Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sheepdogs and Wolves in Uniform

As a youngster, I would watch a war movie and ask my dad which were the good guys. My dad, a WWII vet tried to explain to me that it's not that simple.

Consider the following quote:

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) indicates that the incidence of "anti-social personality disorder" (that is, sociopaths) among the general population of American males is approximately 3 percent. These sociopaths are not easily used in armies, since by their very nature they rebel against authority, but over the centuries, armies have had considerable success at bending such highly aggressive individuals to their will during wartime. So if two out of three of this 3 percent were able to accept military discipline, a hypothetical 2 percent of soldiers would, by the APA's definition, "have no remorse about the effects of their behavior on others.

. . . . The presence of aggression combined with the absence of empathy results in sociopathy. The presence of aggression combined with the presence of empathy, results in a completely different kind of individual from the sociopath. (Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, On Killing, pp. 182-183)

The foregoing passage introduces Col. Grossman's the famous and oft-quoted portion of his book that gave us the term "sheepdog" to describe the protectors among us who can kill the bad guys and still live with themselves. My barber brought me a copy of this book just a few months after its publication and said, "Here, read this. We're in here."

When I got to these pages, I knew exactly what he was talking about. My purpose in this post, however, lies in a desire to further explore the phenomenon of wolves in uniform.

(Wikimedia Commons photo by Gunnar Ries)


The U.S. has maintained its war footing in the Middle East for over a decade. Therefore, by Col. Grossman's analysis, it seems likely that the military includes up to two sociopaths out of every hundred troops. In addition, they probably field one or two sheepdogs out of every hundred deployed.

We would like to think that no one in the U.S. military would disgrace his uniform by committing war crimes and atrocities against the civilian population. Others among us would like to think that all those in the military rape, murder and torture on a daily basis.

The truth lies in the extremes. A small percentage of those fighting overseas can kill the enemy with no crisis of conscience. Up to half of that number occupy the role of sheepdog. The rest function as violent predators.

Sheepdogs and wolves both serve as critically useful assets on the battlefield. Off the front lines, however, the predators become a liability as they use the confusion of war to cover their crimes against prisoners and civilians.

In the armed forces among the 98% or so who do not kill easily, you will find as broad a spectrum of personalities as in the general population: dependable & undependable, ambitious & lazy, brave & cowardly, truthful & liars, givers and thieves, honorable & knaves. Among the 2-3% who can kill without the reprisals of conscience, you will find two basic types: protectors and predators.

Why do I bother to point this out? Because, in our polarized society, you can find hardly anyone indifferent to the military. To one side, all in uniform are heroes, while to the other, all are murderers. Conflict between these two opinions serves to further polarize society on the issue.

I assume that most of my readers lean toward associating the uniform with heroism. This simplistic view, however, can blind you to some realities that bear fearful consequences not only overseas, but at home, as well.

When we project our naive view onto all men in uniform, we set the stage for tragic consequences that include both individual victims and society at large.

(To be continued)

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