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Selco has said in his blog that there are people, people who have the capacity for extreme violence, who have a certain something, and others who have that something recognize it. I can’t define what it is. Maybe it’s a posture, maybe a microexpression, maybe just the way the eyes look when assessing the environment, but I know it when I see it.

There is controversy surrounding them, but studies of soldiers from the Civil War to the modern day have shown even trained soldiers have a hard time crossing that line. Civil War muskets have been found with several bullets loaded in the barrel. That means the soldier would load a bullet, not fire it, then load another. It’s impossible to determine now, but was that because the soldier thought he had fired when he hadn’t? Was it battlefield confusion? Or was he going through the motions so his comrades would think he was contributing to the fight?

A British Lieutenant wrote that he would have to walk the lines of his troops and literally strike them on the ass with the flat of his saber and give them direct orders to fire low, otherwise they would fire over the heads of their enemies. Gen Marshall wrote a similar theme among soldiers in WWII and Korea. In Viet Nam, there are numbers floating around like for every enemy KIA, 50,000 rounds were fired. In my own experience, I saw a young soldier in a squad pinned down behind a dirt berm under enemy fire. The squad was returning fire. This young man was curled in the fetal position, eyes shut tight, and he was blindly shooting his rifle into the air. His squad leader kicked him and yelled “Soldier! What the **** are you doing?!” The soldier’s reply, “Returning fire, sergeant!”

The first time I drew my weapon, I was in the kneeling position, behind concealment (there was no cover nearby), weapon drawn, finger on the trigger, slack taken out, before I even realized that I had reacted.

It’s a strange thing. I’ve heard today’s soldier is better prepared to shoot an enemy because the targets they qualify on are (roughly) man-shaped, whereas in the past targets were the old bullseye type. I’ve even heard it applied to Star Wars. Ever notice how the Storm Troopers were terrible shots, but the Rebels were apparently all sniper qualified? Applying the lessons from previous comflicts, it’s because the Storm Troopers could see the faces of the Rebels, and couldn’t cross that boundary of taking their life, but the Rebels could dehumanize the masked Storm Troopers because they looked like robots. Obviously that’s a parable, but it’s certainly thought provoking.

I’ve heard plenty of kids talking about wanting to go downrange so they can kill the terrorists. I’ve seen at least as many come home with that certain defeated, haunted look. You’ll never know for sure what you’re capable of until you’re faced with it, until it’s you or them. And I hope for everyone who doesn’t know that you never have to find out.