I don’t think I was courageous in anything I did. It was more like a practical application of decisions based on the most favorable potential outcome. My thought process had nothing to do with courage. It was more like one of Philip K. Dick’s robots. I was a difference engine that did things based on the highest probability of success. Success was survival of myself and my men. Survival was often better accomplished by the elimination of bad guys shooting at me. I wasn’t doing tactical calculus out there, I was trying to live. Sometimes that meant taking chances with your life and/or the lives of others in order to secure the best possible outcome. Staying where you were and hoping for the best rarely was a good decision. And yes, for all you non-military out there, making NO decision is also a decision (often the worst possible one). Courage, valor and all that never had shit to do with my choices. You find a way to keep yourself and your friends breathing and that’s it.
Getting shot didn’t really bother me the first time it happened. It took me out of the task I was focused on. I had to reevaluate the necessity of what I was doing and decide whether it contributed to the greater good of the situation. I stopped the task all together because getting shot again wasn’t worth the job. It reminded me that personal safety was something I should keep track of. The three ‘B’s of combat (Bombs, Bullets and Bad guys) have a way of telling you about the most important thing in life. LIFE.
I think the observer of war would like to believe soldiers run selflessly into the fray in defense of country, honor and brethren. Physical courage is idealized, sensationalized and held on a high pedestal as one of humankind’s greatest traits. We don’t find honor in death itself, we find honor in the reason for death. As observers of war, we worship the sacrifice made if we deem the reason good enough.
I never thought a mission was worth dying for. I don’t think any of my friends did either. We did what we did because it was what we were supposed to do. We signed up for a job, we did that job together and we believed that we were doing the right thing. We had a sense of purpose. Humans search for purpose. Soldiers are gifted it. Purpose is the life blood of those that choose to serve. They live and die on the wings of it. There’s a lesson there for all of us. I think soldiers get depressed after coming home because they lose their sense of purpose. I think people out in the world get sad because they don’t have purpose and may have never found it. The connection between perceived courage, purpose and self-worth is undeniable. It is the triangle of strength that all great people move from.
I don’t actually believe courage exists as an internal trait. I believe it is an external representation of the sense of true purpose. So is bravery. To be either you must have reason for it. You must have a strong sense of why and what you are doing it for. Throughout all of history and all the silly movies we watch we see the same thing. We are compelled to put personal welfare aside for the right purpose.