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? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path.     

This from the website Killology Research Group (A Warrior Science Group Partner) from the pen of Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, excerpted from his own book, On Combat, a 2004 publication. This was paraphrased and abbreviated in the film, American Sniper, in a scene where Chris Kyle’s father tells him that there are three kinds of people in the world, “wolves, sheep, and sheepdogs”.

Brothers Michael and Eric Cummings, Michael having been deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan, explore this in a piece for Slate.

They share an unfavorable opinion of this advice/analogy.

Because the analogy is simplistic, and in its simplicity, dangerous. It divides the world into black and white, into a good-versus-evil struggle that the real world doesn’t match. We aren’t divided into sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves. We are all humans.

My own view is that everything you need to know about the analogy should be evident from looking at the name of Grossman’s website KILLOLOGY. 

I am more frightened of learning more about that website than I am for my own safety on the streets of America that is apparently in unrelenting danger, beset on all sides by any permutations of thugs, goons, rapists, terrorists, and plain bad people.

This world view is utterly disturbing to me. Recently I had a Facebook exchange on a friend’s post on some story related to concealed carry of firearms. Another commenter was beside himself in promoting the notion that one should always have protection in the form of a gun.

How sad!

I have gone through life and experienced being sucker punched in a bar, having three guys beat me for yelling at them for nearly running me down as I crossed a street, and one incident in which some idiot kept cutting my car off on the interstate in North Carolina and then blocking the road.

In none of these cases did I wish I had a gun with me and, in none of them…as it turned out…was my life in actual peril. Having a gun I may have been tempted to brandish it, and having brandished it would have been further tempted to fire it and possibly a life would have been lost…a life of a person who was mean and/or misguided but who did not deserve to die.

The Cummings Brothers rightly note that this analogy or defense philosophy applies not only in wartime but domestically. They note the apparently unjustified shootings of unarmed young black men by the presumed sheepdogs. They further note:

After leaving his service as a Navy SEAL and publishing his memoir, Chris Kyle started mentoring other veterans with PTSD. As the movie mentions in its conclusion, Chris Kyle was killed by another veteran, a Marine. Are Marines not sheepdogs? Or did Kyle’s killer turn into a wolf? Most importantly, as the analogy goes, why couldn’t Kyle tell the difference?

These facts as well as the behavior of Kyle himself in Iraq belie the analogy and reveal how utterly facile it is.

An examination of the analogy itself is also revealing. Sheep are healthy productive citizens but only the sheepdogs have a love of fellow citizens? As the Brothers Cummings also point out there is no psychological basis for the delineation between the three designations.

Our nations own history suggests that under the right circumstances, especially in war, those with absolutely no inner tendency towards violence, even on the level of pacifism, can kill. Medal of Honor Awardee Sergeant Alvin York, for instance, is the epitome of such a person.

I recall a story several years ago about a woman whose estranged husband hired a man to kill her. She was an otherwise typical middle-aged housewife and managed to kill her assailant instead of the other way around. That was very much a matter of the survival instinct kicking in, not innate violence erupting.

I, too, believe it is dangerous to accept this analogy of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs and regard it as anything more than an intriguing but plainly flawed theory.

We are not animals. Members of the lower species may indeed have an evolutionary capacity to resort to violence more so in one species or family than others. But humans were granted the capacity to not only react purely violently to perceived dangers but to use their mental faculties to employ other methods to escape danger and keep them safe.

In the end, were one to accept that sheepdogs are potential heroes, their heroism stems from necessity to save the flock they are charged with protecting.

Men like Chris Kyle, for whatever reason, seek to be violent within the context of their environment and are not sheepdogs…gentle but protective when need be.

They are their own breed of predator, many would claim necessary predators for a just cause. That is an argument for another time.

But their battle cries are exuded as lupine howls, not canine barking.

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  • Wayne Muller  On January 22, 2015 at 11:22 AM

    Having not watched the movie or read the piece from Slate, I post at my own peril. The analogy is simplistic, as are all analogies that divide into either/or types. My own opinion is that we are all, in varying measure, capable of the most heinous and also capable of the very best things. To the extent that we do well we suppress the evil, sometimes to the point of doing wonderous things. To the extent that we forgo the good and embrace the evil, we are capable of awful and even tyrannical things. A lover of others can have an awful moment, while the worst tyrant might have a tender spot in their heart for another. The thing is so complex that it can never be unravelled . At least not by other women and men.

  • toadsly  On January 22, 2015 at 11:29 AM

    I saw “American Sniper” and enjoyed it. Eastwood, to his credit, lets you reach your own conclusions about Kyle and Iraq and patriotism. SEALs are a breed apart, to begin with, and the training they undergo probably decreases their humanity. I remember my Dad talking about Japanese snipers on islands he invaded during WWIi, and how devastating it was when a fellow soldier was shot in an area where they thought they were relatively safe.

  • Little_Minx  On January 22, 2015 at 1:56 PM

    Another example of Kyle’s behavior was his defamation of Jesse Ventura with blatant lies in both his book and subsequent public statements, resulting in the latter’s prevailing in a hard-to-win lawsuit. Apparently the Kyle defense boiled down to trying to engender pity for his widow in the court of public opinion, as though that absolved his estate (and the unjust enrichment it gained due to Kyle’s lies) of legal responsibility.

    “Jesse Ventura wins $1.8 million in damages against Chris Kyle, slain Navy SEAL sniper”:

    July 29, 2014

    A jury in Minnesota awarded $1.845 million in damages Tuesday to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, deciding that he was defamed by the late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle who said he punched Ventura out in a bar in 2006 after [he claimed] the former governor said the SEALs “deserved to lose a few” in war.

    The news emerged after six days of deliberations in St. Paul, Minn. The award includes $500,000 in defamation damages and $1.345 million for “unjust enrichment,” according to the Star-Tribune of Minnesota. “Unjust enrichment” is typically awarded in cases in which the court finds that one person has unjustly or by chance made money at the expense of another, requiring restitution.

    […] Kyle wrote in his 2012 book, “American Sniper,” that he punched out a celebrity while mourning the death of Navy SEAL and future Medal of Honor recipient, Master at Arms 2nd Class Michael Monsoor.

    Kyle did not identify Ventura by name in the book, but said that he swung at the individual after he “started running his mouth about the war and everything and anything he could connect to it.” That included President George W. Bush and deployed SEALs, who “were doing the wrong thing, killing men and women and children and murdering,” the man said, according to Kyle’s book. Ventura said the whole episode was fabricated.

    Kyle, who was shot to death in 2013 in Texas, alleged that he tried to get the man — identified only as “Mr. Scruff Face” — to keep it down, and he responded by saying the SEALs in the bar “deserve to a lose a few.” The man eventually took a swing at him, Kyle alleged, and all hell broke loose.

    “Being level-headed and calm can last only so long,” Kyle said in his book. “I laid him out. Tables flew. Stuff happened. Scruff Face ended up on the floor.”

    Kyle later said in media interviews while promoting his book that “Scruff Face” was Ventura, who served in the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams during the Vietnam War era. […]

    Legal experts had anticipated that it would be a tough case for Ventura to win. But the jury found in his favor 8-2, media reports said. Ventura’s lawyer, David B. Olsen told reporters after the verdict was read that there were no winners in the case.

    “We don’t know what others may think, but certainly with this generation of young SEALs, we don’t know that his reputation can ever be repaired,” Olsen said, according to media reports.

    • Little_Minx  On January 22, 2015 at 1:58 PM

      It’s worth noting that Ventura filed suit while Kyle was still alive; after his death, his estate continued to profit from Kyle’s lies.

      • Devildog  On January 24, 2015 at 6:57 PM

        He’s dead-leave him alone.

        • Little_Minx  On January 25, 2015 at 10:07 AM

          No, because ill-gotten profits as a result of his defamations against Ventura were still accruing to his estate. Unlike criminal prosecutions, civil cases can continue against an estate following the original respondent’s death. Right, UMOC?

          • umoc193  On January 28, 2015 at 1:51 PM

            I don’t think DD meant “leave him alone” as to the civil suit. I’ll hazard a guess that he thinks criticism at this point is piling on. That’s a fair point of view. I just disagree.

            • Devildog  On January 28, 2015 at 3:39 PM

              Right on UMOC-except for your disagreement. He’s dead. One can comment about broader things than him personally. Not only is he dead but he served his country as he was told to do. RIP!

              • umoc193  On January 29, 2015 at 2:08 AM

                This is scary but we seem to be more of one mind here than our history would reveal.

                It is not Kyle’s fault that he was assigned the job he had. (Unless I’ve missed something about him eagerly volunteering for that) And certainly how he absorbed his experiences and translated them in his post war life are worthy of exploration. But since the accounts I have read indicate he was anything but the troubled personage portrayed on screen, that misrepresentation does a disservice to the thousands of veterans who were so affected.

                And Kyle himself is not to blame for that. His written bio…again what I know comes from others’ observations…made no attempt to suggest he was so troubled.

                Whether that is a troubling aspect of his story is also worthy of discussion, particularly in the context of what our wars of choice due to those who serve, good and bad.

                And if I have not made myself clear here or previously. I neither view all such veterans exclusively, as prime subjects for extreme mental anguish, nor if they don’t exhibit those signs, as simply cold-blooded killers.

                I have always said the best way to support our troops is to not allow craven politicians to put them in harm’s way unless for the actual defense of our country. And that ain’t happened in 70 years.

                • Devildog  On January 29, 2015 at 9:21 AM

                  Don’t worry UMOC, even a broken clock is correct twice a day.

                  But what is this, “unless he eagerly volunteered for that”? Do you have a problem with volunteering for sniper duty-or any other job in the military(guiding drones, dropping bombs from up high, etc.)? The “craven politicians” pursue war, you see it as your duty to serve, you do what you think you do best to win! Is there a problem somewhere there?

                  • umoc193  On January 30, 2015 at 1:16 AM

                    Yes it is craven politicians who have been sending our young men…and now women…needlessly off to war since 1945.

                    As to seeing a duty to serve, there are two ways of looking at it.

                    1. No matter your personal thoughts you follow your oath.

                    2. You follow your conscious and refuse to participate.

                    The first way, which is almost exclusively adhered to, certainly allows for a more orderly military and I’m not going to attack that.

                    The second way leads to the old question, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”

                    The better choice in my book, if adhered to on all sides. That spoils the politicians’ craven little power games. Ain’t gonna happen.

                • Little_Minx  On January 29, 2015 at 8:39 PM

                  Perhaps the real issue is a matter of degree, i.e., how eagerly someone volunteers for sniper duty. There’s surely such a thing as too eager, as in psychopathological eagerness (presumably there are tests to measure that) — although I don’t know whether that was the case with Kyle or not. I’d prefer to think that the military would winnow out such candidates.

                  • Devildog  On January 29, 2015 at 9:16 PM

                    There’s no issue, real or otherwise. I would hope the military winnows out those who volunteer for dangerous missions as they may have a death wish that could jeopardize the mission.

  • umoc193  On February 1, 2015 at 6:21 PM

    Here is another perspective on the movie from the screenwriter himself.

Please give me your thoughts.

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