On War

*New Classes*
April 18, 2014
Comment: ‘Tacticool’ Weapons Manipulation vs. Weapons Manipulation Training
April 23, 2014

I was recently sent this email from a student, which I have so far been unable to answer:

Hey Max.. 
A bit of a deep question for you.  
How the f**k have you stayed so sane after everything that you have seen and been through?? 
There are so many guys that get so screwed up from seeing half of what you have, it makes me wonder.  
I am not a violent man by nature. When I was young, and the hormones were over the top, I used to fight some. I got my ass whipped a few times, and whipped some ass other times. But considering what one may have to do if fighting for one’s life is a whole different ballgame.  
I tend to believe that anything that anyone will be successful at starts in the mind, and has to be visualized first, but I could be way off base there.  
So, how does one approach this in their mind? Should the time ever come where you have to take the life of another, how do you prepare for that?  
Well, yesterday I found myself unexpectedly ‘going live’ on my farm in  the presence of my wife and neighbor: ‘Wolves in the Barn’ – it sort of ripped the bandaid right off.
I’m not sure I can answer the questions above, but here are some thoughts. Snapshots into the soul:
The student is right about it all being in the mind, about training and visualization. Otherwise, how do you keep from freezing?
This seems to be a good excuse to throw some Sabaton music into a post (I am currently enjoying a bit of that). So let’s take this from the top. We all know that war is wrong, yes? We all know that there is no glory in war? We are told that all the time. War is a tragedy:

So war is to be avoided, until it isn’t.

Tragedy indeed. I have an alternative view. Let’s take a few snapshots:

You are an elite, selected and trained. You are a band of brothers. Shock troopers. Eyes up, chests to the enemy. You know you will be given the hardest missions, and casualties are expected to be high. But that is why you are there.

You are not there for the politicians, or the fat selfish civvies back home. Screw them. You will never expect anything from them. They don’t care, and neither do you. You are there because you are the best, because you are a professional soldier. You don’t do it for the military leadership. Screw those assholes too. You do it for your buddies, for your brothers, because you are the best, and you don’t want to let them down. You do it for the proud tradition of those who went before you, and who stand next to you.

In the miserable cold dawn, you mutter and mumble. Cuss and swear. But you are always ready. Your morale is unshaken, however much you complain about the stupidity of whatever you are tasked with. You don’t really care what the mission is, you just want to do your job.

You will always be ready. You will defend the redoubt to the last round, or be the forlorn hope into the hopeless breach. The worst you fear is mutilation. Death will see you in Valhalla. The greatest fear is the pain that your loss will cause those that love you. You want to live not for yourself, but for others. particularly when you have a wife and children, because you want to be there in their life, so they will not feel the pain of loss.

You keep the flame of aggression burning low, deep inside you, ready to go. You can drink chai with people in the morning, and wish them no ill will, and be fighting them later that day, determined to kill them.

Because you know about The Quickening. You know about the visceral excitement that comes when it all starts. You know how the sound of the guns uplifts you.

There is fear in the quiet times. You rationalize it away. As you gird yourself with your armor and your heavy gear, you feel the comfort of it, the pressure of it around your torso. Knowing that it will not help you when the molten metal rips through the vehicle, you feel comfort in it anyway.

You feel the excitement, the oddness of the place that is combat, the different dimension. There is no fear there, just action. Everything feels different, and it is in that strange place that you do your work.

As you wait in line to load onto the back of the CH47 Chinook, standing in the heat of the turbine engine exhaust, you feel it.

As you feel the G forces pull as the chopper shoulders the rise, swooping nap of the earth, looking across and past the door gunner at the star wars villages below.

The long hours of nothing as you drive the roads like a road warrior. When it happens, it happens quick. Visualize, be ready. Act.

The enemy rounds cracking over and past you as you walk your strike onto their position, dueling in the desert. You hammer rounds into them, smashing them.

RPG’s bursting.

The eternity between the concussive WHAM of the IED, and when the small arms fire starts.

The brother staggering, ear drums burst. The taste of explosives in the air.

Rolling up on the compound, breaching, into the house, go left, go right, no hesitation.

Weaving through the ambush site, vehicles burning, hammering your machine gun at shadowy enemy in the palm trees. Looking down and seeing the burned bodies, stiff blackened arms outstretched, dead eyes staring. Who laid the vehicle door over that dead guy? Bizarre. Looking up the road and seeing the monstrous boat like APCs, rolling towards you through the desert haze, coming like the cavalry.

The sniper in the minaret. The brother down. In the back of the APC, rushing towards the FOB, hands red and bloody. His aorta hit, dead on arrival.

The brothers with their legs torn off, after the EFP ripped its molten slugs through the armored SUV.

The sudden rip of rounds into the roadway. The clang of enemy fire off the vehicle armor. Hammering away yet again, you see their firing positions on the rooftops across the waste ground.

Or when your weapon is the radio, and you call it in, and the gods hammer the enemy from the sky.

After you get home, you are tired. Oh so very tired. You need to rest. You drive like a maniac, avoiding trash in the road. Sometimes the anger bubbles up. Mainly the tears come in the quiet times.

But you are still ready to go. You know about The Quickening.

You mourn those who did not make it back, but you get on with making a life and family.

You never cared before what the mission was, you were just there to fight. Now you have awoken. You thought that you were always fighting for truth and freedom, on the side of justice. Perhaps you weren’t. Perhaps you were duped.

Now you see evidence that tyranny is at home also. You are older. Your knees creak and your back hurts. But you are still a soldier, and you stay ready.

You know that when you hear the sound  of the guns, you will be ready to go again. Instantly. Perhaps you will die in your bed, or perhaps you will yet make it to Valhalla.

All you want to do is raise a family, live quiet, and farm. You will not start a fight, you will not start a war, but if it comes, you will be ready. Always ready.

Hope for the best, but if evil rides, prepare for the worst. Train.

This post may make no sense at all. If so, I will resume normal programming shortly.

Wolves are loose in the Shire. Winter is coming.

‘Green fields and Blue Skies.’



  1. Brian says:

    Great essay, should be shared widely

  2. Eric says:

    Damn Max…

    That was an excellent “answer” to a very difficult question.

    To be honest, it chokes me up a bit reading it, imagining it, visualizing it. Not out of fear mind you.

    Violence may indeed find it’s way to my door some day, and I accept that. Whatever fear I feel is not for me, but those I am charged with caring for.

    It chokes me up because men, good men, otherwise peaceful men, have to entertain, consider the possibility of, and live with the memories of such things.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Perioikoi says:

    Max, this blog post was one that distilled a great amount of experience and had an almost poetic quality. Maybe this is just a taste of a future book? Imagine Max velocity tactical and his book of poetry. While poetry is downplayed by many hard living types in modern times it’s been written by warriors and about war for millennia.

    “I wish that strife would vanish away from among gods and mortals, and gall, which makes a man grow angry for all his great mind, that gall of anger that swarms like smoke inside of a man’s heart and becomes a thing sweeter to him by far than the dripping of honey.”― Homer, The Iliad

  4. Chris says:

    I appreciate Max’s answer on this but i want to take it a step further and say that not all soldiers that go to war, experience it and come are to be thought of as ticking time bombs or an alcoholic pill popping socio-path. Many soldiers have been down range, seen horrors that no person should ever experience and drive on in life. Not a 100% solution, i have subordinates that have suffered a lot after being in the suck, one even took his life, but we know that there is life after such an experience

  5. Roadkill says:

    Rome sends me 100 men,80 should just go back, 19 are soldiers, but oh, for the one warrior to bring them all home. Some things never change. This quote was from a Roman centurion, but for the life of me I can’t remember his name. He was fighting I believe in Gaul.

  6. Philip says:

    On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs – Dave Grossman

    “If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.”

    By the author’s definition, Max is one of the small percentage that can process the violence successfully. Not all soldiers are equipped to do that, leading to the PTSD epidemic.

    Nice article, Max.

  7. Sourdough Albert Johnson says:

    “This post may make no sense at all. If so, I will resume normal programming shortly”

    Sorry, it made perfect sense. You at your literary best. Thank you, it was a gift.

  8. RobRoySimmons says:

    I would echo Chris’ comment, at least as a reminder. I don’t know shit about getting shot at, fighting I’ve done but that’s over in 30 seconds of tussling. But what I know is that civvy life is fucking for the most part a boring bitch fest especially in latter day Murka ran by the Big Mommas of HR. So you take a young man full of piss and vinegar take him thru the exhilarating experiences of war where there is some concept of honor and then bring him back to the Murka which is run for the benefit of the voters for the D-tard party, that has got to suck for the young man.

    The book “Breakfast with the Dirt Cult” IMO is a good example of a young man navigating between those rocks of war and life in latter day Murka.

  9. Skittles says:

    Well written. Couldnt make it through with my eyes dry. I imagine others leaked some too. Even ole Max as he wrote it. Its a raw open collections of thoughts and feelings. I will say all men come bqck from war different. All have PTSD. But not all deal with it the same. How one deals with it is based on how they are wired i my opinion. Some drink. Some do pills. Others find and engrosse themselves in religion or education. Theres infinite options. Personally i try to put it in a little box on the top shelf of the closet of my mind. Only to be opened intentionally and when im ready. Sometimes it opens accidently. And thats when you have to fight the demons and put them back in so to speak. But i will say this… war is the most horrible thing but the most addictive thing. Stronger than any drug. The rush of adrenaline the thrill of the fight. For lack of better terms, the ultimate sport/game (and no im not insinuating it is either or to be taken lightly) so the original question of how do you stay sane? For me i ask what is sane? And who says i am? I just hide it better. You arent crazy unless you get caught. Make no mistake war will change you. All the way to the core but not the core itself. And as Max made the post of wolves in the barn…. the wolves that will be hunting us will require and deserve the darkest violence that you can muster. And after you will have to find your own way to stay sane. Talking with your brothers always helps. Just my thoughts.

    • Submariner says:

      “But i will say this… war is the most horrible thing but the most addictive thing.”

      For centuries evil men have harnessed this force and used this to their own ends.

      Awarded the Medal of Honor twice, Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler, USMC (ret.) said:

      “War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

      I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

      I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.”


      • Skittles says:

        No arguement there. I was referring to the more personal aspect of war. The reason a lot of guys come home and turn to drugs or alcohol, is that they seek to replace the high that comes from combat. They cant so they drink more and take more drugs. A therapist i saw at one point had an interesting theory and had submitted it to medicine review board. Her theroy was that the adrenaline gland is controlled by a muscle that regulates its output. When in modern combat you go from 0 to 10 instantly ie an ied going off or an ambush. There is no ramp up. Its instant. Through numerous occaaions like this that muscle because over stressed, damaged, or builds a memory of sort. So thats why after returning home combat vets seem to “explode.” They have only to settings. Off or full blast on. Now back to the drug analogy. Adrenaline is addictive. So when you know war gives you that high you seek it. You find yourself volunteering for patrol even though you just got back, etc. Thats why even though its horrible you start to crave it. And why when you return home a lot of guys have som many problems. They cant replace that high. Regardless of the reason for the war to begin with.

  10. Eric says:

    Just a guess…

    I believe that much of the suffering brought about by war is from having one’s worldview blown to pieces. As Max so eloquently put it:

    “You never cared before what the mission was, you were just there to fight. Now you have awoken. You thought that you were always fighting for truth and freedom, on the side of justice. Perhaps you weren’t. Perhaps you were duped.

    Now you see evidence that tyranny is at home also.”

    So many go for what they believe to be noble purposes, only to find they were pawns in a bigger game, and after they have left the best parts of themselves on the field of battle, they are cast aside, with very little in the way of aid in dealing with their demons.

    Maybe it is different when you are fighting for yourself, your family, and your way of life on your home soil? No less terrifying, no less brutal, but different?

    Again, just a guess.

  11. ddub says:

    That was the most moving thing I’ve read in a long time.

  12. Nick M says:

    That is the best first-hand insight into war and combat through the eyes of an experienced warrior and combat veteran I have read.

    Thank you for taking the time, Max! I agree, that was deeply moving!

  13. wrench2tc says:

    Personally I think iraq was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. I wouldnt trade the experience for all the money in the world but I wouldnt give a damn penny for any more of it. That not to say if the wolf is at my door I wont ventilate his skull and piss on his dead carcass though

  14. DaShui says:

    If one calls war a tragedy, then you have to go further and say life itself is a tragedy,something that shouldnt have happened as life needs death.

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