It can be easy to fall into the trap of dismissing the effect popular culture has on our perceptions of the world.  We’re each intelligent, reasoning individuals that can appreciate the differences between reality and the fantasy we see on our screens – so it seems almost offensive, at first glance, to insinuate that someone may be wrong about the real world they live in, just because of the movies and the TV shows they grew up watching.

The thing is, it’s true.  As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, most of us are carrying some pretty important misconceptions about survival after an apocalypse event, or about how firearms actually work, thanks to the steady diet of realistically portrayed make-believe we’ve consumed over the years.  Being wrong about this stuff doesn’t make you stupid or foolish, it makes you human – we’re all susceptible to being misled, and not many of us have had to put boots to earth in the types of places that already closely resemble the wasteland in Fallout.  Some of popular culture’s most egregious factual errors about warfighting can even pervade the saltiest of our Special Operations community – that’s how culturally ingrained some of these fallacies can be.  The fact of the matter is, even personal experience can sometimes be stifled by the understanding we cultivate over decades of consuming movies, video games, and TV shows.

This article is the first of a three-part series that intends to identify some of these widely held, but inaccurate, beliefs about tactical situations ranging from the most hellish combat zones on the other side of the globe all the way to your town’s local police station.  You may already be familiar with some of these errors, myths, or misconceptions – SOFREP’s readership tends to be pretty well versed in the reality of a fight, be it home or abroad, but you may be surprised to find that a few of them might just have slipped past your bullshit detectors and into the part of your brain-housing-group that you store ideas you haven’t had the need to place a critical eye on just yet.

Myth #1: “It’s just a flesh wound.”

It’s a scene you’ve seen a hundred times: our hero catches a bullet to the arm or leg during a firefight and once it’s over, someone (often a concerned woman) will exclaim, “you’re hurt!”

“Ah, it’s just a flesh wound,” Bruce Willis (probably) responds as he brushes away her attempt at providing first aid.  The problem is, flesh wounds in combat can be a serious problem, and could kill you faster than you think.

In movies, we tend to think of our heroes as able to survive just about any bleeding injury short of severing two arteries: the femoral or the carotid.  In reality, doing damage to the web of blood pathways just about anywhere in your body can result in bleeding to death; which is why it’s the number one avoidable cause of death on the battlefield, according to Green Beret combat medic Connor Narciso:

“Ruptures to the body’s arterial thoroughfares—including brachial arteries in each arm, bilateral inguinal arteries in the groin, and the thick subclavian arteries sitting unnoticed beneath each clavicle—can potentially result in massive hemorrhaging.”

In other words, real flesh wounds are cause for concern, and almost certainly require treatment in order to ensure you continue to be combat-capable – and that’s not even worrying about infection yet.

Myth #2: Getting Knocked out is no big deal

The rest of the Back to the Future series is all just a brain-trauma fever dream

Most movies try their best to show the protagonist as an empathetic hero, but that can be tough when he’s mowing through crowds of security guards that have nothing to do with the evil villain’s secret plan.  So what is a hero to do if he needs to get past a room full of innocents or low-level thugs without creating the sort of blood-bath that’d ruin a PG-13 rating?  He knocks them out of course.

In a movie, the thug will wake up in a few hours with a headache and go on to finish villain-school or whatever the henchman union mandates, but in real life, every one of those guys now has a traumatic brain injury, and will likely have to be hospitalized.

Being knocked out cold for hours like we see in just about every action movie ever made is a sure sign that you have a concussion at the least, and the longer you’re unconscious, the more likely it is that the injury is much worse than just a bump on the head.  Batman may not kill, but he doesn’t seem to have a problem with awarding each low-level criminal he comes across with the type of injury that could leave him suffering seizures or unable to form sentences for the rest of his life.

If you or someone you know gets knocked unconscious, go to the hospital.

Combat myths and tactical fallacies we all believe thanks to movies: The excusable misconceptions about violence (Part 2)

Read Next: Combat myths and tactical fallacies we all believe thanks to movies: The excusable misconceptions about violence (Part 2)

Myth #3: Explosions are only dangerous if the fire hits you

Listen, I’m not saying it doesn’t look awesome when our heroes walk away from explosions in slow motion, nor am I suggesting that seeing Tom Cruise get launched off a helicopter and onto a moving train by an explosion isn’t awesome… it’s just that we should all understand that in real life, Mission Impossible doesn’t get a sequel unless it’s starring a jar of what’s left of Ethan Hunt after that scene.

Explosions are much faster and more dangerous than they appear in movies – and the damage they produce extends well beyond the reach of the fireball that most movies seem to think are the point behind an explosive weapon.  In reality, it’s the force of the blast that gets you, even if you’re well outside the reach of the flames.

Anyone that’s ever thrown a grenade will tell you that it’s visually not a very dramatic event… but the sheer force unleashed by a detonating grenade is incredible in person.  To the observer, a grenade explosion just looks like a poof of smoke, but you can feel the force unleashed by the weapon even when a safe distance away and behind cover.  Larger ordinances work in the same way: the fire is often a byproduct of the chemical reaction used to produce the explosion (in many explosive weapon platforms) but the force of the blast can turn your insides into mush, even if you’re well clear of the fiery inferno and sometimes even well past the shrapnel that would also kill just about every one of our movie heroes.  In the medical community, they call this internal mushification “total body disruption,” which just goes to show that they lack a flair for naming things.  Mushification makes more sense to me, anyway.


If you’d like to read more about the ways we get tactical situations wrong thanks to pop-culture, there are two more parts to this series coming your way soon!


Images courtesy of Fox, Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Monty Python