Mindset is life.
Or, sometimes, death.
Faced with a survival situation, some fight. Some flee. Some just freeze and wait to die or be saved by third party intervention. And some are not faced with this situation because they saw it coming and absented themselves. That is, in our opinion, the smartest thing to do if you don’t have to stand and fight. In order, the best outcomes are:
- A fight you never have;
- A fight you win without fighting;
- A fight you win, killing the enemy;
- A fight you win, wounding or scaring off the enemy.
The reason (4) is not as good as (3) is that you leave a possibility for revenge out there. Dead guys can’t seek revenge.
Indicators and Warnings
Every time the national security bureaucracy is caught flatfooted, a rather frequent occurrence, reconsideration shows that there were was a sufficiency of Indicators & Warnings, I&W. They just weren’t read right, or interpreted, or they were ignored.
You don’t have to find big screwups like Pearl Harbor, the Chinese entry into the Korean War, or 9/11, to find examples of ignored I&Ws. Consider two individuals whose demise was reported in these pages in the last few months: a young man in Maine who blew his head off with fireworks, and a young man (hmmm… first indication of a pattern?) in coastal Texas whose last words were, reportedly, “F the gator!” Yes, he was warned about a large alligator in his chosen swimming hole, and yes, he ignored the warning, and yes, the gator killed him. Likewise, the Maine decedent’s friends warned him that setting off a large fireworks mortar on his head was A Bad Idea.
They didn’t heed the indicators.
That’s the biggest problem with human beings and I&W, even when the I&W is pretty obvious: “Hey, setting off an explosion on your brain housing group might be a bad idea,” or “There’s a man-eatin’ gator over yonder.” And the I&W is not that obvious, always. People hear hoofbeats and they’re not looking for zebras.
The US is not the only nation to be get caught napping like this. A couple of patrolling Zekes formed up on two B-25s one sunny morning off the coast of Honshu, and, not believing their eyes, convinced themselves they were looking at two experimental Imperial Japanese Army bombers they’d been told about — and let two of Doolittle’s Raiders go on to bomb Tokyo. That was fair payback for the Air Corps lieutenant three and a half months earlier, who, knowing that some B-17s were inbound, told some radar operators not to worry about what looked like a 50-plane raid on Oahu. Didn’t heed the indicators.
Some indicators are transient, some are durable, some are eternal. Obviously the Kaga and Akagi air wings on Pearl Harbor’s radar is a transient indicator. A durable one? Certain neighborhoods’ reputations. There were four fatal opiate ODs in our little county last weekend, in two separate towns. All four of them happened in streets that would have come up in discussion if you asked a town cop, “If someone OD’d here in your town, exactly where would you find the stiff?” If you’re not looking for hard drugs, you probably don’t want to go to those places, even in these very safe (generally speaking) towns.
The character of a neighborhood only changes over time, and with a change of people. When a neighborhood is improved, it’s not because they built shiny new buildings or added street lamps. It’s because they removed (or the cost of living in a shiny new building removed) the people who made the neighborhood bad.
“The superior person uses his superior judgment so as not to have to make a vulgar display of his superior skills.” This has long been a saying among pilots, but we’ve torqued it to fit a more general set of superior persons.
In interpersonal conflict, judgment is displayed best by the party that seeks to avoid, evade, and escape the conflict, and only goes to the gun (or lead pipe, or barstool, whatever) when the evasion phase has failed.
In analyzing any conflict, certain inflection points are evident (in hindsight!) where better judgment might have defused the situation or deflected the juggernaut before the collision point. Consider the George Zimmerman shooting of Trayvon Martin. There’s no question that the evidence shows that George was in the right by any measure of morality or law when he plugged Trayvon (and made one small contribution to the cause of fighting future prison overcrowding in Florida). But if you mentally “walk” the scene with George, you can see some of these inflection points, even if he didn’t, at the time. Once the fight started, of course, he had no choices except to take the beating and roll the dice on personal death or serious inury on the one hand, or use force to stop it on the other.
And, while we haven’t spoken to the man, we have no doubt that, in retrospect, George Zimmerman would have rather avoided his fight with Trayvon Martin than, as happened, won it; his victory was the very definition of a Pyrrhic one. His life will never be the same again and he will never be free from intrusive, hostile reporters (who continue to report a false narrative and vilify Zimmerman to this day).
And that’s a case of a guy who won an unnecessary but desperate, life-stakes fight. The guys who lost are not available to tell us what they wish they had done.
We recall that instructor John S. Farnam had (and has, he’s still working) several pithy ways of saying this, but the best fight is the one that doesn’t happen. (Farnam is hardly the only one with such a message. It’s as old as Sun Tzu).
Mindset & Judgment Can be Learned
To an extent, anyway. We’re not as confident as the Army is that it can teach anybody pretty much anything, but we do believe that anyone can, by a process of analysis leading to mental and physical drills, improve his mindset and therefore his or her odds of survival.
These odds of survival are improved by training to hone your skills and survive an armed encounter, but they’re improved more by using your superior judgment so as not to have to make a vulgar display of your superior skills. Too few people do the former, and far too few people do the latter. (A lot of cops who are involved in shootings are just unlucky. But there are others, where none of their cop friends are surprised they were in a shooting. Why do you think that is?)
Most of us are not cops, and not soldiers (any more), and therefore, do need to saddle up and go into places where you’re likely to be engaged by gunfire. So here’s our version of some guidelines for fight avoidance:
Don’t swim where the sharks feed. Yes, home invaders can come to suburbia, but most criminals live in poor, lousy neighborhoods and prey on each other as well as the majority of non-criminals who have the bad fortune to live there, too. If you live there, leave. If you go there, stop.
- If you must go where the sharks feed — you may have reasons; we had a friend whose elderly mother would not leave her house in South Central LA until the Rodney King riots burned it down and settled the question for her — don’t look like bait. Don’t act timid, walk boldly with your head up, like you belong there — and are the baddest mother in the valley. Also, don’t flash stuff that is irresistibly attractive to the sort of people who have been listening to TV and therefore think they’re entitled to take it from you.
- When you have to go into the badlands, take a lesson from the cops and don’t walk alone. If you can’t help looking like prey (maybe you’re small, or elderly person), bring a buddy who looks intimidating if you can.
- Don’t get distracted. This is the wrong time to be facebooking, texting or reading WeaponsMan.com on your jeezly phone. In fact, it’s the wrong time to be taking calls. You need to be 100% in the analog world. We don’t know what the percentage of mugging victims in NYFC and San Francisco is, who had their ear buds in, but we’d take a guess it’s fairly high.
- Be conscious of concealment. Don’t give anyone the chance to ambush you.
- Manage the Clock. Most criminals stay up late and sleep late, too. If you have unavoidable business in their precincts, do it at seven o’clock in the morning when they’re down for the count, not at midnight when they’re just warming up.
- Be conscious of the fact that you may have to be ready, and always be ready to deliver a violent counterstrike.
- Work on avoidance, but once avoidance fails you should immediately execute a drilled, conscious plan. Strike hard and decisively. (George Z. got this bit exactly right, and every day’s life he has now, he only has because he did).
- If you err, and are attacked, act. Save regrets and recriminations for later.
Tam has commented on this at her indispensable blog, with some references to an earlier post of hers that made many of these same points, and one more important one. Go thither. Read that. Return smarter. That is all.