The Psycho-Social Implications of Combat Roles on Self Perception.

I’ve long had this idea floating around in my head. Today, I cannot yet give you a detailed study which proves that what I’m about to say is accurate. This analysis is not derived from an inventory of the personalities of many thousands of soldiers returning from war. Rather, this work comes from psychoanalysis of some of the most popular ‘memes’ about warfighters (and other combat-type roles).

“Our City’s Finest”

You’ll often hear the term ‘finest’ used to describe the police force in a given locale (at least in the United States). This phrase is interesting, because it is intended to convey to the listener that there is nobody better for the job at hand. This theme, that there exists no better ‘fighter’ or set of ‘fighters’ is exceptionally common. You don’t find it just with police forces either. Throughout the armed services, you’ll hear most everyone refer to themselves as ‘the best’ (in one way or another).

Phrases like this one help to embed the idea of superiority into the mind of the soldier/officer/warrior. They come to know themselves as ‘the finest’, ‘the best’, ‘the superior’. This self assessment then colors their work. The rest of which is largely self-apparent.

Why does this happen?

Its so odd just how common this is. You see it nearly everywhere. In any role where physical combat with another which may lead to death exists… so too does the attempted perception of the self as a superior to others. Interestingly, this doesn’t appear to hold true for roles wherein the risk of death is just as high – but where that death does not come from a human. For example, you’re much less likely to hear the term ‘finest’ used to describe a firefighter. And for the most part, it seems firefighters by and large don’t care.

So what changed? I posit that this exists across cities, nations, jobs, etc.. for one simple reason: the average warfighter cannot accept that they might be killed by another. Certainly some warfighters do at some point in their career accept this possibility. Many even continue without problem. But for the average soldier, to consider ones own reasonless death at the hands of another is too great of a psychological burden. As such, the warfighter must build a mental defense against these thoughts.

This mental defense arises in the creation of a world in their mind, in which they are superior to others, and therefore cannot lose in a fight to those they perceive as less then themselves.

This then is a very interesting complex to behold, as it colors everything that they do. Once they have accepted that they are superior, then their overconfidence can begin to show itself clearly in their interactions and decisions. The history of war is full of stories of hubris, and you’ll find the same all throughout your local government.

The most common of these failures happens every day within your local police force, where a more ‘normal’ and less well trained ‘officer’ (as opposed to ‘warfighter’) thrusts themselves into life or death situations. They need in that moment to feel as though they are capable of handling those situations – that they are stronger, faster, ‘safe’ as it were.

About the author

Professional hacker & security engineer. Currently at Google, opinions all my own. On Twitter as @zaeyx. Skydiver, snowboarder, writer, weightlifter, runner, energetic to the point of being a bit crazy.

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