A Bullet-Proof Mind?
November 13, 2002 9:35 PM   Subscribe

A Bullet-Proof Mind? "Too much, and you end up with a My Lai.... Too little, and your soldiers will be defeated and killed." A balanced look at the reasons for, and consequences of, the reflex-based killing techniques in which U.S. Special Forces soldiers are trained. (NYTimes Magazine).
posted by josh (33 comments total)
Interesting article.

PTSD was definitely not confined to Vietnam war veterans. WWI/II, Korean War, and even Gulf War veterans who saw limited combat had problems with the aftermaths of what they experienced. And you can bet that regardless of Pentagon mumbo-jumbo like "reflex-based killing techniques" and "bullet proof mind", we will see young men come home emotionally crippled by their experiences in America's latest bullshit wars.

And what a fascinating and inspiring tale about these so very highly trained U.S. soldiers, self-described as wanting "to see action so bad" and ''if there's going to be a fight, we want to be in it,'', instead training 25 Afghanis to storm a hospital wing that had been held by six wounded Al Qaeda fighters for over a month. Twenty five Afghanis, "managed" by the American "tactical ground commander", code-named "Rambo 70". "After years of training, he would finally become, as he told me recently, a ''manager of violence.'"

Well shucks. Can I get a hearty hooah!? "Rambo 70" as "manager of violence". Gee, if you can't "manage" the violence with bombs from an aircraft 30,000 feet over Afghanistan, "manage" it from 150 meters away while you try to get other people to do the fighting, eh?

But I digress, as usual. We were talking about "bulletproof minds" and PTSD. Well, maybe the Pentagon knows what it's doing. But forget all that James Bond doublesecret NakedKill/SERE jibberish the article mentions. No doubt it is the U.S. principle of being "managers of violence", more so than "bullet proof mind" and "reflex-based killing" (whatever in hell that is), that may result in less American PTSD (as well as fewer American casualties).

Stay anywhere from 6 miles to 150 meters from the actual killing (or a few continents distant if you're a member of the brave chickenhawk battalions, right? ~wink~), and stress-related psychiatric problems are just bound to decrease, regardless of how Kevlar-plated your Fort Bragg training made your head.

No word yet on how the Afghan soldiers who did the brunt of the fighting, or those Afghan civilians who experienced American bombs on the ground, may fare with their own PTSD rates.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:15 PM on November 13, 2002

The patented, fold_and_mutilate plan for dealing with grenade-throwing terrorists occupying a hospital:



All done. Time to blame America!
posted by dhartung at 11:45 PM on November 13, 2002

Interesting stuff there on PTSD indeed but sad the way that it has to be interspersed with war porn to hold the reader's attention...
posted by dmt at 11:55 PM on November 13, 2002

worked for me.
posted by adamgreenfield at 12:03 AM on November 14, 2002

geez dhartung what are you? the fucking thought police?
i know theres a history but spare us your worthless clutter.

on topic
there are definately 2 types of war minds, those that can deal with war and those that cannot. those that can become veterans and those that cant die. but americans current style of warfare and overwhelming superiority in terms of resources means many people unable to deal with war, survive conflicts, whereas in the past they would not have. hence increased PTSD in US forces . afghan soldiers would all be veterans by now, hence negliable PTSD. i have no evidence for this, just my thoughts.
posted by carfilhiot at 1:10 AM on November 14, 2002

foldy -- i think you missed the point. the [quite valid] issues you raise, (when extracted from your needless and offputting sarcasm) are explored in the article. In fact, they're basically the entire point of the article. The author's just not the type to hit the reader over the head it.

The title is a question, not a statement.
posted by lizs at 1:13 AM on November 14, 2002

dhartung: Next time don't take so much space with your lack of anything to say. fold_and_mutilate didn't blame America. He is rightly criticizing this mentality of violence worship. Talk to people who have actually had to face a person and then kill them. Yea, I know what their 'job' is, but that doesn't mean we have to cut them any slack. I'm tired of military personnel and the military in general getting treated as if their job is noble and honorable. I don't see anything honorable in the business of dropping bombs on people whose government allegedly supported 'terrorists'. That's like being proud of soldiers who would attack me for the actions of my government. I have absolutely nothing to do with what my government does. I feel sick that my money goes to fund American realpolitik. War is politics by other means, and people who join the military are well-meaning dupes at best (IMO) or nationalists and sadists at worst.
posted by letterneversent at 1:15 AM on November 14, 2002

I was an Infantryman with the 1st Armored Division during the ground war with Iraq. Let me tell you it was no cakewalk. I spent the following six years an insomniac. Frankly, I really didn't have any issues that came about right away after the experience. Most of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms surfaced months and even years afterward.

While this article is certainly very interesting, I have to agree it's more about, as an earlier comment said, 'war porn' than about any real unbiased findings regarding PTSD. Of course the military wants you to believe PTSD is less an issue now than it ever was. It makes it easier to get Susy and Johnny to sign on the dotted line.

And besides, would you really want to live next door to a veteran who says they're not bothered at all by their experience?

By the way, this Gulf War (1) Veteran is for PEACE.
posted by jackspace at 1:26 AM on November 14, 2002

...well-meaning dupes at best (IMO) or nationalists and sadists at worst.

I'm not a vet and find this statement offensive. Is it possible; maybe just a teeny tiny bit, that there are men and women in our military who don't fit your stereotype?

I have absolutely nothing to do with what my government does.

Therein, lies part of the problem. Try voting. It works for me.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:36 AM on November 14, 2002

I do vote and my previous statement stands, you presumptious sack.
posted by letterneversent at 1:39 AM on November 14, 2002

By the way, jackspace, thanks for the photos. Many veterans I speak with who have actually seen dead bodies feel the way you do.
posted by letterneversent at 1:40 AM on November 14, 2002

dhartung it was obvious his 'plan' (or implied alternative) was for American soldiers to actually do the job themselves instead of letting other people kill and die for them (or innocents die because they let the bombs kill for them). Because of Americans' failure to do so in many recent conflicts, he was questioning why PTSD was a problem for anyone but untrained Afghani fighters.

Entirely fair? Not at all. Fair in the case mentioned in the article? Hell yes.
posted by Ryvar at 2:33 AM on November 14, 2002

Leonard told me that upon returning from the Gulf War, he woke up one night and noticed a red beam; thinking it was a laser, he rolled out of bed and reached for a weapon. The beam was his stereo's power light.

Heh, that happens to me every time I play Team Fortress.
posted by Bletch at 3:23 AM on November 14, 2002

One of the SF's core missions is the training of local insurgents and militia. By training the Afghans to do the job they weren't trying to get out of doing the job themselves, and in the end had to do it themselves.

There are those drawn to fire, and those who run from it. Different people react in different ways.

posted by a3matrix at 4:59 AM on November 14, 2002

I think it's important not to think of soldiers as college professors or progressive intellectuals, although they very well may be, and in many cases; are.

They are trained to follow orders and to fight, and there, but for the grace of the soldiers who have died to protect our freedoms to speak and demonstrate and live as we do, go us all.
posted by hama7 at 5:22 AM on November 14, 2002

is incredible: a soldier receives a great training:

Skills taught to Special Forces soldiers include how to survive in jungles and deserts, how to leap from a plane in the jet stream and wait until the last second to open your parachute, how to stage ambushes behind enemy lines, how to escape a P.O.W. camp, how to speak foreign languages and how to kill with […] your bare hands.

usually their scientific and academic knowledge surpasses of many ph.d.s., and in addition they are able to kick serious ass.
but all of that is wasted. the soldier goes to war and returns totally freaked out: something has to be wrong when 4 soldiers kill their wives.
it would be great to receive a special forces training and actually not having to go to war.

the simulations in which the special forces are engaged look pretty amazing and exciting; the arguments in the article show (as far as killing and destroying) that games and simulations are far from a true war experience. a special forces soldier training should prepare him for the ethical issues of becoming a killer, and handle them appropiately, which is not occuring.

or maybe the simulations are so real, that some soldiers can't tell the difference between reality and training, and that is why so many soldiers are into family abuse…
posted by trismegisto at 5:41 AM on November 14, 2002

Regarding the Fort Bragg murders-I notice no one ever mentions the woman who murdered her military husband around the same time.

I hope this thread doesn't deteriorate into a hawk/dove debate. I do find the specifics of what the effects of the training have on the individual yo be of more interest. I have known many men who are in Special Ops. Most have been decent honorable men-but a couple of them are definitely odd ducks. I worry about the few types who would go thru this training and be seriously wacked out. But most of them aren't judging from what I have seen.
posted by konolia at 6:12 AM on November 14, 2002

I do vote and my previous statement stands, you presumptious sack.

Presumptious? In what way? You said it yourself. Here, I'll go slowly so you can get it this time:

I h a v e a b s o l u t e l y n o t h i n g t o d o
w i t h w h a t m y g o v e r n m e n t d o e s.

I won't even address the load of coffee shop rhetoric you spewed in your first post.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:28 AM on November 14, 2002

it would be great to receive a special forces training and actually not having to go to war.

That of course would be ideal, but, is not always an option. Nothing quite as fun as HALO jumps, a day on the demo range, or harmless scuba ops. But, throw any of those into a wartime/real world scenario and it becomes pretty scary.

Hoo Ya!
posted by a3matrix at 7:18 AM on November 14, 2002

Hey, ummm, guys? KevinSkomsvold and trismegisto - why don't you take a deep breath and go visit jackspace's website? Don't just look at the photos, read the captions, too. Look at this one in particular. I am so tired of listening to all you guys (and its always guys) prattle on about how great and strong and powerful the American military is and how you can't wait to get over there to kick some raghead ass.

Is it necessary for the US to maintain a strong military to defend ourselves and our allies? Yes. Is war with Iraq going to make a single American (or American ally) safer? No way. Is it going to prevent more terrorism on American soil? No way. (Take a moment to review how many terrorist acts have been committed against the US by Iraqi nationals. I'll wait.)

Do you know which 20th century American war had the lowest rate of PTSD among its returning Veterans? World War II. Why do you think that is? Perhaps because every man who fought in that war understood that they were doing something right and good and necessary, and the American people understood it, too. No American soldier since (and that includes those in the Gulf) has had that luxury.

My father fought in Vietnam, two tours. I am given to understand from his parents that he shared the hooah mindset - had always wanted to be a Marine, more than anything. I'm fairly sure that if he were the same age he was in 1963 today, he'd be among the first to say lets go get Iraq.

When I was 7 months old he hiked a mile out in the woods behind our farm, drank a bottle of Scotch, and shot himself in the head. He apparently missed the first two times, but the third time was the charm. He was out there for about two weeks before anyone found the body.

My dad was about the least-likely candidate for PTSD you'd ever meet. I'm sure he went through his training cheerfully and with great relish. But when he got over there, you know what he found? He found he wasn't fighting for the things his father had fought for, and he wasn't fighting in the way his father fought. Instead, he was trapped in a military culture that worshiped violence and cruelty for the sake of violence and cruelty, and which had no respect at all for any human life.

Guys, if this is the America you want to build, go ahead. But think carefully about the repercussions of the reintroduction of these bullet-proof minds back into the culture. Think very carefully....


Jackspace, thanks so much, by the way. Thank you for serving, thank you for protesting, and thank you for sharing your photos and experiences with us.
posted by anastasiav at 8:03 AM on November 14, 2002

Yes. I visited the site. Very powerful. Anastasiav, I am not an advocate of war. You will see no "Hooah" escape these lips. I'm not sure where you got that impression. On the other hand, war is neccesary and the men and women who do this work deserve our respect despite what motivations were involved in sending them to fight for us. They are not sadists or well-meaning dupes as was early suggested.

I cannot even begin to fathom the pain that your father experienced and I'm sorry for your loss. When I was 21 (1982), I was assigned to a PTSD Treatment Unit as a therapist. This unit treated Vietnam vets who we involved in combat. I will never forget sitting there, me a 21 year old green, freshly scrubbed therapist, listening to guys nearly twice my age break down and cry in my arms. It still astounds me to this day just thinking back. Did I agree with what they did? Some yeah, some no. But I did develop a respect for the warriors who defend us. I'm not so willing to brush them off as "killing machines".

I'm not sure what occurs with returning vets who saw combat in terms of treating PTSD, but I hope it's better than what was offerred in the late 70's and early 80's.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:02 AM on November 14, 2002


usually their scientific and academic knowledge surpasses of many ph.d.s.

Gimme a break. Unless we're talking mail-order degrees, there's no way that a special forces soldier "usually" knows more science than someone with a doctorate from any decent university. That's not to take away from the fact that these guys are one-man-killing-machines and whatnot...it's just an acknowledgment of reality. They're lethal in large part because of the equipment built by nerdy engineers waaaay back in the States who know a hell of a lot more science than they do...

Are these guys ass-kickers? surely. Rocket scientists? no way.
posted by balajis at 10:07 AM on November 14, 2002

"Many of us will never completely rid our minds of wartime traumas. But I believe we should at least try. We can do that by re-learning the meaning of love, trust and compassion. There are many caring people still left on the planet earth. You'll find them everywhere. First, you have to say "Hello." There are still days when my mind is like a film in continuous re-run: flashing images of the past in flickering reminiscences. Some days I feel fragile and vulnerable, and wonder how much longer my despair will last...Today, my life is much better. Living has become important again. I have been given a new life and every day I try and enlarge my life by helping others. Thomas Wolfe said "You can never go home again" I believe you can if you have the right perspective.
It took more than forty years to play out this story. The mental barbed-wire lifts slowly. Perhaps, someday, I'll be free of the past. Perhaps, then, I'll know the true meaning of the words, "Welcome Home"".

-Richard Bing.

He was a mentor of mine and friend. I and others encouraged him to write this book when he could not find the strength. He did find it and it was his doing, some of us just prodded him to "write the damn thing"
He had to self-publish this book. Seems the market was glutted with to many "war books". He sought to help his fellow solder and was excepted by Vietnam vets unquestionably when he joined their therapy group. It is about redemption and forgiveness, for oneself and perhaps the enemy. Dick was a P.O.W. in Germany during W.W.II. I knew him for many years and he gave me shelter when i had none. He encouraged me when no courage could be found. His story is one of many. The courage to reclaim ones life was his message. I joke allot, BIG SAM, hardnose jargon, like an ass. But the humor and marrow of life is what he thought me and I felt I never gave anything back to him. But he put my name in his dedication page. I wept like a baby. He died alone, i believe, in Florida V.A. and i was less then 200 miles away dealing with my own grief. He called one day, saying he had cancer, i called him back two weeks later, he was half dying, scared. But he had humor. One of my greatest regrets in life is not making a larger effort to see him right away. When i did make an effort, he was already dead. I would like to think he would forgive me. I had excuses, my own grieving of the loss of my father a few months back. No money etc.
excuses. fucking excuses. My family had him over for the holidays because we loved him and felt his presence helped us. He struggled all his life. But one can reclaim ones life. He was living proof.

to the vets here. god bless you
posted by clavdivs at 10:34 AM on November 14, 2002

Balajis, one of the special forces guys I know was a West Point graduate. 'Nuff said.
posted by konolia at 11:07 AM on November 14, 2002

Interesting discussion all over the place here, I'll weigh in at a few spots.

Regarding the Fort Bragg murders-I notice no one ever mentions the woman who murdered her military husband around the same time.

Nor the fact that out of the over 10,000 active duty special operations troops in the US Armed Forces and the hundreds of thousand retired troopers. The murders while tragic, cannot be construed (as the media has done) as being representative.

They're lethal in large part because of the equipment built by nerdy engineers waaaay back in the States who know a hell of a lot more science than they do...

I think this is way off base. These guys are lethal with their hands as much as they are with a laser range finder. They have arguably the best training in the world and do not need technology to be lethal- look at the Rangers in WWII or the SEALs or Green Berets in Vietnam. The uniting thread is effectiveness in unconventional warfare, not technology.

You could also make the argument that some of them or more effective at trauma medicine than a well trained doctor, especially given the circumstances they have to practice it in.

people who join the military are well-meaning dupes at best (IMO) or nationalists and sadists at worst.

Nice job on painting one of the broadest brush strokes I've seen here.

Gee, if you can't "manage" the violence with bombs from an aircraft 30,000 feet over Afghanistan, "manage" it from 150 meters away while you try to get other people to do the fighting, eh?

Do your research, Army Special Forces troops - Green Berets, have trained local troops to assist in combat, it's a primary function of the units and has been practiced before Vietnam. Teach a man to fish versus catching the fish in a nutshell.

As far as the PTSD issues I see it as twofold, I think we should acknowledge that these men are required to do a very difficult and stressful job and that they are necessary so long as we are fighting wars. I think we need to understand what it is they and all verterans do and we need to be exposed to the pictures of the dead bodies that were linked above. Understanding the toll war takes and the dead and living is critical and should constantly be exposed to all of us. The second part is that no expense should be paid to help repair the damage that combat is going to do to all vets as best we can, but especially those that would have intense combat experiences. The tough guy culture around that has got to change in the Military to allow for processing of events that lead to PTSD. The bullet proof mind is just not possible, the only people I have met with 'bullet proof minds' were stone cold sociopaths that think of no one other than themselves and what they need. I want to be clear here, these are not the men that are in the Special Forces. There are a few bad apples, but nearly 100% of them are dedicated, hardworking, family oriented men that have chosen a career that most of us cannot imagine and withstand. All efforts should be made to help them during and after their careers.
posted by CoolHandPuke at 11:11 AM on November 14, 2002

By the way, jackspace, thanks for the photos. Many veterans I speak with who have actually seen dead bodies feel the way you do.

As usual, threads relating to war get hopelessly sidetracked into a discussion about how terrible war is. I think that the awfulness of war is a fact, and an obvious one. Our culture, at least among the educated, is as saturated with anti-war rhetoric (as above) as it is with so-called tough-guy rhetoric. I don't think many people here have taken any positions that could be called 'pro-violence,' and this kind of discussion -- about how, for instance, klling and violence are traumatic and wrong -- is just beating up a straw man because no one disagrees with those positions. Most people are pretty good at separating Rambo from real war (and I think it's a little condescending, f_and_m, to claim that a real soldier in the midst of combat is so uncomprehending as to do so -- most likely he is not, and does not care about what his call sign 'signifies' to MeFi readers).

Jakespace, those are very powerful photos. I wonder what your feeling is about the original Gulf War: did you feel it was a 'just war'? (It seemed so to me at the time -- or at least, it seemed to be a war in which self-interest and global interest were aligned). The most interesting part of the article for me was its up-front suggestion that increasingly unjustifiable wars have led to the rise in PTSD, and that, at the same time that 'reflex-based' training results in better troops, it results in more ductile ones -- there is a cycle in place. The kind of training these Special Forces guys receives in a sense creates and solves the problems our military faces.

The root of the problem isn't that soldiers are 'dupes' (you know, it was just Armistice Day, but it's hard to believe that from this thread) -- it is that the world is more complicated than it used to be, and our military policy is becoming more and more difficult to comprehend and understand. In the future we can expect fewer and fewer D-Day like stormings-of-beaches and more and more stormings-of-hospitals. Is this the best/only way to train people to do that? Is there another conceivable approach? Some people here seem to believe that actually ineffective training is preferable to this kind of trainig. Is that what you're suggesting, or can you train people to fight and win in close, unpredictable situations without turning them into 'killing machines'?

Reading this article, that is what I want to know.
posted by josh at 12:08 PM on November 14, 2002

Well, let me comment:

a) As a vet

b) As someone who has actually served and trained with SF soldiers.

I would say 95% of these guys are stand-up guys. Probably the nicest guys you would ever want to meet if you aren't wearing an enemy uniform. But, on the other hand, the elite forces tend to draw people with macho, egotistical leanings so there is a 5% that are just jerkoffs. I think you can make the same call in regards to police and other similar professions. It draws out a certain number of whackos.

In terms of the Army, in order of "eliteness", it goes Ranger, SF, Delta. Rangers are the muscle. They are lean and mean and are endurance guys. A lot of the training involves sleep deprivation, no food, etc. SF are mature Rangers with brains. A little older, less physically fit but with some life experience under their belt and above average IQ's. You might think of them as football veterans. The Rangers are the young rookies, young, dumb, and full of . . . SF on the other hand are vets. They've done all the stupid stuff when they were younger and now that they're older they use their heads to compensate for what aging has done to their bodies. A SF medic is something like one semester short of earning a PA degree. SF training is one of the first places where they attempt to teach soldiers to think without a command structure telling you what to do. Go in behind enemy lines and operate. Organize friendlies, develop missions, and execute. Rangers, though in the elite camp, still have to get an OK for every last thing they do.

Delta is where you really throw a wedge between the groups. Delta actually does psychological screenings. These guys are the top of the crop that has risen from the Ranger and SF fields. They are amazingly bright, in awesome physical shape, and probably the most lethal killing force on the planet.

For a good, in fact very good, look at the differences watch Black Hawk Down. In addition to being a very good telling of a true story, the casting was amazing. The Rangers are all lean and mean kids and all of the SF and Delta guys are a little huskier and a little older.

Now, the reason I gave the background and clarifying info was because it seems some of the previous posts were way off base. Also, some people are attempting to equate SF soldiers with John Doe Solder just trying to scrape by a little cash for college using the GI Bill. Joe Soldier never expects to see action. If he does volunteer to go into combat it's usually because he's got an emotional hard-on and he's swept up in the moment. SF soldiers train for years and years fully expecting to go into combat. The two approach the situation of combat from completely different mindsets and psychological bearings. It's tramatic to both but the scars run much deeper with Joe Soldier.

Last, I would also like to argue anastasiav's point about the war with the least number of cases of PTSD. Prior to Vietnam PSTD wasn't even really recognized as a medical condition. You can't report something that you don't know exists. People used to call it shell shock but only crazy people got shell shock so if you only had a mild case of PTSD like trouble sleeping, flashbacks, etc. you shut the F up and kept it to yourself so people didn't lock you up in a mental hospital. Many WWII (and WWI) vets suffered from PTSD but it was buried much deeper. It has NOTHING to do with whether your cause is just or unjust. Police experience it all the time even when the person they've killed is a mass murderer.

As a medic we were trained that watching people die will F up your head. When you have men in your unit who quit caring, get them out of the battle. Only someone having a breakdown can be completely numb to it. Modern warfare has made it worse because the weapons are that much more powerful. The destruction that much more brutal. It's not just a factor of exposure to violence but the degree of violence that plays a major role as well.
posted by billman at 12:08 PM on November 14, 2002

Thank you, billman. That was a really clarifying post.
posted by josh at 12:12 PM on November 14, 2002

billman's post reminds me of the time General Patton slapped that soldier during the fighting for Sicily. Patton didn't understand the psychological trauma the guy was going through and (mis)perceived it as weak-willedness (if that's a word) and cowardice, when it was actually someone who'd been pushed beyond the limit of his endurance and was smply shut down -- "shell-shocked," as the term originated in the First Big Mistake.

I bet Patton, whom Eisenhower forced to apologize to the soldier individually, to every one present at the incident, and ultimately to the entire US Third Division, never did quite understand what all the fuss was about.
posted by alumshubby at 1:43 PM on November 14, 2002


Great - a West Point grad has a BS in science or engineering. That's not the equivalent of a Ph.D. by any means.

Besides, I'm not saying that *none* of these guys have Ph.D.'s - just that the "usual" soldier is no match for the "usual" rocket scientist if it came to math/sci ability. By all means, give these guys props for the many things they can do, but let's not lose sight of reality here.
posted by balajis at 10:54 PM on November 14, 2002

"PhD" was overreach. There are a handful of Pentagon desk jockeys that reach that level, of course, but in terms of my civilian's knowledge of the Special Operations officer corps, a Master's, or at least some post-graduate work, is not rare. Fluency in a second language is a basic requirement, as is a BS, even if you came up via OCS. As billman noted, these are not your raw recruits getting their GI Bill tour of duty. Most are career soldiers. Even the enlisted entrants have to meet strict criteria, and pass Airborne and Ranger training, before they even get to start Special Forces training.

Under a new program this year, one can enlist directly into the Special Forces, although one still has to pass the gauntlet of tests:

Among the 140 Special Forces hopefuls recruited so far, Connolly said 22 possess undergraduate degrees, three have a master's degree and two have earned a doctorate degree. "We are seeing a great deal of quality in these applicants," Connolly said.

a special forces soldier training should prepare him for the ethical issues of becoming a killer, and handle them appropiately, which is not occuring.

By my understanding, this is occurring. But there are no simple answers, and all soldiers are ultimately human. The selection process is designed to weed out the soldiers who are better suited for more conventional infantry roles. The training is a tool provided to the soldier, nothing more.

And billman: I'm sure that the quality of warfare has changed in terms of scale, but is being artillery-shelled really that much more traumatic than a bayonet charge? I wonder. Think of the knifing scene in SPR, with the German whispering Let it happen....

By the by, there was an interesting Nightline (nothing online to link to) about the annual Robin Sage training exercise where Green Berets range about an area in North Carolina pretending to be "occupied Pineland" under attack from "Opforland". We were able to watch as a Chinese-American (I think) Army Captain led his A-Team through the forest, hooking up with local "guerrillas" (actors), "blowing up" a railroad, eluding an Opfor attack, and attempting to capture an Opfor supply truck (using night vision). Alas for the Captain, he washed out on national TV, due to several subtle mistakes. He was deemed "fixable" if he came back for a second training run. Nevertheless, it was impressive to watch these soldiers running, shooting (blanks, of course), even carrying an injured comrade, all with full 80-pound packs -- and all amid strategically designed ambiguity. Could they complete their mission objectives, even with fluid changes of their situation?

Earlier this year, a Robin Sage team encountered a civilian sheriff's deputy, ending in tragedy -- apparently because the soldiers thought the cop was playing a role in the exercise, and when guns were pulled, he had real bullets.
posted by dhartung at 12:41 AM on November 15, 2002

What billman said.

...and people who join the military are well-meaning dupes at best (IMO) or nationalists and sadists at worst.

Please. I wasn't even the only New Yorker-reading, Ethiopian-food-loving, Wilco-listening dude in my Psyop company. Crack that mind open just a little bit.
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:04 AM on November 15, 2002

dhartung: I think there's a difference. I watched SPR and the scene of which you speak was very disturbing but one would assume that if that happened to me then the actual act would be only a few minutes. Now, try being shelled for 3 straight weeks. Every round could land right on top of you and you can't fire back. You can't run because there's no safety. Each man has his own limits but they have limits. Just like there are men who went into POW camps and emerged years later ruined and there were guys who spent twice as long in much more harsh conditions and walked away with far fewer psychological scars.

And really the point I was getting at was less about what I've described above and more in terms of mass destruction. Can you imagine the carnage that one of those 2000 pound bunker busters would cause if dropped in the middle of a city? Part of the trauma that is magnified in today's combat is seeing the aftermath of weapons like that. The realization that you could take out thousands of lives in an instant.
posted by billman at 1:07 PM on November 15, 2002

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