There is an ongoing discussion in the blogosphere about a Mumbai photographer who took a photo of one of the terrorists, but who later complained that the police did not take out their guns and shoot back.

Well, one reason might be that the chances of shooting and hitting the target with a small handgun before you yourself are killed by automatic fire is small.

But the real reason could be training.

People in high stress situations tend to freeze. This is not only in times of danger, but in any emergency: bystanders don’t do CPR or the Heimlich maneuver…no one helps the cops chasing a suspect by tripping the guy…people “freeze” when they are in the middle of an intersection and a speeding car comes out of nowhere and is going to hit them.

In times of stress, the body releases adrenaline, a “fight or flight” hormone…but often the brain disconnects and finds it hard to do the logical thing.

How does one overcome this? Training…Doctors and medical personnel are taught the “ABC” of CPR…part of the training is “turning off” the idea that you are working on a real live person with a loving family (which is why many hospitals ask relatives to leave the room). You don’t really “decide” what to do, you are trained to do things automatically so that you do it.

Firemen, police, the military, airline pilots, and others whose job is mainly routine but who may face emergency situations similarly benefit from training on how to respond to acute emergencies.

Policemen rarely are in situations where they shoot a gun, even in the more violence prone USA, so why blame the policemen in the train station who froze in a time of danger? One doubts many of them have ever shot their pistols or received training on how to react to such a situation.

As one commenter noted:

The term is inertia. In a high stress situation most people will tend to keep on doing whatever it is that has kept them alive up to that point. If that means cowering behind cover so be it.

Ironically, the military has long recognized the situation, which is why there is such a thing as basic training. Nevertheless, the inexperienced soldier is the most common casualty in war.

But there is another more subtle problem: ordinary people don’t kill. In World War II, one problem was soldiers who didn’t use their weapons. I’ve read various percentages, but it was quite high (about a quarter of combat troops). The reason is hesitation to kill another human being face to face.

Indeed, a recent VA study of Post Traumatic stress syndrome in veterans reveals that PTSS is 40% higher in veterans who killed someone in combat than in veterans who suffered a concussion from a roadside bomb.

Humans just don’t like to kill; about five percent of any population are sociopaths, and kill easily since they have no conscience, but the other 95% have to overcome the emotional taboo against killing. In a world of millions of war dead, this taboo can obviously be overcome, but usually by distancing one’s conscience from the killing by various means. Even then, even when the killing is done for good reasons (e.g. self defense, in a just war) normal people often learn to live with a deep regret and sorrow over the one they killed.

Which brings up another fact that has implications on Indian Pakistani relationship:

The fact that these young thugs were hand picked and trained to kill civilians at short range, and actually did it, suggests that they had undergone professional training.This fact suggests that their training was done in a third country, since not everyone can train inexperienced soldiers to become hit men. It also implies a lot of money, and one clue to those who devised the plot may be the money trail.

One of the problems in Pakistan is that their military includes those sympathetic to various terror organizations (in this case, those who sympathize with those who want Kashmir to belong to Pakistan).

Rooting out these individuals is a delicate problem, since many have skills badly needed by their country, and there is always the danger that the disgruntled soldiers could stage a coup. (This is not only a Pakistani problem: the Philippines, with it’s many attempted military coups and many who sympathize with leftist insurgents faces the same problem).

Pakistan faces it’s own problem of internal terrorists, and many there sympathize with India, because they too have suffered from terrorism.

But after each attack, more and more ordinary people feel revulsion against such killers, and are willing to support an honest government to destroy them.

AFP photo from AlJezeerah of anti terrorism protesters in Lahore.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Makaipablog

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