Psychology of Fighting: Before, During, and After
June 22, 2016 10:26 AM   Subscribe

This Is Your Brain On War: “There was this police officer in Florida,” he says. “She was shot 10 times, and in the middle of this gunfight she says to herself, ‘I’m getting married in six months and you’re not going to stop me.’ And she killed the two bastards who shot her. She was back on the job a year later. So, yes, these are irrational thoughts, but at the same time, they’re motivating thoughts.”
posted by scaryblackdeath (9 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty amazing summary - and I could see this as being useful to fiction authors who want to write a scene and don't have the direct experience.
posted by King Sky Prawn at 11:00 AM on June 22, 2016

I tried to read this earlier today when a friend linked it, as it is a topic I am quite interested in, but I could not concentrate on the text due to the moving images between nearly every paragraph. I need textual flow. I hope this is not the future of long-form text publishing.
posted by Riverine at 11:39 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh geez, Riverine, I clicked through expecting that you were being overly sensitive to dynamic page layout or something, but no, those motion graphics are completely overkill, unless at the end of the article they discuss how peripheral motion detrimentally affects reading comprehension in warfare.
posted by redsparkler at 12:31 PM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Viewing the page in plaintext mode, or using or Firefox's "Reader View" or similar to reformat the page, makes websites like this much easier to read for me.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:51 PM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's become fairly normal on Tumblr to have gifs interspersed through an essay. So they didn't bother me, personally. I think you can scroll so that they're off the screen before you go to the next paragraph?

I found it a fascinating read. It's obvious that violence and war transforms a person, but as far as I can tell it's been hard for people to really explore that. And the whole un-shaming attitude in this piece is really important.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 2:31 PM on June 22, 2016

I'd like to get back to this when I'm not on a phone.

There's much wrong here and some things I've never seen described so well.

IThe slow-time fugue state is an incredibly life preserving tool. If you have that and the sense of everything around you moving like some kind of organic process, you survive and the people who had only one or neither of those senses look to you the next time because you predicted and told people to scoot or do something impossible or counterintuitive that is possible and is ultimately logical.

Science be damned, some officer mentions you in dispatches in a coded language that avoids all the primordial woo stuff while saying that you are full of the woo to the woo-believers at battaliion. Whee! Promotion bestowed.

I could only see my own outbound, so I didn't need sights. It was like having tracers without leaving a clear path for the other side to concentrate on me.

You can get a sense of this with a dog. Find deer and chase them through the woods. You'd be amazed how much dog is you and you is dog.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:29 PM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

I am familiar with much of what Grossman describes. He has, after all is said and done, interviewed thousands of veterans of several wars, and also a bunch of SWAT cops, who operate under similar conditions.

I have watch a flight of bullets, both outgoing and incoming, as they zip through the air. Also noticeable is pattern of smacks and cracks. In a forest, the supersonic rounds echo off the trees, and you can't really judge where they came from. A couple of RPDs can really fill the air with noise. Time does get different, not really slowing down, but rather I am speeding up. The incoming bullets seem to float, but I know they are too fast for me to dodge. After the opening salvo sounds seem to move into another room. My thinking stops being strategic and becomes tactical, one thing at a time. Any body I focus on will die if he doesn't run away before I can get my muzzle in trim.

Grossman's treatment of flashbacks seems off the mark. You don't immunize against flashbacks the way he describes. You don't immunize against trauma by training, in the way he describes. Training lets the soldier run his immediate action drills while he is transitioning between uh-oh and oh-shit. After that, training helps him understand what his job is supposed to look like: he's on the covering fire leg of the situation, he's on the maneuvering leg of the situation, he's between the RTO and the scout on the sweep. He fires and drops his magazine, repeat, repeat, repeat. After a while he become comfortable with the various sequences, and he can operate under pressure. Later on when the adrenaline goes away he and the team discuss the events among themselves and come up with a version that outsiders need to know about. This necessary team comraderie lets him know that he did okay, at least in their eyes, and they are the only ones whose opinions matter. They will die with him if it comes down to that.

But when he's out of the army and walking down the street, his mind does what all minds do. He is trained in ambush configurations, so he notices where he'd put his kill zone, where the claymores ought to go, the flankers; he may have enough time during the stroll to find a rally point, but by that time he's at the donut shop and his mind is on something else. He has not actually thought that enemy troops have occupied any of the good firing positions he'd found. The Flashback is a hallucination that probably lasts only a second or two, but in that time he is being fired upon, maybe even hit, by enemy soldiers. Maybe not even a combat scene, but an image of a jungle trail, the sunlight streaming through an opening in the tree canopy. At the end of your tours they tell you not to worry about intrusive thoughts, they are common, and harmless. Carry on. For a page worth of time, though, you have called up a green blanket of humidity and rich warm smell of jungle--this was not really a memory, any more than the impact of bullets was a memory (I never was shot); it just happened. On the way to the donut shop.

Sure. But you don't immunize against flashbacks. You sometimes can work it out that you are having them, and understand that you aren't nuts; a lot of times the flashbacks will have become just another item in a cluster of issues that make up the grand clusterfuck that your day turns into. Sometimes your body has altered its chemistry, so that the small, even pedestrian challenge has become life-threatening. Yeah, someone can show you how getting confused in a supermarket aisle is no big deal, but you still need to leave the cart there and walk out the door before you start screaming.
posted by mule98J at 12:12 PM on June 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

The problem occurs when authors etc are paid by the page - whatever crap is on it.
posted by Burn_IT at 1:52 PM on June 23, 2016

The incoming bullets seem to float, but I know they are too fast for me to dodge

It still annoys the hell out of me that people don't believe this is a thing. I was called on the carpet by the director of an ambulance co. twice for taking unnecessary risks, he absolutely could not wrap his head around having all the time in the world to decide what to do. I can't remember why I thought a civilian boss would be better than a military one, remfs rule the world.
posted by ridgerunner at 7:40 PM on June 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

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