Monday, December 21, 2015

The Anatomy of Courage

 Image result for courage

 I received a request to for a post that continues to look at courage. I chose to use the 2007 edition of the classic, The Anatomy of Courage: The Classic WWI Study of the Psychological Effects of War by Lord Moran and in particular the introduction penned by General Sir Peter de la Billiere. De La Billiere explains that when he was commanding officer of the British SAS, he instructed every knew recruit purchase a copy of this eminently readable book so they might take Moran's experience into battle with them.

What does De La Billiere have to say about courage?

Courage conquers fear. Fighting in war creates an environment where fear is prevalent, and unless courage prevails, all is lost.

Courage and fear are in constant conflict, for without fear there would be no requirement for courage.

Intelligent people are more readily subject to fear, because in a battle they have a vivid appreciation of what is happening all around them, and of the threat that danger poses to them and their unit. An intelligent person has to make a positive effort to control himself, and may well break down because of his temperament and imagination. On the other hand, an unimaginative person, who fails to appreciate the significance of a threat, may achieve deeds that appear to be brave but are less so, simply because he lacks imagination. Courage is an individual's exercise of mind over fear through self-discipline.

The most important personal requirement for those who go to war is to understand the enigma of courage and its critical importance in overcoming fear.

Lord Moran summed it up: Courage is willpower.

There are a number of researchers who postulate a basic set of emotions. Only Magda Arnold in 1960 included courage as an emotion. Given the above is a fair representation of what people think courage is and no other researcher refers to courage as an emotion, we can safely assume that courage refers to willpower that is used to overcome the effects of fear. The use of intellect to overcome emotion.

The effects of fear? Emotion is not just a feeling. It is a process that involves an appraisal that elicits a subjective feeling that motivates an instinctive action tendency that an automatic physiological reaction prepares the body to enact. The effects of fear that courage overcomes is the action tendency of flight. What about the physiological effects of fear?

The physiological effects of fear are unfortunately considered under the ambiguous and abstract concept of stress. Bruce Siddle's work is based on the debilitating effects of the physiological response on survival and combat performance. It would appear that courage will not effect those debilitating effects on survival and combat performance as fear continues to be experienced when using willpower to be courageous.

There are more instinctive behavioural responses associated with fear than the simplistic fight-or-flight model. For instance, tonic immobility (often referred to as freeze) is an involuntary catatonic state. Does courage overcome fear induced tonic immobility?

When a person is described as fearless, a quality much admired in battle, how do you know they did not experience fear unless you ask them? If they are fearless then be definition they cannot be brave. Maybe they lack imagination as De La Belliere suggests. In like manner, how do you know a person experienced fear when performing a 'courageous act.' Medals are awarded for courageous acts, however, are they first quizzed over their emotional state at the time?

Cprl Ben Robers-Smith explains how training kicked in when his mates were pinned down and he charged a Taliban position for which he was awarded a VC. Training (including stress training) is designed to lessen or negate fear. If that training is successful then there can be no courage as courage requires fear as De La Belliere explains.

A lot of people refer to fight-or-flight but they don't understand the concept. They associate it only with fear, however, Walter Cannon, the originator of the concept associated flight with fear and fight with anger, and that fight was only enacted when fear is obstructed. Nature's way to overcome fear to support fight behaviour is to change the emotion from fear to anger. If a person performs a 'courageous act' while angry, as Nature designed, is that courage?

Countering Fear in War: The Strategic Use of Emotion refers to a strategy of turning fear into anger. This strategy is commonly taught to women in women's self-defence courses. The berserk warrior tradition takes it further to rage. This strategy is taken straight from Nature's playbook. In all of these instances, 

A recent study concluded, based on the responses of 51 winners of some bravery award, that those acts were by-and-large the result of instinctive responses to risk one's life to save another. They were awarded bravery awards but there is no mention of fear. There is no mention of willpower to overcome fear as they were split second decisions taken without conscious thought. Intuitive as the study refers to them as. Are these medal recipients courageous?

It appears to me that the term courage is often used by third parties to describe the actions of another when taking action in the face of danger. That is why I refer to 'courageous acts' as they are acts that others find courageous. How many bravery/gallantry/courageous medal recipients of those lauded as 'heroes' in the press refer to themselves as brave, gallant, courageous, or a hero?

Isn't it funny though, most people will not describe themselves as courageous, however, we have no such hesitation in describing and deriding ourselves for being cowards.

It is important we understand what we mean by courageous because we praise, respect, and denigrate those who do and do not exhibit courage when in a dangerous situation. The military rely on the concept of courage and attempt to instill it within their personnel, so it behoves one to have an understanding of what this man-made, artificial construct is. It's man-made and artificial because there is no courage nor cowardice in nature. 

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