Important note: Combat does not just mean fighting overseas. Combat is the military fighting a foreign enemy, law enforcement officers fighting for their very lives, firefighters rushing into a burning building, EMS rushing into a horrific scene, etc.
Every day I was in combat all I thought about was home. When I got home all I thought about was combat. Combat is exhilarating. Just because you enjoy the amazing adrenaline rushes involved in mortal combat does not make you a psychopath.
The Marine Corps’ infantry’s job is to destroy the enemy and their will to fight. DESTROY
Killing the Enemy: Combat is of such emotional intensity that strange elations can come from the act of killing. Opponents pit themselves against each other with the certain knowledge that one will be vanquished and one will be victorious. The conflict is often at close quarters. You can hear, see, smell, and ultimately touch your antagonist. Sheer terror propels the violence emitting from both sides. All want to live, but one can live only by the death of the other. And when that death does fall to the opponent, there is a great sense of relief.
How curious the fallen look. Instantly their ashen bodies begin to meld with the ground. It is uncanny. As you look, you sense a great deal of pleasure in your being alive. He who was so full of animation a few moments ago now lies eternally inanimate. You are alive; a future is still yours. Countless times the survivor has that sensation until the pleasure of life is confused with a pleasure of killing. The good feeling comes when the enemy is killed, and soon the confusion sets in that the good feeling comes because the enemy is killed, not for the real reason: that you are still alive. Only by killing is life sustained. This is the way of war.
After you take another person’s life:
First there is the exhilaration stage in which there might be joy and elation. The common psychological term for this is “Survivor Euphoria.”
Then there may be a backlash of remorse and even nausea. Many warriors vomit after their first kill. Sometimes they say, “My God, I just killed a man, and it felt good. What’s wrong with me?”
Finally there is a lifelong process of rationalization. If this process fails, it can be one of the paths to PTS.
Some warriors have said that they felt satisfaction, from killing, but they did not experience the backlash of remorse and nausea. “All I felt was the recoil (Marine Scout Sniper when asked by a reporter how he felt after he shot someone).” Some of them were even worried that there might be something wrong with them because they did not feel anything.
There were many individuals who were in their 20s, 30s and 40s who did have remorse and nausea after they killed, but there were also many who did not. It is believed that the primary reason why their experiences were more positive, if you will, is because they were mature warriors who had done the rationalization and acceptance process ahead of time, before they actually had to drop the hammer on someone. Basically they said to themselves:
I don’t want to have to kill anyone, but if someone gets in front of my weapon and tries to kill me or my friends else, I will do what my society employs, equips, empowers, enables and requires me to do.
By having resolved this issue in their minds ahead of time, their responses were healthier and they were able to return to their lives without the residual problems experienced by the young troops and those not properly trained.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the warriors who responded with guilt and nausea when they killed in combat. There was also nothing wrong with the warriors who were psychologically prepared to kill and did not experience such powerful emotions. But if you had the option, which would you choose?
It is largely a 20th Century affectation, a modern, self-inflicted psychic wound, to believe that you will be mentally destroyed or emotionally harmed by the act of killing during lawful combat. It has been found based on interviews with hundreds of men and women who have had to kill, that if you tell yourself that killing will be an earth-shattering, traumatic event, then it probably will be. But if you do the rationalization and acceptance ahead of time, if you prepare yourself and immerse yourself in the lore and spirit of mature warriors past and present, then the lawful, legitimate use of deadly force does not have to be a self-destructive or traumatic event.
Combat kills enough; it destroys enough. It is madness to let your combat experiences harm you after the battle, if you could have prevented it through prior preparation. The older you are the easier this rationalization can be. It helps if you have maturity and life experiences under your belt. But most important of all is mental preparation: to have the warrior spirit, the bulletproof mind, in place ahead of time.
When you prepare yourself for killing prior to the event, you are less likely to respond in panic, more likely to deter your opponent, and less likely to take his life inappropriately. You are also better prepared to live with the situation afterward and less likely take your own after the event.
Once you are forced to kill in your role as a warrior, there is a set of structures in place that society has created to help you live with what you have done.
The first structure is that of praise and acceptance from peers and superiors. Warriors do not fight for medals; they fight for their friends.
The second structure that helps the warrior is the presence of mature, older comrades who are there for them. Watch out for your fellow warriors; young and old.
“Pain shared is pain divided” Lt Col Dave Grossman
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Originally published Jun 13, 2015