“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” – H.L. Mencken
Every person has it in them — the demon. I’m not sure what it is exactly, whether it’s some inner spiritual rage or some biological instinct to spur one toward survival at any cost, but it’s there, and it’s inside everyone. The warrior types are generally more inclined to tap into their inner demon, to use it in combat of some form or another, but just about any person can be pushed to that point if they’re hungry enough or their family is threatened. The most devoted of pacifists must “train” it out of themselves so that when they are put to the test, it doesn’t rise up. Rest assured, it’s still there.
My father was an emergency room doctor for many years, and he always told me how surprised he was at how many people it would take to hold down a ten-year old kid for treatment, if he truly did not want to be held down. If he was in excruciating pain and he felt that, for whatever irrational reason, his life was threatened by the hospital staff around him, he would kick and scream and writhe so much that multiple doctors and nurses and paramedics would have to hold him down. We’re only talking about a 60 pound kid.
It’s true, sometimes fear does other things — it can freeze people or make them frantically run or cower in some corner. But everyone is capable, somewhere deep down, of extreme violence. Untrained, that violence is relatively chaotic and might serve to hurt the person as much as his or her adversaries. Untrained, that demon may not be able to overpower the instinct to freeze in fear, or to run when others need help.
Most of the military aims to train that demon, to hone it. The first step is teaching you the skills and the second is to make them muscle memory. Once those skills are ingrained into your psyche, they become second nature. Your body knows exactly what to do when it hears gunshots to your right within hand grenade range; your hands know exactly how to apply a tourniquet with lightning speed and zero room for error.
With training, that primal rage — that frantic energy — suddenly has an outlet. It has a place to siphon all of that raw power and turn it into honest-to-God violence of action.
Training makes all the difference. Just ask the adversaries of the Romans, even the ones with competitive technology and greater numbers. That’s how you get conflicts like in Mogadishu in 1993, where 18 U.S. service members were lost, but hundreds of enemy Somalis were killed. That’s how you get MOH recipient Lt. Col. Charles Kettles, who killed 175 enemy troops in Vietnam after sustaining 18 wounds. That’s how MOH recipient Audie Murphy held off a company of German soldiers for over an hour during WWII (one of his many acts of heroism).
Of course, these heroes possessed many other qualities, and they are far more than just training that inner fire, but it’s certainly part of it. Honing the demon and turning it into something useful is something every warrior strives to accomplish. It’s built deep inside every person, and a true warrior aims to use it for something good.
Featured image: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Connor Mendez/Reviewed