Sunday, August 5, 2007

Courage, Honor, and Mastery

July 29, 11:36 p.m., Cicero police officer Douglas Pennock asked Sgt. Andrew Scherer, working in the evidence room, if he was expecting anyone—he had noticed someone at the back door. When Pennock opened the door to see if he could help, the stranger, an Army specialist just a month back from a 15 month tour in Afghanistan, raised a high caliber, semi-automatic assault rifle at the officer.

“’I can’t tell you the number of officers I’ve seen who probably would’ve shot this guy,’ said William Gaut, a former commander of detective in the Birmingham, Alabama, Police Department and a nationally recognized expert in law enforcement procedures,” adding that the officers “would have been justified…if they’d shot,” reported Hart Seely and John O’Brien, staff writers for “The Post Standard.” Instead, Pennock covered himself by partly closing the metal door, asked loudly about the rifle to alert Scherer, and talked the troubled veteran into surrendering the weapon. “Pennock did everything right,” concluded Gaut, adding that the officer deserved a medal.

Certainly people have the right to defend themselves, nor should firing on another person be characterized as easy, but taking the shot would have been the easy way out—facing down the assault rifle took far more courage, quick thinking, and good judgment. A local police spokesman, appearing at a public meeting about some recent burglaries, advised homeowners suspecting an intruder to “just get out—we can replace everything but people.”

A few years ago, I saw a piece aired by a television reporter embedded in a unit in Iraq. An experienced newsman long used to careful observation, he quickly noted that the village his unit was to patrol was uneasy—a rumor had spread that the Americans were on their way to attack the village mosque, and agitated Iraqi citizens were rapidly preparing some sort of defense. The colonel in charge of this unit, however, was faster. Just as the reporter realized what was happening, the colonel commanded in a calm, clear, but firm voice, “Everybody on one knee. Weapons down.” Instantly the unit dropped, rifle muzzles resting on the ground, held at 45 degree angles from the soldiers. “Everybody wave,” the colonel continued immediately, pacing calmly up and down the ranks to ensure compliance. “Nice and slow. Big smile. BIG SMILES. Wave. We’re all friends here. Everybody’s friendly.” And so it continued for several minutes while the situation gradually diffused. This could have been a massacre instead, even if in self-defense, but for a smart, quick-thinking commander.

I’m amazed and troubled by the number of people I hear bragging they’d fire first and question later, even if that meant killing some neighborhood teen breaking in on a dare. That’ll teach him—and save the television. Technically justified, but hardly good judgment, and hardly a demonstration of courage or honor. Shooting is just easier.

And people argue the same for national issues. Just attack! America doesn’t take that! Damn the consequences. One student, studying Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” responded to the story’s account of a Vietnam village leveled in retaliation for a comrade’s death, “Well hell! They shot one of their guys!” It’s a frightening simplification, and a distortion of true courage and honor. [I had to end a relationship with a girlfriend, a Navy veteran, whose response to the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal was, “They’d do it to us—we should do it the them!” The same woman jumped for joy when her ex-husband was called up for Iraq, saying, “Let HIM get killed by a roadside bomb!”]

What is it about power that makes people in a hurry to use it? One karate instructor who ran a dojo franchise bragged about beating up a guy attempting to break into his car, hitting him, then again, and when he still didn’t fall, again…I found a new dojo.

“Everybody wonders at some point what would happen if they ever got a chance to use their martial arts skills,” notes one Aikido expert in an article I saw several years ago. He got his chance one day on the subway—a crazed Japanese gunman threatened the car load of passengers. But as he rose to confront the attacker, an elderly Japanese man calmly beat him to it, just talking to him. “At least you get it!” screamed the attacker. “You’re Japanese—you understand.” The story goes on, but it ends several minutes later with the attacker sobbing in the lap of the elderly man.

“That day,” recounts the Aikido expert, “I learned about true mastery.”



Two Write Hands said...

You probably get tired of lame comments like "Excellent post." But I always agree with you, and rarely feel like there's anything to add. So...

Excellent post.

amiciaN said...

I've often read your posts on another forum, but I felt freer to comment here.

I think the world would be a much better place if more men could see the truth in the words of that Aikido Master. Thank you for placing them here for me and others to see.


Vera Bass said...

Excellent post, lame comment or not. :)

We've all heard of anger management therapy, which can be effective. Part of it begins with recognizing that anger in itself is a real and valid emotion. I often regret, though, that we live in a society in which those who need to learn anger management are sent off to a therapist to learn how to deal with it alone. When we simply ban expressions of anger, instead of acknowledging and understanding it, we sometimes contribute further to an individual's problem with it by isolating him/her further.