Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship
Whenever we talk about the nature of our profession, we come up with a list of traits or values we associate with those who protect others and who share our way of life. Every law enforcement agency has its "ethos" or list of habits we expect from each other and love to display on our vehicles.
One of the words that constantly appears on squad cars and badges is "service" or "selfless service," and too often we fail to reflect on the meaning of such terms. Service is a powerful word, and in his book "Warrior Ethos" Stephen Pressfield, former Marine and renowned author of books such as "The Gates of Fire," says it is the one trait that separates a true warrior from just a member of a tribe, like a gangbanger.
Gangs are tribes whose members possess many warrior traits like courage, strength, loyalty, and duty, but they are selfish, not selfless. They are "against" others, not "for" others; this is a key difference between those who serve and protect and those who hunt and prey on people.
Too often people say negative things about the term "warrior" when what they are really against are "members of a tribe." There is no good thing about our society that was not made possible by a warrior's courage, sacrifice, and service. I will never forget my first day in Political Theory 101 when the professor said, "The historical state of mankind is enslaved, at war, and starving. But we live in the rarest societies of all—free, at peace, and overweight!" This singular state of being was purchased with great sacrifice by morally courageous leaders and selfless warriors.
Since the Vietnam War it has been in vogue to denigrate our warriors. The term itself was taboo for many years until it once again earned the status it deserves, prompted by the terrible events of 9/11 and the remarkable performance of our brothers and sisters in the armed services.
That is not to say the "Chattering Class" has ever relented in its criticism of warriors; those serving to protect these same critics and keep them safe in their offices and campuses. When the inspiring and tragic film "Lone Survivor" was released critics cried "propaganda" and did everything they could to discredit this remarkable tribute to our fallen.
These are the same folks who have never seen a police use of force that they couldn't criticize, and arguing with them is often a very frustrating experience. We don't speak the same language and our frames of reference are polar opposites.
A few years ago I read a story about a French village that gave me greater insight into those who don't understand the warrior mindset. After Hitler conquered France and began his "final solution" to exterminate the Jews, a Huguenot village called Le Chambon began helping Jews escape. During the war they saved thousands of would-be Holocaust victims with their courageous, selfless service by creating an underground railroad to safety.
After the war, researchers came to study these "foolish" people; why would they risk everything to protect those they didn't even know, with whom they didn't even share the same faith? The research didn't go very well as it seems the villagers and the researchers didn't speak the same language, didn't share the same "ethos."
The researchers would ask, "How could you risk your life, and your family's, to save strangers?" The villagers would look amazed at the researchers and reply, "What else could we do? They would have been killed if we hadn't saved them."
Selfless service is the way they thought, the actions they lived. When a Jewish mother came to them with her children, chased by Nazis, facing death, the people of Le Chambon simply saved her and her family…and thousands more. To do anything else was not part of their way of living or thinking. One writer said they were merely saving their own souls, but the thousands of survivors they delivered from The Holocaust would say otherwise.
When I first read this story years ago I thought, "It's like a village of cops; going to save strangers in danger without thought for themselves, racing to the sounds of the shots." Selfless service is what you give every shift. Thank you.
Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.