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August 30, 2007

Universal Soldiers: Future Drugs May Reduce Fighters' Nerves, Stress, Pain, Fear, and Even Post-Traumatic Shock

Danger Room frets about "slippery slopes" after acknowledging the drugs may be quite welcome in reducing jitters. They worry about soldiers risking their lives when free of normal amounts of fear.

I suppose that's a concern. But I also tend to think that fear is probably responsible for more soldiers' deaths than a drug-induced fearless state would ever be. If the downside of fearlessness is recklessness, the downside of fear is being frozen at crucial moments. And there is a good deal of reason to think that abject fearlessness actually increases one's ability to survive. I've heard that this study has been partly debunked, but a post-WWII analysis found that something like 10% of all combat troops were responsible for inflicting 50% of enemy casualties (or something along those lines).* There's also the Pattonesque doctrine that massive, vicious, high-intensity violence may produce more friendly casualties in a short period of time, but overall actually reduces friendly casualties by overwhelming the enemy quickly.

The plural of "anecdote" is not "data" and all that, but I'm reminded of super-soldier Timothy Haag who went on a berserker frenzy after a jihadi ambush back on, I think, Easter of 2003. He seemed, as sports commentators often say of a guy who's on fire, "unconscious" as he simply ran around killing terrorists without any apparent regard for his life, ultimately killing 15-20 of them and saving his unit. And also -- saving himself.

I'm not a soldier and cannot weigh in on this with even the pretense of authority or study. But it does seem to me that an extraordinarily aggressive posture by soldiers sometimes cows the enemy into taking a more passive and defensive posture, and not always to their benefit.

Timothy Haag, incidentally, re-upped for another tour in Iraq. Godspeed to him and Good Hunting.


* I should note that a major finding of that study was that automatic weapons (specifically the BAR or Browning Automatic Rifle) was one of the most effective weapons, and those doing much of the killing of enemy soldiers tended to be armed with those. It was that finding that eventually spurred the army to depart from its one-shot rifles in favor of automatic weapons. Careful marksmanship, they'd thought, was the best way to kill an enemy; they found instead that spraying bullets tended to have a greater impact. Partly because of the psychological benefit of spraying bullets -- guys with BARs just tended to shoot a lot more than guys armed with bolt-action rifles.

Fear And Audie Murphy: I'm sure he had fear. He just didn't seem to act according to it.

2d Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by 6 tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, 1 of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from 3 sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he killed or wounded about 50. 2d Lt. Murphy's indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction, and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy's objective.

a4g notes this hero, Chris Carr:

By his 1-man attack, heroically and voluntarily undertaken in the face of tremendous risks, Sgt. Karaberis [later changed to Carr] captured 5 enemy machinegun positions, killed 8 Germans, took 22 prisoners, cleared the ridge leading to his company's objective, and drove a deep wedge into the enemy line, making it possible for his battalion to occupy important, commanding ground.

His heroism is a bit tainted by the fact that this occurred in 1988, and we weren't technically at war with Germany at the time, but still, it does show what a highly motivated soldier acting without fear can accomplish.

(Just kidding about the 1988 thing. It was in WWII, of course, in Italy.)

No one's in favor of "recklessness," of course, which by definition is a perjorative. But it does seem that hyperaggressiveness (a less charged term) is often a benefit to an individual soldier. Obviously it's a benefit to his unit and his country, but often it seems that a guy going into berserker mode will tend to kill or cow the enemies who might otherwise be able to fire upon him.

Loose Shit: My "facts" (stupid things those) about these post-war analyses seem just woefully wrong, or at least bits of this mixed with bits of that. I'll just let my "greater narrative" stand in the post but direct everyone to the comments where I'm being corrected on so many points I can't keep up with them.

Came Across This Old Email From Tim Haag Today... while searching for stuff about him to post here. Figured I'd print it.

Don't know if you remember me if you do cool if you don't cooler.

Just wanted to let you know I reup'd for another 6 and am looking at another tour to someplace warm when its cold up here in NY . I got out for awhile thinking I'd just coast for the rest of my life and bang the old lady all damn day but a line from Tim O'Brian's " The Things They Carried" finally summed up how I feel about peace: Peace feels so good it hurts, and I want to hurt it back.

Anyway I get a kick out of actually Googling my name late at night and there it is on your site still , makes me laugh . So, Hopefully my next tour is nothing like the 1st (which is pretty much a guarantee if your a statistics person), but if it is, it is, Take care and fight the good fight.

TH

Great soldier and a good guy. I interviewed him on the old radio show but he did that "I'm not a hero, just a guy doing his job" thing which made his exploits sound kind of boring. They're definitely not boring when other people are telling the tale.


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posted by Ace at 01:48 PM

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