This article was originally published in my Patreon Newsletter a long time ago. The topic of training to take a life came up recently in my Facebook group and it made me think of what I learned from one of my informal teachers. One of the most important lessons he ever taught me was this:
“One needs embrace neither hatred nor anger to identify and kill an enemy.”
Adhering to this concept has many implications. It changes how you train and act, but also how you view the world. I won’t cover everything, but some things stand out right away. In the Facebook group, we talked about the importance of including mercy in your training as well. Not every fight is to the death and training as if it is has a cost attached to it should you ever use your training to take a life. That’s what I will talk about below.
Training to take a life? You serve them.
I posted this quote on my Patreon page about a year ago. A friend of mine wrote it in an email to me. He passed away last year, and I still miss him dearly.
In that post, I wrote “Hatred and anger do not serve you, you serve them” and I stand by those words. It dawned on me that I never really explained them, so here goes.
First, some more about his background. He was one of the smartest people I have ever known, a true Renaissance man. He led an incredible and varied life, some of it you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I am not gullible and obviously verified some of what he told me; it checks out. I have no reason to believe he ever lied to me, on the contrary. My point is that his knowledge and wisdom came from surviving extremely violent situations not once, but on a routine basis. That kind of thing gives you a very different perspective on life than most people have.
He spent several decades in the military and fought in three wars. He was involved in black ops and was on the ground during certain conflicts you learn about in the history books. Though you couldn’t see it in his demeanor, he was a fierce man. To give you an idea: when he came out of his SERE training, the first thing he said was “This was great. Let’s do it again.” and went back for a second time.
He saw combat and knew what it was to take a life. He also knew the consequences of doing so. That was one of the things he taught me; what it truly means to take somebody’s life by force. I don’t often write about this because too many keyboard warriors talk tough about this subject already. I don’t want to get dragged into discussions with those guys if I can help it so usually, I reserve certain topics for in-person conversations.
I stayed at his house over ten years ago and wanted a picture of us and the dogs altogether, just for me. He agreed and said the picture needed something more. So he went away and when he came back, he handed me the two guns with a smile on his face. This picture was taken right after. I have blurred his face out of respect for his wife and family so they can remain anonymous too.
Death is final, living with taking a life too.
As to the quote, it is one of the key lessons Slugg taught me and this for a variety of reasons:
First, because it is the hallmark of the professional, which is what my friend was most of all. For the professional, killing is a tool in the toolbox. It is not to be celebrated or enjoyed, nor avoided at all cost. Sometimes, it is what needs to be done and then you do so with efficiency. Hate and anger have no place in that mindset. They only get in the way.
Dehumanization training is often a part of the preparation for military (and other violent) conflicts. More insights about that here. Though stripping the enemy of his humanity works, it is not the end-stage in the development of the professional. There is a mindset beyond it, which I described above: taking the enemy’s life is a “mechanical” act, for lack of a better term. It doesn’t require emotional investment. We could argue whether cultivating this ability is a good or a bad thing for the individual soldier, but that’s beyond the scope of this article. The point stands:
There is more than one way to train somebody to take a life.
Second, though hate and anger can certainly drive a person to take another’s life, they also cloud your judgment. This impairs the decision-making process and limits tactical thinking. Neither is a good thing when it comes to surviving violent situations where lethal force is on the table. If you need to use emotions to whip yourself into a state where you can kill, the person dying might just be you. Because you can be sure that your opponent will do all he can to exploit any mistake you make as you get carried away by them…
Finally, all the reasons why you decide to take a life need to make sense when you are no longer in danger. Because from that point on, you have a lifetime to relive your actions and second-guess your motivations and decisions.
Was it really the only option to kill that man? Really? Was there nothing else you could have done?
What about the events that led up to it? Did you drop the ball there? Was there something you messed up or neglected to do that put you on the path of leaving you no other option but to kill?
The questions you’ll have to face are endless and they can haunt you to the point of breaking your spirit.
Granted, not everybody suffers these doubts to the same degree and some don’t suffer them at all. But a whole lot of people do. The problem is: you’ll only know in which category you fall once it’s too late to change anything about it. You better be damned sure of how justified you are before you pull that trigger. Because that justification needs to stand the test of time and anger or hate very often don’t cut it in the long run. Also bear in mind: I haven’t even touched on the legal consequences of your actions…
Training to take a life? Think it through before you need your training.
All this is one of the many reasons why I advocate avoidance and de-escalation when it comes to conflict in general and in particular for situations leading to lethal use of force.
Training to take life changes you.
Doing it changes you even more.
Either way, you might not like what you become.
Or be able to live with it.