Courage is strange

Wednesday, May 29th, 2019

Courage is strange, Dunlap reminds us:

A guy can be brave one day and a coward the next, and no soldier ever blamed another man for being afraid. Fear itself cannot be cataloged. I knew one man who was afraid of heights — could not climb a ladder in a training camp tower — but he held a Silver Star for bravery. There are some men to whom fear becomes exhilarating excitement, sharpening their wits and speeding their reflexes. I define courage as mental strength, applicable to either mental or physical danger, strain or injury. If a man did not know he was in danger he could not be afraid. Even when the same man was threatened at different times, he might react differently. It probably depended upon how he felt at the moment, whether or not he had enough sleep and food and what his philosophy was that day. A platoon sergeant I knew went through three campaigns in the Pacific with the cavalry and about a month before the end of the Luzon fight turned in his stripes and transferred to a service outfit as a private. His record was fine, but he claimed he was now afraid to go into the jungle any more.

Even I, who was seldom under pressure, acted screwy at times. A Nip artillery shell passed me once and I lost no time at all leaving the locality for a safer one, plenty worried. The very next night another special delivery came in and while intelligent people ran for cover, my first and only thought was to raid the supplies for a box of prunes to eat while on guard later. Safety was secondary. I have no business talking about psychology.


  1. Kirk says:

    The number of variables that go into human response to fear are far wider than many suppose. I think there’s a case to be made for the idea that there is only so much courage in a person, as well as there only being so much fear. You expend all of one, the only thing left is the other…

    Sometimes, you pass through your fears out of simple exhaustion–I overcame a fear of heights by the simple expedient of taking up rock-climbing. At the beginning, it was difficult to do, but after a point, the little auditor part of my mind that runs everything was just sighing, and telling the “FEAR! TALL! HIGH!” screamer to shut up, it was going to happen anyway… And, the screamer reduced itself to darkly muttering about the likely size of the certain-to-occur bloodstain on the rocks below.

    I’ve seen people overdraft their courage accounts, and I’ve seen people overdraft their fear accounts. The guys who do the latter are the ones you want to watch, if nothing else for the sheer dark-ass humor of it all, when they reach that point of not-giving-a-f**k. “Yeah, yeah… We’re all gonna die, you’re gonna kill us, we can’t win… Yadda, yadda, ya… STFU, assh**e, while I beat the ever-loving sh*t out of you…”.

    Had the pleasure of observing several bullying jackasses turned into bloody pulps, over the years, once they’d pushed people too far. That little guy over there? You push him past the limits of his adrenal response, you might be surprised at the results…

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