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Military Personnel: Trained not to Reflect on Death?

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posted on Jan, 7 2010 @ 03:57 PM
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This is a question that surely goes to the very heart of what it means to participate in mortal combat.

One of the deepest human instincts is self-preservation. On the one hand it could be said that that is what military training facilitates (— at least once a member of the armed forces is in theatre). On the other, group survival necessarily has to be elevated above personal survival, and above and beyond that victory on the part of the sending nation is of course elevated above survival even of large groups of combatants. All of which involves an often laudable spirit of self-sacrifice.

But before someone signs up they must somehow put to one side the priority of self-preservation. Again, this is often by means of a laudible sense of the common good.

But what interests me is the degree to which individuals considering or participating in military conflict reflect on death. I can only assume most individuals subdue their natural inclination to ponder such questions the nearer they get to a front line. If those with military experience would be prepared to open up a little on whether this is in fact so, I think it would give some truly deep insights into the human psyche.

So far we have only touched on a person's natural tendencies. Above and beyond that, does military training encourage participants to brush aside or bury the desire to reflect on such things, either directly or indirectly? And how does actual experience of battle impact on the desire to reflect on such things?

'Battle-hardened' is certainly a common cliche. Does it mean a person has seen too much death to want to think about it too deeply — or does the effect on the individual vary enormously from person to person?



CX

posted on Jan, 7 2010 @ 04:10 PM
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In my experience, it does indeed vary from person to person.

I think your training, then actualy getting on with the job when it comes to it, does help you push aside certain emotions, but not always.

I've met the most self proclaimed "battle hardened" soldiers end up a right mess due to what they have done, where others just got on and seemed to be ok.

I say "seemed" to be ok. I have spoken to military and civillian psychological experts who say that many apparently hardened soldiers, will be often finding other ways to cope with what they do. They can be positive coping methods, or sometimes negative and destructive.

Some soldiers do absoloutely fine until they leave the job, then thats when it hits them.

I can't ever remember being specificaly trained to brush emotion to the side, but i just thought to myself it's the job and thats that. You know it's not going to always be nice, it's going to be messy at times, but thats the job.

That said, i would wager most servicemen, no matter how professional and battle hardened they think they are, have a couple of incidents that effect them somehow. You just can't train a human being to totaly ignore that if you ask me.

People might say, "Yeah but what about the special forces?", but if you ask them and do a little research, they can end up some of the most messed up people out there.

All this said, despite the psychological side effects, there are thousands of people out there doing a great job, always have, always will, and some are lucky enough to just move on in life and do ok.

CX.



posted on Jan, 7 2010 @ 04:21 PM
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reply to post by CX
 


Thank you for those insights. You certainly come across as level-headed clearly reflective.

Could you comment on the degree to which you may at times have given thought to your own death, before and during training, and also once you were in the field?

I'm aware military personnel sometimes have periods of respite when there must be a lot of time to think.


CX

posted on Jan, 7 2010 @ 05:14 PM
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Originally posted by pause4thought

Could you comment on the degree to which you may at times have given thought to your own death, before and during training, and also once you were in the field?



To be honest, beforehand, never thought about it. During training, don't think i thought about it either. Then again i joined straight from school so maybe i was a bit more fearless lol, you know how it is with the younger ones when they think it will be just like in the movies...unfortunately it's not as glam as that, you tend to change your mind when you see your mate lying next to you.

There were plenty of incidents later in my career that made me think to myself afterwards, "That was a bit too close for comfort", but again, not really a fear of death. Maybe i thought i was indestructable or something, soldiers tend to just get stuck into the most unbelieveably crappy situations and deal with it.

Only once though have i been conscious about what i envisaged was going to be my impending death. Without boring you it was an op, the intel knew that an attack was going ahead on a foot patrol, so basicaly we knew we would probably be hit and it could be any one of us. Long story short, we were used as bait to draw out the target so he could in turn be caught.

It's funny, i'm not a religious man in the slightest, but as i was walking out of the base gates for that patrol, i looked up and said to "someone", "watch my back will ya?". There was definately an awareness of my potential death that day, but all it did was increased the professionalism and tactics of the patrol, and thankfully nothing happened.

I look forward to hearing others opinions though, some will talk about certain parts of their service, some won't, but there will be a lot of different opinions and stories about this subject.

CX.



posted on Jan, 7 2010 @ 05:26 PM
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reply to post by CX
 


That post was so honest it sent shivers down my spine. I'm sure I'm not the only one who'll take a few quiet moments to mull it over.

TBH this is the kind of question I think a lot of us would like to ask those with experience, but don't, for fear of asking too much. For that I thank ATS.

So many of my thoughts are assumptions - it's fantastic to get real answers. I've wondered about this issue for years & years. Being on a front line must be like some kind of an alternative reality. I'm sure it's nothing at all like the movies - much less those trite video games.

Thank you again. I really believe this goes to the very heart of what it means to be human.


CX

posted on Jan, 7 2010 @ 05:44 PM
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Originally posted by pause4thought
reply to post by CX
 


TBH this is the kind of question I think a lot of us would like to ask those with experience, but don't, for fear of asking too much. For that I thank ATS.



I know what you mean, even as an ex soldier, i worry about delving too deep into a fellow veterans experience. I think thats just a mutual respect thing though.

From my own experience....

There are things soldiers will gladly discuss with the curious.

There are things that they maybe can't talk about, so they don't.

Then there are things that are personal between them and their colleagues, either living or passed on, and some of those will bring a tear to the eye of the toughest bloke.....whether they admit it or not. (I was chopping onions anyway.)


It's good to ask though, so don't ever worry about it. People will either talk or they won't. That's how history gets passed on IMO.

As a kid, i helped out in a hospital for the elderly, and when they knew i was going in the army they used to open up about their wartime experiences. I listened intently, and learnt so much.

Like i said before though, there are members here with a lot more experience than me, who may have a totaly different point of view.


CX.



posted on Jan, 7 2010 @ 05:50 PM
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The real fear of death comes just before you realise you shouldn't be doing the job anymore. To think in such a way would cloud your judgement to the detriment of your own safety. It may sound a bit strange, but once it subconsciously affects you then you have no personal safety.

There has to be a certain amount of belief in self and collective indestructability to survive

I never put any thought into death before or during training, and there certainly wasn't any mechanism for being trained to "shut it out" I certainly didn't see any brainwashing of an service personel to be able to completely close out death.

The training certainly helps to carry on regardless and adrenalin takes you through comfortably. every Soldier has the "too close for comfort call" some more than others, but every one of them knows that feeling once the battle is over. Once in a situation self preservation and a undefying urge not to let your comptriats down is the most important thing in life. A black sense of humour is very advantageous, and is always promoted.

in my own experience there has always been too little time for grief before something alse has priority. It is very important to pay respects, but then move on, pigeon hole the emotion so to speak, and then becomes an issue to be dealt with at a lter stage. But once you are no longer under the stress of service or have had sufficient time to reflect, then grieving is a normal rational emotion.

A good place to ask this question would be to a veterans or ex services organisation. The respect for death would be overwhelming, no matter whos, both adversaries and colleagues. There is a strangely loose honour between combatants.



posted on Jan, 7 2010 @ 06:03 PM
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reply to post by osc121
 


Thank you for bringing up the issue of personal grief. That too is a very basic human emotion that must be extraordinarily difficult to shut out at times.

Interesting that you suggest talking with vets about this. I'd probably have always assumed it would be too much like walking on egg shells.

Regarding respect between combatants - I was aware that such things were prevalent during WWI & at least the earlier parts of WWII, particularly in the navy/air force. But I had no idea it still existed today...



posted on Jan, 7 2010 @ 06:24 PM
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Originally posted by pause4thought
reply to post by osc121
 


Thank you for bringing up the issue of personal grief. That too is a very basic human emotion that must be extraordinarily difficult to shut out at times.

Interesting that you suggest talking with vets about this. I'd probably have always assumed it would be too much like walking on egg shells.

Regarding respect between combatants - I was aware that such things were prevalent during WWI & at least the earlier parts of WWII, particularly in the navy/air force. But I had no idea it still existed today...



all military basic training is desgined to allow soldiers to operate effectively during combat and combat stress, therefore the ability to temporarily shut out emotions and personal anxieties is very important. With the understanding of post traumatic stress disorder, it has become less problematic to re-introduce ex combatants into a normal environment. There is rarely time to think of personal emotions during the heat of battle so to speak, and if it is affecting you subconsciously then you run the risk of making grave errors of judgement.

My grandfather would never talk about his experiences during his captivity in a Japanese POW camp, but would talk openly about Dunkirk. Some things just get too much to talk about, if PTSD had been diagnosed on his return from WW11 and treated effectively then I'm sure he wouldn't have been so reticent to discuss, well the minor details anyway

Every Rememberence day parade I always go to my closest Ex Servicemens club and find the guy siting on his own in the corner, buy him a drink and then listen. It is surprising the stories you will hear. usually for 364 days of the year they don't have anyone to talk to, never mind about their war experiences. There are some fantastic tales of heroism and anger, but bizarrely always fond memories of colleagues, but never discuss the politics of the then situation!

As a soldier you should always have a healthy professional respect for your enemy, it would be very naive not to and at the end of the day it was neither his nor your fault that you are pitted against each other, that was the politicians fault.

There are some fine documentaries on the Falklands war that detail some of these post war encounters of adversaries, very illuminating

[edit on 7/1/10 by osc121]



posted on Jan, 7 2010 @ 06:49 PM
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A good friend of mine went to Iraq and in the process lost several people close to him. Once he had to instruct a medic to let his friend die because the car bomb that blew 2 of them in the Hummer in half had left his friend without half a face, lost an arm and a leg.
On other days they had to shoot children that were alone in he middle of the desert because children are dropped off to plant bombs in the ground. So it's either shoot a child or be blown to bits like his friend was while sitting next to him on route to a checkpoint.

Now he has become a Mercenary. All regards of human life and reflection have left him. he uses racist and derogatory terms in ways that sicken me while he describes the kills he inflicts.
He enjoys killing I think. Before he liked family, friends and football games. I only think he enjoys killing because it's the only thing he can control now.

Was he trained that way? yes.. he was trained by the horrors he had to endure and those horrors have made him a different person forever. No MILITARY TRAINING can do that. Only being up close and personal with death can truly change a person to not reflect on the consequences because, from what he describes, engineered chaos makes no sense and your mind has to adapt or it will crumble. Reflecting on death causes you to crumble.

This is a direct reflection of what is going on in your city as well. It is by NO MEANS limited to the military.

I'm a vet and I have three friends that all have gone through the above. Thankfully I have not and have instead offered the strongest pillar of support that I can.

They have taught me that reality is where you decide it to be.

b



posted on Jan, 7 2010 @ 07:03 PM
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Hi there.

I'm Dutch.
Millitairy duty was canceld or put on hold annyway, i can still be drafted if war is eminent, before I was old enough to join.

I really did regret this and i wanted for a period, join the millitairy.
I changed my mind but still. I think it would be a great experience and it would probably have changed the way i think, seek and do in life.

The Dutch army never really took part of dangerous missions and were mostly send on humanitarian or peace keeping missions.
That changed after Kossovo. Not being able and allowed to make a difference, surely changed our perspective of our role as a millitairy force.

Well after Afghanistan and Irak, it's certain we are not just assigned as guard or peace force annymore.

Great thread !! Thanks.

I believe the reasson for soldiers to be so young nowadays 18 to 25 i think. Is because this period in life we all feel invinceble. We just don't think we can be hurt or die or something. It's always someone else. it can't happen with me.

I think it's the lack of experience, which is responsable for our fearless attitude.



posted on Jan, 7 2010 @ 07:12 PM
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reply to post by Bspiracy
 


That is a sad story my friend and one that is sadly all too familiar, from whatever conflict in History. I am pleased for you that you did have the support mechanisms in place to help you deal with your own and the turmoil that you had to live third party through your friends and colleagues.

All to often for returning servicemen the help is far too little and far too late. In my own experiences the help just wasn't available until it was too late for the individuals to recover quickly enough to lead a normal life thereafter.

In the UK there is a magazine for the homeless called the Big Issue. We once had a visit from one of its reporters. at first we thought it very strange until he told us of how more than a quarter of all homeless on the streets of London are ex service personnel, the vast majority having some sort of mental turmoil that was keeping them there.

Yes, after prolonged conflict, soldiers become "battle hardened", but it is generally a lack of healthy communication with the soldier that prevents a return to normality. And by this I usually mean someone of mediacl ability from the soldiers own unit. A disregard for personal feelings and not understanding when individual grieving restricts a return to normal rational thinking.

The horros of war are just that , Horrific. And different people deal with them in different ways, thankfully most can readjust back to being human. It would be great if the returning Vets recieved solid support from the authorities not just some over hyped PC crap. Thank god for family and friends.

Post Vietnam the biggest issues next to witnessing extensive death was the feeling of worthlessness. The biggest mental challenge for a soldier to overcome is the complete disregard for what he has been made to endure.



[edit on 7/1/10 by osc121]



posted on Jan, 8 2010 @ 12:01 AM
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reply to post by pause4thought
 


In my first delpoyment back in 2004, I felt like my animal instincts took control. When I used my 50 cal from an op and buildings where I was recieveing fire I got blood drunk and shot the whole building until I wasnt getting fired upon anymore. The rush I recieved pretty much said screw training, just level the whole building down. Adrenaline can be a powerful ally in a combat situation.



posted on Jan, 8 2010 @ 12:43 AM
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I think "battle-hardened" means traumatized enough.. It's up to each individual how to deal with these traumas and emotions. I remember watching some documentary about the delta force boys, and they made psychological evaluation on some of them: complete psychos.

That's what the "job" requires. They are "trained" this way, because otherwise they wouldn't do it.

It's kind of hard imagine (or is it?) the world without the modern-day military, which are basically occupation forces now, controlled by the corporation/government-entity for mainly financial interests. When billions of $$$ are at stake, not a couple (or even hundreds) lives are worth squat.

So yeah, they brainwash. The results are often disgusting.

EDIT: On the other hand, they also operate some humanitarian projects, so it's a very two-edged sword there..

[edit on 8/1/2010 by Tryptych]



posted on Jan, 8 2010 @ 05:14 PM
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reply to post by Stop-loss!
 



Adrenaline can be a powerful ally in a combat situation.

I'd say you've illustrated that pretty powerfully. Without such frank admissions a discussion like this would be incomplete.

Thanks for the (uncensored) input.




reply to post by Tryptych
 



It's up to each individual how to deal with these traumas and emotions. I remember watching some documentary about the delta force boys, and they made psychological evaluation on some of them: complete psychos.

That's what the "job" requires. They are "trained" this way, because otherwise they wouldn't do it.

I think what you're saying is what many civilians assume to be the case regarding soldiers in general. Having read the other posts, though, it strikes me that there are some very level-headed and reflective veterans out there who have an awful lot more to them than a gung-ho attitude to the dark realities of military conflict. Even Stop-loss, who only went into what drives a soldier in battle, indirectly demonstrated that servicemen on the ground reflect on what was going on inside them in the heat of the moment.

Assuming the 'complete psychos' you're referring to are specifically special forces and (as I understand it, the relatively few) units whose main training/deployment is in the realm of spearheading offensive manoeuvres in forward positions, I assume there must be some truth to this. I somehow think there's probably a lot more to these guys than meets the eye once they're away from the front line, though. Perhaps some of their apparent care-free machismo is actually more of a very thick mask.

I suppose the question becomes: what is the percentage of (near literal) 'complete psychos' as compared to, say, clinical, ruthlessly professional operators (within these units)? I expect those with experience are the only ones who could have a really good feel for this.



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