that, though.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:50 AM on March 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


The quote in the FPP is cut off. It's also not the best excerpt, in my opinion. The article was much more interesting than the quote suggested.

It's my first FPP, I promise I'll do better next time.
posted by bumpjump at 8:59 AM on March 2, 2012


thanks for the article, it was interesting. video games are just the latest in a long line of war toys, cartoons, books and movies. glorifying war is one of the most amazing tricks humans play on each other.
posted by sineater at 9:00 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, of course, losing a leg to an IED is due purely to the incompetence of the injured rather than the competence of the enemy sapper.

Unfortunately, a significant percentage of the guys who are injured is as a result of incompetence. It's not a large percentage, but it is significant, and it is a factor that is played down in reports.

I personally know several cases where if the new guy had followed correct skills and drills, they would still be working with us. Sad, but true.

(Of course, IEDs in particular are indiscriminate, and in a lot of cases will cause damage whether or not drills are followed.)
posted by Petrot at 9:03 AM on March 2, 2012


It's my first FPP, I promise I'll do better next time.

No problem. The formatting error was pointed out so the mods could fix it. The other comment was to encourage people to read the piece who might otherwise not have, since it's worth a read.

I wouldn't necessarily take everything in the article at face value, but it's very interesting to see a story from a soldier that not only doesn't praise the military (e.g. "we aren't heroes, just doing our jobs") but actually suggests that the military isn't really a force for good and that the people in it may not be paragons of virtue, either. Whether soldiers are prone to commit evil acts or to have sociopathic attitudes because of nature or nurture (i.e. military indoctrination and training) is a question the article can't really answer, but just to acknowledge that the military is morally ambiguous at best is a good thing.
posted by jedicus at 9:05 AM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


If I want someone to be blunt and tell me How It Really Is, I don't need half-assed comparisons to video games. I'll look to books like this one.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:08 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I personally know several cases where if the new guy had followed correct skills and drills, they would still be working with us. Sad, but true.

The sad thing is that this shortcoming isn't discovered and addressed effectively well before the new guy gets a gun shoved in his hand and sent to the front.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:11 AM on March 2, 2012


I can't get to the article. Metafilter/Reddit seem to have overloaded the server.
posted by John Cohen at 9:13 AM on March 2, 2012


If this guy is who he says he is, people are too harsh to think him just another internet tough guy, rather than as somebody who has seen war and knows not every soldier is agonising about their daily moral choices during it. He's not necessarily telling the whole truth, but there is a kernel of truth in there about how some people will turn psychopath in reaction to what they've experiences.

While some others already were.

And what he's trying to say so much isn't that war isn't like a videogame, but how much of our civilian perception of war is shaped by what we see in movies, in games and books, even or especially when it's billing itself as realistic.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:16 AM on March 2, 2012


I was just thinking that as interesting and thoughtful as Generation Kill was and still is, this freaking grinding war in Asia has been going for so long, there are a lot more professional fighters like this guy who have seen and experienced stuff very unlike the situation in that first invasion force 10 years ago. Maybe not a cleanly, and maybe without the same kind of discipline and courage, but maybe just with more pinpoint expectations and better management skills? More cynicism may or may not be a good thing for our armed forces.

I was talking to a marine from that first-in crew the other day, and he had critical things to say about the soldiers of fortune he would encounter in later years. He especially thought their bloodlust and bragging was unseemly, and worse--unprofessional. But then, he's pretty jaded from his time in Iraq about the military and the way he's been treated since, especially as a black man. He said: "I was talking to a girl the other day and she didn't believe I ever used to be a Marine. So I said, 'Thanks!' because I took it as a compliment to how far I've come."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:21 AM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


[Fixed the cut-off quote. Long quotes are better put into the free-form "Description" area of the posting page than into the "Link Text" field, since that field isn't expecting large amounts of text. No worries.]
posted by cortex at 9:21 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


and for the most part enlistees can opt which units they want to serve in.

Which MOS ( specialty), sure. Which unit? That's a lot more difficult.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:25 AM on March 2, 2012


Interesting piece. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:26 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Onion pretty much nailed this.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:26 AM on March 2, 2012


"It’s because the vast majority of us are straight up sociopaths."

Yep, that has always been my experience of career soldiers. Of course, I get tutted at and slagged off by the lovely "Support Our Troops" crowd for saying so. So, nice to hear it straight from the horse's mouth. Kudos to the author for his honesty.
posted by Decani at 9:27 AM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


His comment about only 20% of enlisted guys having PTSD was kind of surprising. Otherwise that's a pretty fuckin' straight up article.
posted by beefetish at 9:29 AM on March 2, 2012


> It's my first FPP, I promise I'll do better next time.

FNG
posted by Panjandrum at 9:29 AM on March 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


If I want someone to be blunt and tell me How It Really Is, I don't need half-assed comparisons to video games. I'll look to books like this one.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:08 AM on March 2 [+] [!]


I don't think the purpose of the article was to tell people How It Really Is. The point of the article was to draw attention to how there's a whole other type of person that's in the military that's getting looked over because it's bad PR. The "half-assed" video game comparisons were thrown in there, because (I believe) the author feels that the video games are the closest mass-media comes to capturing this kind of soldier, but still, they do it wrong.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:30 AM on March 2, 2012


Actually, this sounds oddly similar to a conversation I had a few years ago with an acquaintance who'd been across to Afghanistan as part of the British forces (territorial army, IIRC). The most striking echo is that when a couple of girls in the group asked if he had any "cool scars", he got quite offended and lectured us all about scars being a sign of "incompetence", and that people who get themselves injured are a burden to the rest of the group. Could just be a co-incidence, of course.

There's another parallel with an article about firefighters (specifically, ones who were fighting bush or forest fires), that I think I found via MeFi. The firefighters quoted were pretty much unanimous that the few who'd been injured or killed during their duties must have done something stupid; there was no chance that sheer bad luck could have entered into it. It was speculated by the authors that people whose profession involved constant, serious risk cope by rationalising accidents and luck away: there's no such thing as bad luck or unforseen circumstances, just idiots getting themselves killed. And since I am not an idiot, then I will not be killed.
posted by metaBugs at 9:34 AM on March 2, 2012 [16 favorites]


i remember the good old days when an IED was just a bomb.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:35 AM on March 2, 2012


I personally know several cases where if the new guy had followed correct skills and drills, they would still be working with us. Sad, but true.

The sad thing is that this shortcoming isn't discovered and addressed effectively well before the new guy gets a gun shoved in his hand and sent to the front.


The average front-line soldier spends most of a year in training before he arrives at his unit, where he spends most of another year training up before deployment, and that's only if he happens to get there at the exact moment they get deployment orders. Most spend closer to two years getting ready to go.

One of my COs called it the Falconer's Dilemma -- no matter how much time and effort you spend training the bird to come back when it has a string on its leg, you're never totally sure what tells bird will do the first time you let it fly free. Some soldiers just don't follow the battle drills when the penny drops, and you never know which ones.
posted by Etrigan at 9:35 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine is a Desert Storm I and Kosovo vet. A sniper who was discharged after having his buddy's head blown off right next to him. This article reminds me of his attitude quite a bit.

He has the same disregard for religion, culture and life that is portrayed in the article. You can just sense that he's someone who can look through a scope and make someone's head explode without blinking an eye. He makes people nervous, even when they don't know his history.

But he knows this, and he tries. He really tries. He is generous, bakes cookies for the secretaries of wherever he's working, has a large collection of Disney films for his niece who visits occasionally. Often he'll initially blurt out an opinion along the lines of "fuck 'em all and let 'em die" but then retrace and visibly begin working through how that is a problem for people who value life more than he does.

In many ways, his views and values are on the lists that would have MetaFilter decry him as a villain. But he has enough of his humanity left to care that many of those values are supposed to be wrong and does his best to deal with them, even if he can't always control his feelings. This makes it worth it to be his friend, even if it can be difficult sometimes.

Oh, and he sucks at Call of Duty since his sniper instincts are a detriment in that game.

Sometimes I wonder if it was nature or nurture that made him this way. Does a professional standing army attract more people like him? Are we doing something different in our training that causes this? Or is it the "no enemies in uniform" style of wars we fight now? I've seen bits and pieces suggesting all three are in play.
posted by charred husk at 9:35 AM on March 2, 2012 [22 favorites]


Sounds pretty sensible and believable to me. If you want people killed, employ people who want to kill them, either for its own sake or the fringe benefits. If our governments aren't doing this, they're really fucking bad at being the evil bastards they so plainly are.
posted by howfar at 9:37 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


metaBugs I can chime in that the rationalizing away of accidents also happens in heavy construction - every accident HAS to have a cause that could have been corrected - NOTHING happens because of chance or the intrinsically dangerous nature of the work

ugh
posted by beefetish at 9:40 AM on March 2, 2012


the rationalizing away of accidents also happens in heavy construction

Those workplaces sound incredibly dangerous and without any safety protocols. The heavy construction accidents that I've seen reported in my workplace (maimings, deaths), all were preceded by specific violations of safety procedures that were put in place to prevent them.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:43 AM on March 2, 2012


I worked with a guy who was a sniper in vietnam. He told me one day he came upon a pier sticking out into a river. This pier was around a bend from a villiage and not exactly visible for the villiage. He figured some boats might pull up so he set up to shoot. Not too long later he sees a person pop into view, walk to the end of the pier, pull down their pants and squat over the end of the pier. He shot the person and the body fell into the river and disappeared, floating away with the current. He said for the rest of the day he shot dozens of people as they all tried to take a shit off the end of the pier.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:47 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's refreshing to see some unfiltered reality for a change.
posted by w0mbat at 9:50 AM on March 2, 2012


"It’s because the vast majority of us are straight up sociopaths."

Yep, that has always been my experience of career soldiers.


Nice anecdata there. Here's mine: the vast majority of career soldiers I've known, including my fighter pilot father, have been stable and contributing members of society. I believe that the pointless nature of the current wars can make some (perhaps many) people behave in marginal ways, but don't dump all career military people into your sociopath basket.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:03 AM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Risk-loving might be a better way to put it.
posted by borges at 10:13 AM on March 2, 2012


People who voluntarily sign up to kill people they don't know for money are a little jaded. Who knew?
posted by Damienmce at 10:17 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Different strokes for different folks. We never put the new guy on point, but that was in the jungle, not a city street.

For a man with a limited education he writes with remarkable clarity and focus. Okay, maybe the editors helped him a bit, but his imagery is right on. In sum, I started out disliking him on account of his mercenary bent: he gets to do the same job for better pay. I changed my mind later on, after he stuck it to the reader with bark on. I don't really want to try to explain that quirky about face on my part.

I agree with the writer's views on video games. I think I agree with his ideas about volunteer infantrymen being sociopaths. I'm conflicted about the hero stuff, though. I knew a couple of heros, and they lived. I'm alive because of them. We thought John Wayne was a verb denoting grandstanding and stupidity, often resulting in needless casualties: He johnwayned that firefight.

I don't agree with him about the PTSD/sociopath exclusions, though. I think a boonie rat is easily capable of being encompassed both in a sociopathic fog as well as enfolded in a blanket of PTSD. Once you get that way, you tend to stay that way.

I agree with his evaluation of media driven public perceptions. American doesn't have a Warrior Society, and soldiers are soldiers, not warriors. Not all soldiers are heroes. Some heroes are also assholes. Sometimes being on a fire team is fun: all that shooting, and running around, your brothers beside you, your brothers behind you. Later on you invent soldierly humor to actually cover the ground you've trod. War stories. Mom and dad have only vague clues. They see the ribbons but can't smell the blood. But many combat soldiers can act normal when they get out of the army...I guess not very many people know that.
posted by mule98J at 10:28 AM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


I know more than your average number of professional warfighters, being here where I am near Ft. Bragg.

I think they have about as much of a percentage of sociopaths as society in general. It's all in how the energy is focused.

Folks who have been in combat have a particular look in their eye. Google Ilario Patano. He has it. But he's not the only one.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:30 AM on March 2, 2012


Anecdata: A good friend of mine was in Iraq nearly from the beginning. He's a good, caring lefty with an incongruous love of fights and guns.

One time I went out with him and a bunch of his fellow vets - and he warned me that I'd probably get offended. I came out of curiosity. They were getting drunk fast, they were loud and clearly looked like there would be a fight if you accidentally bumped into them, and they were happily telling stories about horrible things they had done/seen/heard of along the lines of what's in the article. People at the bar were steering very clear of the whole group.

Later, when i told my friend how shocked I was, he laughed and asked me if I thought that all soldiers were like him. He said he knew no one who was like him, and the only reason his lefty-ass got any respect was his rank and the knowledge that he could easily whip pretty much everyone in his unit.
posted by tempythethird at 10:35 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Re: firefighters, soldiers

there's no such thing as bad luck or unforseen circumstances, just idiots getting themselves killed. And since I am not an idiot, then I will not be killed.

Find a similar study on the attitudes of police officers, and you may have an interesting note about the fetishized Conservative Hero Archetypes, and how that outlook reflects on the wider populace's voting and policy habits.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:52 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I think they have about as much of a percentage of sociopaths as society in general.

Unfortunately, that does not appear to be true. Books on psychopaths (like this one which I read recently and is much better, and much better footnoted, than its title would suggest) point out that psychopaths are particularly attracted to the military, and secondarily, police forces.

Consider how people actually become combat soldiers in the US. There's no draft, so they have to volunteer for the military - this already shows that their feelings on the use of force are either neutral or positive.

And they need to volunteer and train for combat - they aren't suddenly shipped to the front. A big part of combat training is in fact weeding out those people who won't or can't kill.

One of the big issues in training people for deadly combat is that most people are conditioned from an early age not to use deadly force. For example, using a bayonet isn't particularly hard, and is probably one of the least common ways that a twenty-first century US soldier kills people - the reason that soldiers have endless drills where they plunge bayonets into dummies yelling, "Kill! Kill!" is precisely to get them over this conditioning.

So by the time you end up in combat, you've gone through many phases of winnowing out people who aren't enthusiastic about killing others. But as long as you don't actually purposefully kill or maim your fellow soldiers, you don't get winnowed out for being too enthusiastic about killing people (I can imagine my various military friends laughing at the very thought).

So it's like passing sand through a sieve - you won't only keep the big, sharp stones, but you'll certainly have a lot more of them than your average cubic foot of beach.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:57 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The care and feeding of sociopaths in military units: Natural Killers —Turning the Tide of Battle.
posted by wuwei at 11:06 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


> But as long as you don't actually purposefully kill or maim your fellow soldiers,

And I do have a story there.

I had a friend of mine in University who obsessively talked about the military. He talked about his wife and kids all the time - it took me a while to wonder why he was always out drinking with me.

Finally, he joined the military. Later, he dropped out, claiming that he'd wanted to spend more time with his family (heh, in hindsight I realize that that was the first time I ever heard that phrase used!) I was surprised - he was so enthusiastic.

His marriage broke up. I started to get wind of various strange things (not all of which do I know to be true so I'll skip them). I had late night phone calls from people I barely knew.

Eventually some of the truth came out. A lot of what he said was a complete lie - I never found out the whole picture, but I did discover that he'd had the tendency to get drunk and go berserk, had finally been prevented by the MPs at gunpoint from beating an unconscious man to death (as I heard it... supposedly his victim was in hospital for over a week...), and had been given the choice of courts-martial or resignation (he hadn't been in long enough to get any pension or anything).

I knew he had a serious drinking problem, but the rest of this was a complete surprise to me - I knew his as a jovial guy to drink with.

Not really a comment on this article, just a story I haven't thought of in over twenty years...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:09 AM on March 2, 2012


Coming from the other side (as this was an article in a videogame magazine about how the reality of war differs from what's presented in AAA shooters) the original Operation Flashpoint is the only game that veterans I know think depicts combat well. After a quick boot camp refresher you find yourself unexpectedly in a shooting war, with your comrades randomly getting shot up around you by an enemy you can barely see, with death certain if you don't hump the ground and still quite probable if you do. Eventually you get promoted to leading a squad, though odds are most won't survive any given mission you send them on. Anyway it's pretty old at this point but still highly recommended. The developers went on to make more "realistic" shooters in the ArmA series but I stopped building my own PCs at that point and never had anything with the horsepower to run them.
posted by Blue Meanie at 11:10 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Heavy construction, firefighting, and soldiering do tend to have some of that blame-the-victim ethos, but I would caution against equating them. Construction work is more discretionary than firefighting, which is in turn more discretionary than soldiering (not counting the initial decision to take the job).

In firefighting we do risk a lot if there is a lot to be saved, and it's not always possible to say you should have known that floor would collapse at 12:32:09 into the incident. You could know that it was a possibility, but taking the gamble to rescue a known viable subject is within the scope of our training and the service's mission. Yet, the attitude that only the idiots get killed does persist.

The other similar enterprise of which I have direct knowledge is aviation, and the same attitude is quite common among pilots. FWIW, I would put flying closer to the construction worker end of the discretionary scale as opposed to soldiering.

I don't know enough about war to make a direct comparison, but even with advanced intelligence and command tools I would suspect there are more non-discretionary exposures to risk. Only the idiots get killed is a less valid attitude where the job does not involve "risk a lot" for anything except money or ego.

With regard to the sociopathic composition of the armed forces, and the forces' use of these human resources, this is an interesting essay by one US Army Major David S. Pierson. I'm not sure when it was written, and I'd be curious to know how it squares with current internal military policy (both official and as practiced).
posted by maniabug at 11:23 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Doh you beat me with that link wuwei
posted by maniabug at 11:24 AM on March 2, 2012


The reason that people in dangerous professions are almost forced to believe "blame the victim" is that if they consciously accepted the truth that death and major injury are mostly random then they experience massive feelings of loss of control - which almost inevitably leads to some sort of madness.

> the same attitude is quite common among pilots.

To be fair, this attitude is much more reasonable.

Amongst private pilots, some huge number of accidents are caused by morons with more money than sense. Look at the high profile crashes - JFK Jr, Aaliyah, Buddy Holly first came to mind, and in fact when I looked at them, not only was pilot error implicated in each case, but in fact all three pilots were knowingly flying without qualifications for either the equipment or the weather they were in!

And these days, with the tremendous improvements in airline safety due to technology, even in commercial aviation a plurality of fatal crashes are caused by human error, with most of those being pilot error - but fatal crashes are so few these days that pilots know about each and every one individually.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:39 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


A look at history might help illustrate what I am talking about. In World War Two, it is a fact that only 15-20 percent of the soldiers fired at the enemy. That is one in five soldiers actually shooting at a Nazi when he sees one. While this rate may have increased in desperate situations, in most combat situations soldiers were reluctant to kill each other. The Civil War was not dramatically different or any previous wars.

In WW2 only one percent of the pilots accounted for thirty to forty percent of enemy fighters shot down in the air. Some pilots didn't shoot down a single enemy plane.

In Korea, the rate of soldiers unwilling to fire on the enemy decreased and fifty five percent of the soldiers fired at the enemy. In Vietnam, this rate increased to about ninety five percent but this doesn't mean they were trying to hit the target. In fact it usually took around fifty-two thousand bullets to score one kill in regular infantry units! It may be interesting to not that when Special Forces kills are recorded and monitored this often includes kills scored by calling in artillery or close air support. In this way SF type units could score very high kill ratios like fifty to a hundred for every SF trooper killed. This is not to say these elite troops didn't score a large number of bullet type kills. It is interesting to note that most kills in war are from artillery or other mass destruction type weapons.

If one studies history and is able to cut through the hype, one will find that man is often unwilling to kill his fellow man and the fighter finds it very traumatic when he has to do so. On the battlefield the stress of being killed and injured is not always the main fear.


Part of the reason the numbers of people willing to fire on a human target has gone massively up was due to very aggressive and desensitising training to overcome that natural urge to not kill another human being. That soldiers are not drafted, but volunteers, are another so you're only going to theoretically get people at least amenable to the idea of picking up a weapon and killing them with it.

The idea of some grizzled special forces hero who saves the day due to his ultimate softie heart for civilians is a lie. A lie sold to us by TV, film, games.

You get to be a infantry/spec for veteran by being a complete bastard, willing to do to the enemy what they hesitate to do to you. It's why you're still alive, and they're not. Combat is nothing, nothing like you see it in Call of Duty or your average film. Even something like Band of Brothers is a necessary massive contraction of the long drawn out events. The closest bits though - where they're getting constantly and randomly shelled in the trenches, or the random death when on patrol in the woods. Friendly fire is a rarely talked about event, yet more British troops in the first Iraq war were killed by Americans than by Iraqis. It happens. Civilians get killed or maimed. A huge amount.

Warfare is a horrible, messy, nasty business where people are just trying to survive. Some people will enjoy killing others. Some will just not care. I knew a guy in an artillery battery. He'd killed hundreds of people with indirect fire called in by spotters, but it didn't faze him one little bit. he was pretty proud that he'd killed far more people than most. Of course, there are all types of soldier, and all sorts of disciplines. But the sociopaths certainly exist, and they're pretty damn common. They're also generally aware they need to hide it from us civvies.

If the media and politicians had to spend a lot more time with the real people they send out to kill for us, rather than this fantasy heroic warfighter idea, or some general who hasn't been near a front line in decades, and we the public got to see what they really go through and have to do...

Well, we'd start a lot less wars, I'm thinking.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:41 AM on March 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


I believe that the pointless nature of the current wars can make some (perhaps many) people behave in marginal ways

Which war the UK and/or the US engaged in after WW2 had a point?

Scratch that. Which war beside WW2 has a point?
posted by fatehunter at 12:04 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, that reminds me of a joke that John (artillery guy) told me.

A reporter is sent to do a story on SAS training at Hereford. The liason officer that meets takes him along to a small underground concrete room, with two doors; one in, one into another darkened room. There they meet a soldier in training to join.

Officer: "Right soldier, this is your final test. Complete this, and you'll get to join the regiment. Now, here's a pistol. Behind that door is a prisoner. They have information that is very time sensitive. You have 5 minutes to get it out of them. If you are unable to do so, then this is a direct order to shoot them, or they might escape and warn the enemy."

The soldier salutes, then takes the pistol and goes into the dark room, and closes the door.

Reporter: "So who's behind the door?"

Officer: "It's a member of their family. They don't even have any information. It's purely a test to see whether they'll follow orders to the last, even it's something they don't want to do. The gun is loaded with blanks of course - the test is whether they'll pull the trigger, even on their own family."

There's a lot of shouting and screaming from behind the door. Then, after the 5 minutes are over, the soldier comes back out.

Officer: "Did you get the information, soldier?"

Soldier: "They wouldn't give it up Sir."

Officer: "Did you do as you were ordered, and fire your pistol at them?"

Soldier: "I couldn't Sir! It was my wife! How could I kill her?"

Officer: "The gun was loaded with blanks soldier. I'm afraid you've failed in your training. Return to your original regiment."

Shamefaced, the soldier returns to barracks. The room is setup for the next test.

Soon, a new soldier comes to the room.

Officer: "Right soldier, this is your final test. Complete this, and you'll get to join the regiment. Now, here's a pistol. Behind that door is a prisoner. They have information that is very time sensitive. You have 5 minutes to get it out of them. If you are unable to do so, then this is a direct order to shoot them, or they might escape and warn the enemy."

The second soldier salutes, and goes into the room, and closes the door. Shortly after, there is much yelling, crashing, and even some screams.

The reporter looks at the officer, and says "Sounds promising in there."

Shortly after, before the 5 minutes is even up, the second soldier comes out. His uniform is very dishevelled.

Officer: "Did you get the information, soldier?"

Soldier: "They wouldn't give it up Sir - I tried some rough stuff, but my mum just wouldn't say anything."

Officer: "Very good soldier. Did you do as you were ordered, and fire your weapon on them?"

Soldier: "Yes sir. But the gun only had blanks in it!"

Officer: "Congratulations soldier, you're in the regiment!"

Soldier: "Well, as I said, the gun wouldn't fire. So I had to beat that bitch to death with the chair."
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:11 PM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


"When I was collecting the data in the spring of 1944, the chance of a [bomber] crew reaching the end of a thirty-operation tour was about 25 percent. The illusion that experience would help them to survive was essential to their morale. After all, they could see in every squadron a few revered and experienced old-timer crews who had completed one tour and had volunteered to return for a second tour. It was obvious to everyone that the old-timers survived because they were more skillful. Nobody wanted to believe that the old-timers survived only because they were lucky.
...
I did a careful analysis of the correlation between the experience of the crews and their loss rates, subdividing the data into many small packages so as to eliminate effects of weather and geography. My results were as conclusive as those of Kahneman. There was no effect of experience on loss rate. So far as I could tell, whether a crew lived or died was purely a matter of chance. Their belief in the life-saving effect of experience was an illusion." - Freeman Dyson, "How to Dispel Your Illusions", NY Review of Books
posted by roystgnr at 12:26 PM on March 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


If I want someone to be blunt and tell me How It Really Is, I don't need half-assed comparisons to video games. I'll look to books like this one.

Or this one.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:47 PM on March 2, 2012


Entertainment, that's all it is, Playing guitar hero isn't going to help you make it to Carnegie hall either
posted by kanemano at 1:26 PM on March 2, 2012


nope, but when an aficionado tries to play the guitar with geniuses, they don't end up killing innocent people or perpetuating the dangerous lie that participating in war is heroic.
posted by Tarumba at 1:33 PM on March 2, 2012


The "didn't fire in battle" data is suspect, it comes from S.L.A. Marshall. The late Col. David Hackworth claimed that Marshall's data was fabricated. It's in Hackworth's book, About Face.
posted by wuwei at 1:53 PM on March 2, 2012


It is indeed, mostly bollocks.

It may be interesting to not that when Special Forces kills are recorded and monitored this often includes kills scored by calling in artillery or close air support. In this way SF type units could score very high kill ratios like fifty to a hundred for every SF trooper killed. This is not to say these elite troops didn't score a large number of bullet type kills. It is interesting to note that most kills in war are from artillery or other mass destruction type weapons.

Specifically in Vietnam, SOG units being extracted under fire were supported by an almost unbelievable amount of firepower. Hueys, Cobras, Skyraiders, A4s, F4s etc. Considering you have maybe 8-12 guys in the field being chased by maybe a company or even regiment of NVA the kill ratio is maybe not so surprising. Extractions could last several hours with those same 8-12 guys fighting off waves off enemy soldiers whilst more and more NVA poured into the area. Meanwhile the aircraft circling overhead would be bombing the shit out of the surrounding LZ. That's where the vast majority of Vietnam-era SF related kills will have come from, direct fire kills from small arms would have been a tiny percentage of the overall statistics.
posted by longbaugh at 2:26 PM on March 2, 2012


"Entertainment, that's all it is"

And chess is just a board game. Or not.
posted by Manjusri at 4:17 PM on March 2, 2012


lupus_yonderboy:

A big part of combat training is in fact weeding out those people who won't or can't kill.

Having been in the military I can assure you that this is inaccurate. To the best of my knowledge there is no way to know this information until the soldier is actually in a situation where he should shoot. On the other hand, of course training is designed to facilitate pulling the trigger - what would be the point if it wasn't?

I do agree with your later point about risk. It's never very "cool" to say something like "I don't know what I'm doing let's play it safe."

charredhusk:
If you don't mind my asking, in which conflict did your friend see his buddy die?
posted by Horatius at 6:29 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


'By heaven, he echoes me, as if there were some monster in his thought too hideous to be shown.'

the vast majority of career soldiers I've known, including my fighter pilot father, have been stable and contributing members of society.

S'where it goes off the rails for me. You can be both. The big difference between those of us who come back and those of us who can't or, like this guy, choose not to, is that we value that more than killing.
Even with mercs, it's not about the money. "Can monsters exist in the sight of him who alone knows how they were invented, how they invented themselves, and how they might not have invented themselves"

Well, we'd start a lot less wars, I'm thinking.
I'd like to think so too.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:32 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


To the best of my knowledge there is no way to know this information until the soldier is actually in a situation where he should shoot.

Current training programs include simunition rounds and 'judgement based engagement training' (JET) - which is basically a pneumatic/magnetically operated M4, a large projection screen, and tracking software.

The purpose of this training is to as closely simulate combat as possible, so servicemembers can experience war without being put in real danger.

The training that combat troops go through can be quite detailed. (WARNING EXTREMELY GRAPHIC)
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:23 PM on March 2, 2012


the vast majority of career soldiers I've known, including my fighter pilot father, have been stable and contributing members of society.

Yeah. One of my cousins served several tours of duty as part of the peace keeping force in Timor Leste. A friend in the Army Reserve is currently on duty in the Solomon Islands. A good friend did a stint as an artillery officer before pursuing an academic career - his work incidentally has been linked here in an FPP a few years ago. They are all kind, friendly, conscientious members of society, and I haven't seen any evidence that they are secretly cold blooded sociopathic killers.

Sure, some fraction of people may join their country's armed services because it's a socially acceptable way for them to exert their desire to cause violence and fuck shit up, but there are many other reasons why people go into uniform.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 10:07 PM on March 2, 2012


He said for the rest of the day he shot dozens of people as they all tried to take a shit off the end of the pier.

Geez, if this story is true maybe there's something to the 'only idiots get themselves killed' thing.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 1:05 AM on March 3, 2012


'only idiots get themselves killed'

That's more of an emotional reflex than a genuine position. You can see the catch-22 there. Idiots get wounded/killed, obviously, because otherwise they wouldn't be idiots.
Part of avoiding empathy which might make you think about it happening to you (YOU'RE not an idiot, are you? Because of course, you have not been, nor will you be, wounded).

And if you do think about it too much, ironically, you probably are more likely to get killed or wounded.
And it's an implication that idealists are suckers. Which is true from that mindset. You can't act like Joe Hero.
But it's just like putting down a weapon. Relearning trust. If *I* can f'ing do it, if I can lay it down, then anyone can.
The problem is it's very hard work. Almost like being in a marriage. It requires constant maintenance to unlearn. And you get ZERO help from society (at least in the U.S.) or the government.
You're split off from the only people who could probably help you through it. The way we form units in the U.S., one guy lives in Colorado. One guy in NY. Some guys from CA. I'm from Illinois. Another bunch from the south. Etc. etc.
And people are rotated in and out and you're not cut loose as a unit, but die by inches.
Literally. Because you identify with the unit. That's "you." So pieces of you are cut off and sent around the country.

And then you're home and alone with people who have no idea about your experience, except for some other guys who might have served, but haven't gone down the same paths you have. They might even have been in combat and know the language, but you have to form the trust with them that you already have with the guys on your team.

I can see how it is tempting to never come home and go be a merc. Some guys want it both ways. That's not possible. Because it's not about time, it's about internal focus.

So I spent years untraining. Learning soft styles of martial arts. Studying pacifism. Forcing change in my thinking and habits.
Not the hardest thing I've ever done, but definitely in the top 5 and certainly the longest personal project I've ever had.
But no one helped me because no one really could. They were either hundreds of miles away and involved in putting their own lives together or they had no idea what was going on inside me.

It's hard to do. And I can understand failure. Not even trying though, I don't have much sympathy for.
And embracing it the way this guy has. Fuck him.
You can stare the abyss in the face and even let it gaze into you. But you can accept what it says and choose to embrace trust and go on living life.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:49 AM on March 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


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