Why Fight, Part II: I Like It and I’m Good At It

The special forces operator told me the children in Afghanistan need him more than his own kids.

My gut reaction: Tell him he’s off his rocker. His kids need him, too.

But then he explained that the kids in Afghanistan needed someone to fight for them. His wife was strong and could do that for their children in the United States, but he wanted to go fight for other children around the world—the ones who didn’t have someone. He liked it and he was good at it.

“Because they like it” was the first comment I received to last week’s post, “Why Fight?” It took me back to the conversation with the operator. Though it took place a few years ago, it plays on repeat in my mind—I keep going back to it. I have two young children and struggle with parents who leave their own children behind. But I also know that this operator is no different from the doctor working long hours away from home because he believes in helping his patients more than making money, or the social worker spending just as much time with other families as she does with her own. In every profession there are men and women who are passionate and good at what they do. This takes them away from family and friends. But for them, it is that thing they live out loud. The same holds true for warriors on the battlefield.

“War is so obviously evil and wrong that the idea there could be anything good to it almost feels like profanity. . . .” wrote Sebastian Junger, in War.

When men say they miss combat, it’s not that they actually miss getting shot at – you’d have to be deranged – it’s that they miss being in a world where everything is important and nothing is taken for granted. They miss being in a world where human relations are entirely governed by whether you can trust the other person with your life. . . .

For some reason there is a profound and mysterious gratification to the reciprocal agreement to protect another person with your life, and combat is virtually the only situation in which that happens regularly. These hillsides of loose shale and holly trees are where the men feel not most alive—that you can get skydiving—but the most utilized. The most necessary. The most clear and certain and purposeful. If young men could get that feeling at home, no one would ever want to go to war again, but they can’t.

And for the operator, that’s when he felt most “utilized” and alive, too—helping others/saving lives.

Sugar Ray Leonard offered another perspective in The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring:

In the ring, for the first time in my life, I felt I could conquer any force. Strange isn’t it? The ring is where men try to do great harm to one another, and where I felt the safest.

And then there’s Bob Dylan, in a Playboy interview years ago:

Dylan: . . . you have to have belief. You must have a purpose. You must believe that you-can disappear through walls. Without that belief, you’re not going to become a very good rock singer, or pop singer, or folk-rock singer, or you’re not going to become a very good lawyer. Or a doctor. You must know why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Playboy: Why are you doing what you’re doing?

Dylan: [Pause] Because I don’t know anything else to do. I’m good at it.

And just like Dylan’s “very good lawyer” or doctor or musician, the warrior is good at what he does. And, yes, he likes it, too.

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  1. Wiz on December 12, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Yes, they may be good at but what keeps them doing it? Why do new recruits keep joining after 10 years of war? It is one of the only professions where one can shed Nietzsche’s Last Man syndrome…just a thought

    • Khan on December 15, 2011 at 1:22 am

      It starts with the young boy who plays war. It starts with the irrational excitement many young boys get when they watch GI Joe cartoons (or any of that genre) and take up arms in their backyard and battle their friends. As these young boys mature, most will outgrow the excitement of holding a branch (AKA “rifle”) and saying, “bang, bang”, but for a few that feeling is in their psyche, in their hearts. I was and am one of those boys that never outgrew it.

      Everyone has a role in this world. The warrior’s role is to endure hardship, from living with almost nothing, to losing it all in the blink of an eye. The warrior’s role is to protect those that have no protection. The warrior’s role goes as far as protecting those that hate the warriors themselves and wonder why we need warriors in the first place. Evil, whether you believe it to be the monopoly of religion, is real. Evil people do exist. Warriors do the work that good people cannot bear to do, or to try. If not for the warriors, evil in its most sinister forms would be overrunning the world. The world is not perfect. Far from it. But, it’s still a place where beauty can be found, experienced and embraced.

      “We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.” This quote has been in some circles attributed to the author George Orwell. Regardless of whether or not it belongs to him or not, be proud of the men and women (military personnel and police officers) who even after 10 years of war, understand that there is a very thin line between civilization and chaos, and in some measure in their hearts are willing to take up the shield on behalf of civilization and those that sleep safely at night.

  2. Jeff on December 12, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Great post, Callie.

    Do you think, perhaps, that the answers to “Why we fight” would vary depending on whether you are talking to a “warrior” or a citizen soldier?

    “I like it and I’m good at it” might well be the answer for someone driven to become a member of an elite fighting unit. But it seems like it was not the typical answer given by the average GI called up to help fight WWII, or the average soldier fighting in the Civil War.

    In fact, most of the quotes used in your previous post (many of which were from WWII veterans) responded with a “My wife & kids” or “my buddies” as reasons to fight. I don’t think very many, if any at all, responded with anything in the way of “I like it and I’m good at it.”

    That doesn’t invalidate what the SF Operator told you, but it might just point to a very different breed of soldier.

    • Joe on December 14, 2011 at 7:19 pm

      agree agree agree

  3. Jen Young on December 12, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Hi Callie,

    Why fight? is such an important question.

    As someone who is Jill-of-all-trades and feels like a master of nothing, I admire anyone who knows what they are great at. I have been an adult for a while now but I still search for my fight, my raison d’etre.

    I hope you continue this series.

  4. Tim Plaehn on December 13, 2011 at 5:03 am

    I spent 9 years as a cold war fighter pilot and many often comment I was lucky not to have gone to war. My thoughts are yes and no. Training for combat is like training as a professional athlete, but there is no game on Sunday where you can prove you are the best. There is a part of me that wants to know how I would have reacted in war.

  5. Scott on December 13, 2011 at 9:30 am

    This is good on so many levels, thank you. Always thought of myself as more of a lover, but you remind me there’s always a fight if you care about anything in this world.

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