Monday, December 30, 2019

Wise as serpents

By now you have learned of the incidents among gatherings of the faithful in Monsey, New York and White Settlement, Texas. It’s now time to start learning from them as well.

In the former, a machete-wielding attacker broke into a home where Orthodox Jews were celebrating Hanukah with their rabbi. Five people were wounded, some grievously. The attacker fled the scene and was arrested later in a traffic stop. In Texas, a gunman stood up during a service at the West Highway Church of Christ, brandishing a shotgun. He killed two congregants before being killed himself by a single shot fired by the leader of the church’s volunteer security team.*

There will be many details revealed in the coming days. But there are already are lessons to be learned – and we have an obligation to learn them. 
As always, the first lesson is to free oneself from the shackles of two deadly lies: “It can’t happen here” and “If it happens, there’s nothing I can do.”

It can happen here, wherever “here” is. America is a huge and glorious place, as diverse in a single nation as any entire continent inhabited by man. Aside from the common characteristic of humans gathering to live out a life of faith, you’d be hard pressed to find places more distinct from one another than White Settlement, Texas and Monsey, New York. A large suburban church congregation is hardly an intimate gathering of believers at a rabbi’s house. It can happen in your “here,” and if it does . . .

You not only can do something, you must. Over and over and over again we have learned that those who attack places of worship, 
attackers who are not confronted, as in the first mosque targeted in New Zealand, will kill and kill and kill. On the other hand, once confronted with any force at all (even a thrown credit card machine, as in the second mosque targeted in New Zealand) most attackers will divert or break off their attack. Especially and necessarily so if the confrontation leaves them dead. So, to that end. . .

Arm yourself. Jeff Cooper famously said that “an unarmed man can only flee from evil, and evil is not overcome by fleeing from it.” The Monsey Jews were disarmed by the State of New York, prohibited most effective weapons even in a home like the one where the attack occurred. The White Settlement Christians were free under their state’s laws to be armed, and armed in church, and many of those there considered all that must considered, then armed themselves. That said, John Steinbeck explained that no mere gun is enough  because the gun is not really the weapon** – so you had better. . .

Train. Train with your chosen tools. Train realistically, frequently, honestly. Practice in a way that provides relentlessly objective metrics. (“Wearing this, while seated like this, I can draw from concealment this fast and put a shot on a target this large at this distance 100% of the time.”) Then tell yourself the truth about yourself. Jack Wilson, the man who took down the West Highway Church shooter, drew and fired, connecting with a single head shot, in something under two seconds at a range of perhaps 50 feet. This is prodigious skill and Wilson, a firearms instructor, had to have trained long, hard and well to attain it. But what mattered more than that skill was that he knew he had that skill. He obeyed the rule that a man has to know his limitations and then he acted within them.**** Your limitations may be different and may demand a different action. But whatever those limitations, you must. . .

Act. I’ve said it in this space time and time again: Do everything you can to avoid violence. But when the time comes for violence, the crucial thing is to be violent enough fast enough. One could hardly have embodied that more perfectly than Mr. Wilson. But, although he will rightly be lauded as a hero, note that he also understood that. . . .

It isn’t enough to act alone. Church security is a matter of resolving the Pastor’s Paradox. This is the tension between creating a church that is safe for the flock***** while still open to the very troubled people who need to be there the most. Mr. Wilson was the leader of a team. I am, too. These demand sacrificial commitment from their members – to train, to show up, to do what has to be done. Such teams demand systemic integration into the entire matrix of church security, from the congregants themselves, greeters handing out programs to the uniformed security guards in the marked cars. They demand customized tactics, techniques and protocols fit for your unique place of worship. And events like those in Texas or New York -- confrontation of a revealed threat -- are a vanishingly rare departure from a far less dramatic routine; they are outlier events that most, blessedly, will never encounter. So your TTPs and training need to be about confronting shooters, but, also about more esoteric practices like threat recognition and verbal deescalation. You will – and thank heaven for this – talk down seven times seventy congregants irritated about the parking, or peeved about the use of handbells during the worship, or vexed about the coffee running out in the fellowship hall before you ever encounter a “real threat.” But if you have a team in place,****** then, by the grace of God and to His glory, you will have a prayer that your own Mr. Wilson is in the right place at the right time. Because, in the end. . . .

We are commanded to go forth among the wolves.******* And wisdom demands we learn the lessons we are given to learn.  

* We know who carried out the Monsey attack, and why, and how they gained entry. Details of the West Highway Church attacker aren’t out yet, and we don’t know how a man dressed as he was, concealing a long gun, evidently wearing a fake beard and wig, gained entry in the first place. [And let’s be clear from the jump: Neither this, nor anything below, is gratuitous criticism. This isn’t “Monday Morning Quarterbacking.” We simply must be unflinchingly honest with ourselves about events like these, ruthless in our assessments of the events and ourselves. We do the dead and injured no honor to ignore even the hardest truths about what happened.]

** “The final weapon is the brain, all else is supplemental.”  John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights

*** He was also blessed with something one will rarely encounter in a crowded sanctuary – a clear, solid and unoccupied backstop. The Four Rules always apply.

**** Tragically, another congregant did not. He stood up close to the shooter and – having pulled the shooter’s attention – attempted a draw he couldn’t win against an already drawn shotgun. This man paid with his life. His actions were heroic. He stood in the gap. And that may well have been efficacious in that it distracted the shooter from harming some other congregant. But he had other choices he could have made (a surreptitious draw, a shot while seated) that might have better availed him. [As above, I mean this as no judgment on a man who, my faith tells me, I will one day joyfully meet in heaven. But his death has lessons to teach. Shame on us if we diminish it by ignoring them.]

***** That is easy to do. The result is a church that looks like a prison.

****** Those interested in this topic in a practical way should feel free to contact me via email. Besides the links provided here to some excellent resources, I can offer other advice and materials.

******* Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. Matt. 10:16

Friday, March 15, 2019

You've got to be carefully taught

“Experience,” baseball philosopher Vernon Law famously said, “is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.” Oxford don philosopher C.S. Lewis put it like this: “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”

The ballplayer, who was merely characterizing experience, turns out always to be right. The don, predicting its effect, sadly, isn’t. It turns out that the modern human capacity for ignoring hard-taught lessons is profound. You will be able to watch this play out in the next few days as the world assesses the lessons from the mosque shootings in New Zealand. Predictably, most folks will “learn” the exact lesson that best suits what they already believe. Those convinced that evil arises from the barrel of gun will “learn” that lesson again, ignore all others, and fight to force it on all and sundry. Those inclined to attribute mystical, evil, trans-global powers to politicians they despise will “learn” that the political leaders they despise have mystical,evil, trans-global powers, ignoring all other possible motives and means.*

Those of us who take the world as it comes, who try to be clear-eyed about the lesson the harsh schoolmistress teaches, must do better. We have learned here before. In the most terrible way imaginable, we have been brought to class by a unique teacher.

For what has to have been the first time, the shooter in the first mosque wore a camera. Despite the best efforts of benighted officials seeking to repress this vital tool, I’ve seen it. I watched its nearly 17 horrific minutes four times before the link was sent where governments often send hard truths. Because while it is horrible,** it is true. It is the truest thing you will ever see. And it has lessons to teach.

Observe: The shooter was able to approach from down the block and enter the building unchallenged while in full tactical gear and carrying two long guns.
Lesson: Live in Condition Yellow

Observe: He passed several members of the mosque, who did not even call out.
Lesson: SEE something so you can say something.

Observe: He entered through an open gate and an open exterior door. (The side exterior doors to the Mosque were also open.) The shooter then walked up and down the same hallway repeatedly, but never even tried the several doors on either side of the hallway where other worshipers were hiding.
Lesson: Get a door between you and the shooter. Lock the door if you can.

Observe: The shooter was on scene for six minutes, returning once to his car down the block to retrieve another weapon and more ammunition, then re-entering the mosque. There was no police response while the shooter was on scene. After a second entry to the Mosque, the shooter went back to his car and drove calmly away.
Lesson: You have to solve the problem without the police. You are your own first responder, and likely the only one who can be there on time.

Observe: No one made any attempt to intervene with him, to attack him, to get inside his OODA Loop. (One worshiper ran into him as the worshiper tried to flee, but made no effort to disarm the shooter.) This despite the fact there were multiple opportunities to engage the shooter during many clumsy reloads and many malfunctions he had with his weapons. He frequently turned his back on his victims. He walked blindly through openings.
Lesson: Mass shooters will provide opportunities for violence of action. Take advantage of them. You're probably going to die, so take your best shot.

Observe: Most victims died cowering in corners. The shooter shot everyone he could see – many times. Needless to say, no one was able to exchange fire with the shooter, because New Zealand largely disarms its citizens.
Lesson: You - and you only - are responsible for your own safety.
Lesson: You have to stop the shooter, because the shooter won’t stop until he’s done.

Observe: The shooter was, in fact, very poorly trained if trained at all. He charged into rooms, he had lousy target awareness, he turned his back on people who should have been threats to his safety, he could not clear a failure-to-feed, fumbled reloads, and more. An armed worshiper with even minimal training and the right mindset would have been more than a match for him.
Lesson: Have a gun. Carry the gun. Get trained with the gun. Be prepared – morally, spiritually, physically – to employ the gun to save your life and others’ lives.

Observe: We know the point above is correct because this shooter’s accomplice DID encounter armed resistance at the second mosque. A worshiper (likely “illegally” armed given New Zealand’s laws) fired at the shooter there and that shooter instantly abandoned his attack.
Lesson: Armed resistance stops mass shooters.

* I was able to come back twelve hours after this post originally went up and add links demonstrating exactly my point. That Chelsea Clinton and Donald Trump were both credited with such powers makes the point an even finer one.

** And it is utterly horrific. Human bodies piled like snow drifts in the corners. The impact of shotgun rounds striking skulls. The shooter’s cavalier, flippant commentary as scores die crying out for mercy. You should watch it. Because it’s true. But I won’t think less of you if you can’t. The lessons are still the lessons, but they do burn in a bit more deeply with the viewing.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Battle Road Redux

On this 243rd anniversary, a re-post is in order. (Originally posted 17 April 2015.)

As the rising sun pierced the billowing gun smoke that April morning 240 years ago this Sunday, I suspect the British regulars were thinking something along the lines of “Well, that’s for them.” The truth is that the “Shot Heard Round the World” echoed over an inauspicious field abandoned by a beaten militia in full flight. The only would-be rebels who remained on the Green did so because they were dead or dying.

So British Colonel Francis Smith might well have thought that, with one lot of traitors shown conclusively who was master, well begun was half done and the day portended well for King George III. It must have been with more than a little confidence that Smith turned his troops down the road toward Concord, where Tories and spies had reported the nascent rebellion had a large cache of weapons.

But neither Smith nor his executive officer, Major John Pitcairn – much less King George – had heard American Captain John Parker addressing his militiamen just before dawn. The rebels had waited through the night to see if the British foray into the countryside was just another reconnoiter in force, or something more sinister. Paul Revere and his fellow riders assured them the regulars were on their way intent on disarming the budding rebellion.  As the British entered the green, the militiamen assembled from Buckman Tavern and elsewhere to face them. Parker reminded them that while their foremost purpose was to merely demonstrate their resolve, more than that might well be demanded of them. 

“Stand your ground and do not fire unless fired upon,” Parker ordered. “But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”*

Faced off across a space no larger than a football field, Parker and Pitcairn each commanded their respective forces not to fire. Pitcairn had every reason to expect to be obeyed; British regulars did as they were ordered and Pitcairn’s force of elite light infantry were some of the best troops of the best professional army in the world. Parker, commanding farmers, merchants – and a slave named Prince Estabrook – likewise expected to be obeyed, if for no other reason than because his men had families close at hand, some watching from just off the field.  Greek governmental theories, philosophical abstractions and offenses such as the Intolerable Acts may have driven rabble-rousers like Sam Adams and his Sons of Liberty. But for the militiamen on Lexington Green, their homes and farms and livelihoods were all too tangible realities, all too close at hand.

So no one was meant to fire a shot, but as it as has time and again throughout the years, the shot nevertheless was fired** and then everyone on the field let loose. It was over in minutes and the outcome, with many rebels killed or wounded, and only one of his own men hurt, couldn't have surprised Pitcairn, who couldn't have had much doubt about how the rest of the day would go.

But it was only dawn. And he hadn't heard Parker.

Pitcairn couldn't have understood at that moment that he hadn't just been a part of a police action or some noisy civil disturbance. Because he hadn't heard Parker, because he didn't know who these Patriots really were, Pitcairn didn't know then that he’d really been a participant in the first skirmish of a remorseless war. But he was soon to learn.

By the end of that very day, after the desperate running fight down the Battle Road, as the blood ran from the North Bridge to stain the Concord River, Pitcairn could not help but to have had a better understanding of what war with real Americans would mean: All told the rebels had lost 88 men killed and wounded. The butcher’s bill for the most feared and powerful military force in the world was nearly twice that, at 147. By the very next morning – without the aid of Facebook or a single cell phone –  15,000 men of what would eventually*** become a victorious Continental Army were outside of Boston.  

This nation was born of blood and smoke and outrage and an abiding sense that "Enough is enough, damn it." It was born when a secure and prosperous people finally decided that their liberties were more dear to them than their comforts. I am convinced that Americans -- or, at the very least, enough Americans -- still fear blood and smoke less, and love liberty more, than they love their comfort. I believe that Americans still know their way to the Battle Road. I believe this, I confess, in part because I must believe it, or else despair.

* Indeed, many of the militiamen may not have heard Parker, either. Her suffered from tuberculosis and had trouble mustering enough breath to speak.

**Theories vary wildly about who fired first. The best evidence, I think, suggests that it was one of the spectators, townsmen arrayed around the green, but not under Parker’s command.

*** "Eventually" in spades. In the eight years, four months and 15 days from that day to the Treaty of Paris, there would be some 150,000 casualties, suffered overwhelmingly by the Americans and their families, fighting on their own doorsteps.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


Down on the shop floor that Monday lunchtime, most of the company, including Dad’s three best friends, listened to the speech on the radio on the foreman’s desk. At 21, with a two-year business degree, Dad was the most junior of junior executives. So he and a dozen others upstairs listened in his boss’s office. Later that same afternoon, Dad and his buddies were together in that office. They told the boss they’d be back again when it was over.

The boss pulled a bottle from a drawer, shared glasses all around, and promised them their jobs would be waiting. Dad was grateful for the drink. Grateful, too, he told me once, that the boss – a crusty old Marine –  skipped his oft-told stories about the Marne River and Belleau Wood. “If I had to listen to those stories that day,” Dad  said, “I’m not sure I’d have kept my nerve.”

By midday Wednesday the four friends were at the recruiting station. By early in the new year they were on a train headed south for basic. Dad had never been outside of Ohio, and rarely far from Cleveland. Biloxi seemed a world away, but it was warm, and Dad always liked the heat. Before long, though, he was headed a real world away. When we think of the war in the Pacific – those of us who think of it at all anymore – we mostly think of the Marines.  But the Army Air Force was there in numbers, too, and if they were spared abattoirs like Peleliu and Iwo Jima, where the Marines traded so many lives for coral rock and glory, that’s not to say the the Army Air Force was spared.

Dad’s troop ship stopped at Colon, Panama. He was one of hundreds of seasick young men in holds converted to barracks, waiting their turn to lock up through the Canal on the way to the South Pacific. Word came that a headquarters clerk at the major Canal Zone air base was down with appendicitis. (In fact it killed him.) Well, even the most junior of junior executives had a skill crucial to a mid-Twentieth Century army – he could type. Dad was pulled off the ship, and sent to France Field, where he would spend the war.

Calm, organized, steady, determined and unafraid of the menial or the unpleasant, by the end Dad was a First Sergeant and the post sergeant major – the highest ranking non-com. Forty years later, when I was a newsman covering the Air Force, I asked Dad how it was possible for a guy to go from boot to Top Kick in less than four years. “Robbie,” he explained, “the only thing we never ran out of was rank.”

The mission at France Field was simplicity itself: Keep the Canal open; keep the ships moving. Planes from the field would hunt down and kill the German U-boat wolf packs and the lesser known, but larger, fleet of Italian subs that operated in the region throughout the war.  (Just because you've never heard of the Battle of the Caribbean, doesn't mean they didn't fight it.)

Dad would say that he spent the war filing paper, fighting off yellow fever, placating officers, disciplining drunken airmen, and playing a lot of softball. A quiet, contented man, Dad often said he had had an “easy war.” He meant that especially when compared to his three friends, who fought the war from inside B-17s over Europe. One of those guys spent years confined in, then escaping from, a series of increasingly brutal German POW camps. One of them rode his plane into a smoking hole in the Dutch countryside and never made it back to claim the job waiting for him, as promised, at W.S. Tyler Company.* If not for some poor guy’s infected appendix, Dad’s war would have been anything but easy. And who can say if three and half years in the Solomons and New Guinea and the Philippines would have sent home the man I was blessed to know as my father or, instead, someone less whole, less gentle.

Dad never regretted the way things happened, never felt deprived of some sort of martial adventure.** He knew he’d been blessed. “I did what I was called on to do,” is how he would put it. “That's war. I did my job; other guys were just called to give more.”

I didn't argue the point with him; never would have, never could have. But as I've grown, and especially in the 20 years since he’s been gone, I've come to understand that he was wrong.

I think of that skinny Cleveland kid, just a few years out of service as an altar boy, standing around the boss’s desk with a drink in his hand, silently praying the old Marine would forego his war stories, lest will and determination fail. I think of a kid for whom the Gulf Coast was far country, signing up to go wherever they sent him. I think of a kid who, as smart as he was with the accounts, could never have figured the value of the note he was signing, but who signed it anyway – and stood ready to pay whatever the tally-man demanded.

And I think, Dad, that you couldn't have given more than that.

* Which isn't to suggest Dad was entirely immune to pride. “The bastards never shut us down, Robbie. They never did.”

** He did have at least one adventure he liked to describe: There was a fire at a remote observation post and Dad was sent to investigate. The Jeep could only go so far before he had to travel by small boat, then hike a day up a jungle mountain. (Faulty generator  not sabotage, as it turned out.) Typical of my Dad was his perspective on that story: “I got back in about three days. Got a shower and hot chow. I thought a lot about those guys in the Pacific who had to stay out in that jungle all the time.”

Friday, November 10, 2017

Not just a ship

Forty-two years

You’ve heard of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Mighty Fitz was a Great Lakes ore boat and, at more than 700 feet, among the largest of her kind.  Forty-two years ago, in a raging late-autumn storm, she broke in two and found the bottom of Lake Superior, taking 29 men with her. You’ve heard of the Edmund Fitzgerald because Gordon Lightfoot wrote a song about her. But you’ve never heard of my Uncle Bill, because no one ever wrote a song about him.*

Bill was a cop’s cop and a detective sergeant in the Cleveland suburb of Bedford Heights. That Monday he and his partner, James Toth, visited Blonder’s Paint Store with books of mug shots. The store had been robbed five weeks before, and there still was no arrest. Bill was a sweet man, but that kind of thing pissed him off, so he was going to work the case until something broke.

Nobody was in the front of the store, so Bill walked through to the back. Michael Manns was waiting for him, hiding behind a bathroom door, because he was robbing Blonder’s Paint Store again. Manns and his crew had the employees held hostage in the back room. The moment Bill came through the door, Manns put a pistol to Bill’s neck and pulled the trigger, blowing out Bill’s spine and carotid artery. Bill fell flat to the floor, shattering the big glasses he always wore -- except his official photo.

Manns knew exactly whom he was killing when he murdered my uncle. Bill hadn’t wanted to startle store employees, fresh from the prior robbery, who might be jumpy at someone coming through the door unannounced. So he’d called out “Sgt. Prochazka, police department!” as he walked through.

After firing the shot, Manns fled with his accomplices, George Clayton, Dwain Farrow and Duran Harris. Store employees, now having seen the robbers twice, were able to identify them and Clayton, Farrow and Harris were arrested within a day or so by Cleveland police. Manns was on the run for several weeks, until police caught up with him in Detroit.

The funeral procession drew police cars from 49 states, every province of Canada and most of Northern Mexico. Bedford Heights was a small department, but despite all the other lawmen there, the BHPD  wouldn’t let anyone else stand honor guard over the coffin, day and night, until they put it in the ground.

Bill, with his twin brother Bob – also a cop – was the youngest of ten brothers and sisters. He left my Aunt Loretta, a daughter and three sons. Over the days of viewing, I saw the strongest people I knew – the strongest people I thought there could be – reduced to mewling, groveling beasts by their grief. During the service, someone played “Amazing Grace” on the piano. Bill’s youngest boy stood before the coffin and saluted, exactly like John John in Stan Stearns’ iconic photo.

All four men were convicted of aggravated robbery and murder. Our family had people at every day of trial. On the day each man was sentenced to death, all eight of Bill’s surviving siblings, and dozens of cousins, nephews, and nieces stood witness. Not long after that, all of the death sentences were commuted to life in prison when a court ruling banned Ohio’s death penalty. Harris was granted parole and freed in 2003. Corrections officials had failed to inform the family of the parole hearing, so no one was there to oppose his release. Now, as the other men’s hearings periodically arise, someone is always there – led by Bill’s son Robert, a cop in Willowick, Ohio.

However much we love or are loved, however deep our connections to our wives and husbands and children and friends, there is a sense in which we each travel through life aboard a ship with a single passenger. Even shared experiences are felt uniquely, individually. Standing in the same storm, each of us hears the thunder at a slightly different moment, feels the wind from a certain, personal angle. So it was that, drenched in sadness that entire miserable, sleet-soaked funeral week – and although I loved him so much – I did not cry for Bill.

I was too busy making an acquaintance of Hate, whom I hadn’t occasion to meet before then.

Twenty-nine sailors, a good cop and a teen boy’s faith all died that day forty-two years ago, to be buried under steel gray waves, or brown earth, or  black despair. I said I was through with God that day, and for twenty years I made good on that vow, except to make war on Him from time to time. But He wasn’t done with me. So today I can pray for Bill, and for his family – and even for Manns, Clayton, Farrow and Harris.

But that’s another story.

*Actually, as it happens, I wrote a song about him -- which amounts to the same thing.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Getting your mind right

Recent events are having the effect that events always have when they are recent: Folks are thinking and talking -- at least for now -- about issues that are ever present, but are most often ignored by most. It's human nature to do this of course. In the words of the fictional Matthew Harrison Brady, we don't  think about things we don't think about. Indeed, this tendency is itself so predictable that investors have name for the phenomenon: Recency Bias. Still, one supposes it's better to think about these matters episodically, or reactively, than not to think about them at all. Here, of course, we think about these issues pretty much all the time.

So with that, I recycle, for the third time, the most read -- and I think probably most important -- column ever to appear here. Because recent events are going to be future events. And the time to decide how you will act -- who you will BE -- when that happens is now.

Some folks like a triad. You will also hear lots of discussion about three-legged stools. Others prefer to slice a pie into four pieces.  Some would rather disassemble the device into components. Whatever your favored metaphor, the simple notion of “self defense” implicates many considerations.

You have to have tools that work, every time, and are suited to you. You have to be able to use those tools effectively, so that means adequate marksmanship and competent, reflexive gun-handling. To achieve those, you have to train, and the training has to be realistic and relevant. Then you have to practice often and effectually – recognizing that training and practice are not the same thing. Your ancillary gear has to be suited to your particular use of it, and as reliable as your primary tools.

But while all of these are necessary, none of them is sufficient. All of these considerations matter, but there is one thing that is lord of them all: Mindset.

Robert's Rule is that "Mindset Matters Most." Fighting mindset determines outcomes. Mindset implicates the largest questions: How do you believe you came to occupy the universe? Mindset invades the smallest of moments: Will you keep fighting for this next second?

Not only will the better mindset prevail “all things being equal,” but the man with the better mindset can prevail over an adversary who is better equipped or trained or both, while a poor mindset renders expertise irrelevant. This is not a new notion. Sun Tzu** said 2500 years ago that every battle is won or lost before it is fought.

Proper mindset drives you toward the satisfaction of all the other necessary elements: You are determined to expend the time and sweat and money to train realistically and practice effectively. You have done the research and trials necessary to know what weapons and gear will work best for you, and you have not stinted on buying the best you can afford.  But mindset stands apart from and above all these other factors.

Proper mindset means that you have decided that you are a human being and that human beings have the right to defend their lives and wellbeing, and the lives and wellbeing of those in their care or charge. You have decided that you concur with the Founders' belief that your right to life is natural and inalienable. You have decided that the image of an armed woman standing over the bleeding body of a would-be rapist is morally superior to the image of a battered woman lying on the ground, watching as her rapist flees.

To have a proper mindset is to be utterly ready for that which you earnestly pray will not occur. Proper mindset means that you can walk away from any insult or offense that does not warrant a fight, no matter the injury to your ego. But proper mindset means that you are ready to fight when it is time to fight, because you have decided you will fight long before the fight. Proper mindset is what spares you the paralysis of “this can’t be happening,” so that you can get into the fight when it will do you the most good. It is proper mindset that will keep you in the fight – when you are afraid or exhausted or shot – until you prevail or die.

Proper mindset means you have thought about what this kind of fight really looks like, even if you have never engaged in or witnessed one. You know that you are willing to do great harm to a determined assailant, to wet your hands with his blood, if that’s what it takes to end his aggression. More than this, you know if you are capable of ending the life of another human being if need be. Proper mindset means that you have examined your heart of hearts with unflinching honesty. If you are a person of faith, proper mindset means you have reconciled these issues with that faith before the moment arises.

Mindset is not magic; it is not an incantation or a prayer or a mantra. It is neither esoteric nor theoretical; it is, instead, the most practical thing there is. Mindset is a set of decisions, considered with greatest care, resolved to a moral certainty and then followed through, come what may. Proper fighting mindset may come easy or hard for you, but the having or lack of it is not a matter of luck or heredity, nor is it the exclusive province of any particular profession. Mindset can be learned.

* Those facts really are very simple and boil down to this -- fewer weapons in the hands of law-abiding citizens equals more crimes committed against them by criminals unconcerned with silly things like gun laws.

** I will leave it for others to debate the question of whether Sun Tzu actually existed as a single historical figure.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Je ne suis toujours pas Charlie

Of course, I entirely defend the right of these cheese-eating surrender monkeys to publish this cover or, indeed, any damned thing they wish. For those who, eschewing a study of French, have wisely dedicated themselves to learning the language of a relevant world power, it reads: "God Exists! He Drowned All the Neo-Nazis of Texas."
I'm not angry or disappointed because, I confess, my expectations are low. We've already discussed here the lack of moral consistency by the Gauloise-sucking "journalists" at Charlie Hebdo. And let's be honest, the Germans may have invented the word schadenfreude, but nobody does it better than the French. And I know, too, that Nazis are a bit of an uncomfortable subject for the French, given their legacy of well-earned national shame. Gazing upon this cover, they must have to wonder if a timely flood would have somehow stopped them handing over Jewish schoolchildren for annihilation in exchange for the Germans not burning down some museums. (Not that the French didn't then mount a fine resistance. Courageous cafe owners frequently over-charged German officers for espresso.* And many French housewives valiantly gave German soldiers painful venereal diseases in exchange for stockings and cabbages.)

But . . . here's the thing. You would think that if anyone would not want to rob the swastika of all of its meaning, it would be people who lived under the brutal occupation of actual Nazis. Calling all the victims in Houston -- a city that, for one thing, overwhelmingly votes Democrat -- "Nazis" would seem to me to do just that. And it's a glaring example of what's wrong with our own discourse here in recent months.
You see, people who don't believe that the military should enlist transgender service members aren't Nazis. They might be right. They might be wrong. They might be motivated by hate, or fear, or merely a concern for the marginal costs of issuing all those new nametags. But they aren't Nazis -- well at least they aren't Nazis just because they disagree with you about the intersection of gender identity and the armed forces. That guy who favors immigration amnesty for "dreamers?" I guess he might be a socialist, but his stance on that single issue offers you insufficient data to reach any such conclusion. And the small-town florist who doesn't want her great-great-granddaddy's statue ripped out of the courthouse square? It's not likely she's an actual fascist however troublesome you find that bronze fellow on the horse. But when you bandy about a word like "Nazi," even though it has the effect of rendering your opponents less than human -- always handy when you want to douse them with jars of your own urine or peacefully beat them into silence -- it also has the effect of sucking all the meaning from the word. And that's not good for anyone. (I mean, if nothing else, don't the folks who called George W. Bush a Nazi now wish they'd kept that epithet in reserve?)

More than six years ago, I wrote in this space about the Theory of Ubiquitous Polarity.** I wrote then from a place of personal frustration, calling for nuance. These days I see it underlying something far more dangerous. Because if you render every disagreement on any policy and procedure into a definitive identity for the person with whom you disagree, if you view everyone on the other side of anything as being a member of a class of the fundamentally evil, you leave yourself with nothing to do but go to war. That's what you do with actual Nazis. And by the looks of recent events, war is more or less where we're going.

* Thank you Trevanian.

** "A system under which an observer believes that all beliefs must necessarily be aligned in whatever manner the observer himself aligns them."