Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cold and calculating....like a psychopath?



Interesting article over at Scientific American comparing the minds of psychopaths to those of top political, military and scientific thinkers:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-psychopaths-teach-us-about-how-to-succeed

One begs the question...should our junior officers be screened for these kinds of traits? If we were to get into a real war, would we want the sort of person described in the article running our ships:

Or if you are a brilliant neurosurgeon, ruthlessly cool and focused under pressure, you might, like the man I'll call Dr. Geraghty, try your luck on a completely different playing field: at the remote outposts of 21st-century medicine, where risk blows in on 100-mile-per-hour winds and the oxygen of deliberation is thin. “I have no compassion for those whom I operate on,” he told me. “That is a luxury I simply cannot afford. In the theater I am reborn: as a cold, heartless machine, totally at one with scalpel, drill and saw. When you're cutting loose and cheating death high above the snowline of the brain, feelings aren't fit for purpose. Emotion is entropy—and seriously bad for business. I've hunted it down to extinction over the years.”

Right now, it seems that we want personable, "nice" officers that can get along with a variety of people and play nice with everyone else. But once bullets and missiles start flying, once sailors are getting killed, once we actually start losing ships to enemy fire...are these traits going to save us?

In the book One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, Admiral Woodward describes how the mood among his sailors completely changed after the HMS Sheffield was sunk by an Exocet missile. Before that happened, the sailors were overly confident of victory, took their time donning smoke hoods and safety gear, and in general were almost at ease. After the missile shot, everything took a determined stance, and a slow seething anger and gritty determination came over the crews, which would ultimately keep them focused and lead the British to victory.

The cold, calculating killing machine isn't just reserved for special forces and Marine infantry. During World War II, countless submarine captains were fired because they were not aggressive enough against the Japanese (recounted in this USNI article). We bemoan the fact that our leadership now seems more concerned with SAPR-L and IA training then warfighting skills and operations (the meme at the start of this article is only one of a hundred that can be found around the internet). Will we learn from history, or will we repeat it?

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