A Marine and Iraq Veteran reviews The Hurt Locker… (This Won’t be Pretty)

I wanted to make it clear that to veterans, The Hurt Locker is one of the worst movies about war ever made. It’s simply a really terrible film. If you combine the over the top spectacle of Inglourious Basterds, the rampant and unjustifiably cruel depiction of military veterans of Brothers, the complete lack of justifiable research into actual battlefield conditions of Inglorious Bastards, you have the Hurt Locker. This movie marvelled in one thing only – it was made to play on the emotions of moviegoers who want to feel like they cared about the military over the past 10 years, but never actually invested any time into understanding the conflicts in which they were involved, i.e. people who actually didn’t know or care anything about the veterans or what they are doing overseas during the years it mattered.

I mean, every movie gets some things wrong when converting from real life to the big screen. Inglorious Bastards didn’t even pretend it tried, though. The Hurt Locker, however, took great pains into bringing in quality researchers and advisors and then just said, “Screw it. We’re doing whatever we want, anyway.” and then telling the world that they did great research. Honestly, it was ludicrous that they marketed this as accurate on any level.

I just want to make one glaring point of contention I have with the movie. I was in a unit that had EOD teams both times I deployed to Iraq. I can tell you that each and every single time that an EOD team rolls out, they do so with a large team of security either in the form of military police or infantry. That means as many as four vehicles, loaded with troops, each and every time. That one fact, that single completely unavoidable reality, completely negates the entire movie. I mean watch the movie and ask yourself at any of the dozens of thrilling plot moments, “Hmm… I wonder how this would be different if there was fifteen people with guns, rocket launchers, and air strikes available?” Remember that scene where he just so happens to also be a sniper? Or the one where he and the other bomb techs just go retarded and start kicking in doors like they are infantry? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Quite frankly, someone wanted to tell a very particular story and when confronted with the facts that it wasn’t possible, they did it anyway and no one knew better to care. I still consider it a crime that so many people are so ill informed of the conflicts of the past decade and a half that they believe this movie depicts any semblance of reality for EOD teams in Iraq. Frankly, if you’ve already seen it, you can’t be helped. If you haven’t and care at all about the military and veterans, or even doing a good job telling an accurate depiction of events that were happening at the very same time the movie was made, never ever do.

I’m sure from a perspective of cinematography, it probably pushed the industry forward somehow, but as far as communicating one of the most important social issues of our time, not to mention an ongoing conflict at the time, it failed so miserably, it set veterans issues back ten years. I want people to look at it this way. We have seen LBGT rights and issues get a lot of press and people are now trying very hard to see things from their perspective. It’s not acceptable anymore to portray them as the wildly stereotypical flamboyant clowns circa the era of Robin William’s “The Bird Cage”. They’re people who deserve respect and to be portrayed in a realistic manner. However, the veteran population is allowed to be portrayed in any manner in which the world pleases to fulfil their narrative, from bloodthirsty murderers like (Battle for Haditha), psychologically scared societal dangers (Brothers), impossible killing machines (American Sniper). Now, why is it that I brought in the LBGT stance into this? Because veterans outnumber the estimated homosexual population in the United States by at least 2:1. Why is it that one group is allowed to be so egregiously stereotyped when the others aren’t?

The Hurt Locker is everything wrong with how veterans are portrayed. It combines all of the negative biases people associate with veterans into one compact two hour blockbuster. They’re ruthless killers, they’re psychologically damaged, they’re unreliable, they’re dangerous to their team members, all they are good for is fighting. Given that we have not seen a military movie come out in the last ten years, that I am aware of, that features war veterans who aren’t any of these things, in fact, that may have benefited from their time in service, is it no surprise to people that they are having such a hard time integrating to the society that sent them to war in the first place?

Basically, the Hurt Locker is nothing more than war pornography. It makes people who want to see an action movie which portrays broken and desperate American soldiers suffering pointlessly not feel bad for enjoying it because the movie pretends to be bringing attention to these issues. Sadly, most of these issues are exaggerated to the point of ad absurdum because of movies like this, but that is the only context most Americans now have. The Hurt locker failed miserably in that they set out to make a modern war movie about real veterans issues, but not doing any quality research, not showing realistic veteran’s perspectives, not showing respect to real people at the time, and not communicating the real nature of a war that was currently still happening.


American-Sniper-2014If you enjoyed the review of Hurt Locker, make sure to check out my review of American Sniper. They did a lot better.

Review of American Sniper from Marine Iraq War Veteran

unnamedJon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.

The Arts of War

There is a science of warfare, but there are also the arts of the war. The science of warfare centers on matters of logistics. They focus on issues of the economic scarcity of warriors, the psychology of denizens occupied territories, and the grand movements of the strongest forces to the weakest pressure points of an enemy’s regime. These are the concentration of Generals and world leaders. The arts of warfare, however, are the acts of combat which must be learned, practiced, and mastered by the individual warriors themselves. They are the subtle placement and gentle flexing of the Brachio-radial muscles over the carotid artery, severing blood flow to the brain and knocking out an enemy in seconds. It is the resistance to jerk the trigger and break the sight alignment, gently squeezing it slowly until the rifle fires, seemingly on its own. It is the practice of coordinating attacks between individuals and small units, leveraging fewer warriors to exponentially greater effect through the use of fire and maneuver. It is knowledge to save a wounded friends life when there is literally no one else there to do it better.

Recruits in boot camp are introduced to the basic military arts. Marine recruits go through several different training cycles and will learn skills in Martial Arts, Small Unit Tactics, Hand-to-Hand Combat, Emergency First-Aid, and classes varying from rank structure, to Marine Corps history. They will also receive nutritional training, maintenance of gear, and physical education. After their first month, they will progress to learn rifle marksmanship, survival, and the beauty of the forced march.

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Hand-to-Hand Combat

Among the first lessons recruits receive will be in hand-to-hand combat. Many branches don’t emphasize personal combat, feeling that long after the age automatic machineguns, autonomous drones and atomic weapons, exchanges of the fist and feet are outdated. Some nations and militaries don’t even practice them at all. The Marines, however, see it as a necessity because of the way they fight. They took this belief so far, that they created their own martial-arts fighting style. This is MCMAP, the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. This specialized form of combat martial arts is built on philosophies other than self-defense, but actual offense and the ability to deliver lethal strikes with not just the fist, but knives, and an empty rifle, or even, as the moto One Mind Any Weapon states, any common object which happens to be lying around. It should also be mentioned that the style has incorporated many non-lethal restraints for crowd control and policing scenarios, useful over the past decade and a half of insurgency warfare. Recruits will spend several days training in pits of pulverized rubber tires, perfect for hard landings, practicing the basics of this fighting style. By the end of boot camp they will receive the first belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP).

Rifle Marksmanship

If the Army is a camping trip, and the Air Force is a club, than the Marines are a cult, one whose most important rituals and religious rites center around their rifles. This tradition began as far back as Marine sharpshooters fighting in the Revolutionary War dangling high in ships’ riggings and nets, picking off enemy officers and troops engaged in naval battles. It continued on when during the World War I Battle at Belleau Wood, Marine sharpshooters sniped enemy German forces from well beyond the German’s ability to reach them, recording numerous kills from well beyond 700 yards. Today, during the second phase of their training, recruits spend more than two full weeks dedicated to the art of delivering deadly fire down range. It is so important that the drill instructors actually lighten-up to allow the recruits to focus.

PT – Physical Training

Physical training takes many forms, but the physical exercises aren’t usually the most difficult part of recruit training. They generally center on building instant obedience to orders over the actual physical stress involved in the exercises. Few obstacles are so difficult that most recruits can’t complete them. Often, they just need to be pushed. Usually, listening and doing what you are told will get recruits through the exercise and get out of the situation before you are yelled at. Some of the obstacles are more mental than physical: a high rope, a pool, a mountain. It’s rare that you will see a training exercise that breaks a recruit. That’s mostly because, for most, physically finishing the exercises isn’t the most difficult part.

As important as these, but without the room to elaborate on them each are the many other skills warriors must master to win and come home safely. I remember visceral reactions to the first aid lessons; graphic, gory and unsettling, but responsible for thousands of lives saved throughout the years. Military law, customs and courtesies, and military history are also necessary. They are crucial to the continuation of a culture literally built to ensure vital mission accomplishment in a competition between nations at war. Sadly, though, I can’t speak to all these skills here. It pulls too far from the point of the series, answering why boot camp needs to be so intense. Why these skills work to answer that question can summed in a single word – “efficacy”. When a person gains knowledge, they gain confidence. To make an eighteen year old run to the sound of terrible things, they must have faith in their skills to survive and win, as well as faith in the skills of those around them. The United States invests more into the training of their military than any other force in the world. This makes them confident and capable when put into harm’s way and helps to ensure that military warfighters suffer less loss of life than any other military so actively engaged across the world in history.

In spite of this, it’s important to note that boot camp is not really about the skills. Mostly, recruits are fed the very basics of the warrior arts there. The real skills come later on dozens of ranges, dojos, and training courses over a period of years. Boot camp is about the process of helping recruits adjust mentally to a life of challenge and one where uncommon stress is a common element to daily life. To state the obvious though, it is the skills they begin to learn in boot camp, and which will be mastered in follow-on training during their military careers, that will help them survive and win battles. Therefore, beyond the psychological aspects of recruit training, the skills of combat are an obvious necessity in the training evolution and survival of any would be warrior.

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Isolation from the Outside

Phase 1 – Transitioning From the Habits of a Civilian

Once Black Friday is behind them, the first month of Marine Corps boot camp is designed to acclimate recruits to the pace of training and becoming integrated in the military. The intended purpose of the first phase, as it is called, and all of boot camp really, is to transition young men into them to ways of a warrior culture free of the habits of civilian life. That isn’t saying that civilians are weak by nature, but there are certain qualities which are valued and respected in the civilian world that don’t mesh with the realities required of the military environment. In the military world, these are weaknesses. The remedy for this can be drastic, by normal standards.

Most people entering boot camp ask what the hardest part is to prepare for. In their minds, they assume the hardest part is running, or hiking, push-ups, or just being yelled at by Drill Instructors. The truth is that the most stressful and impactful change that will occur is the mental conditioning recruits endure. It won’t be easy to transition though. That kind of reconditioning is something that people don’t usually do perfectly with any amount of being ready for it.

During this first phase of recruit training, for the Marines anyway, communication lines are completely severed from friends and family over the three months throughout boot camp. There is no internet, no phone, no distractions. The only thing recruits get in the way of communication from loved ones are hand written letters once a week during the only “me time” they ever receive, during the first four hours on Sunday morning. Does it seem cruel and unnecessary? Well, I had just been married one week before I set foot on the yellow footprints, so I think I am best to answer.

There are no distractions. That must be membered. There can be no distractions.

One has to remember the psychological nature of good boot camp training. We aren’t separated for the join of our brass laden overlords. There is always a reason for it. The training can’t be interrupted by distractions from the outside world. In an age where people live entire lives connected online and engrossed in the lives of others, distractions whither any efforts for many people to achieve anything beyond themselves.

The Marine Corps is different. It seeks to isolate recruits from that, a sort of cold turkey weaning off of the distractions for the time where they have to adapt to military life. The isolation quiets their minds for a time and gives them focus. It helps engross new recruits into a new mentality, but for a few months it completely shuts them out from their friends, families, and the outside world. For a few months, the Marine Corps is your entire world. Recruits turn their focus instead to military routines. Drill instructors will set the pace, literally, by counting down every basic task “by the numbers” and recruits won’t even be able to refer to yourself by name. Marine Recruits refer to themselves in the third person. You will say, “This recruit” to refer to yourself rather than “I”, “These recruits” rather than “we” or “us”. This is done for the same reason that all recruits wear the same haircut and why the Marines don’t use unit patches or anything that distinguishes them from any other Marine besides name tapes. This plays into the erosion of individuality I’ve written about before. It is an engineered behavior with the intended purpose to build unit cohesion by repressing the civilian mentalities of individualism, egocentricity, and what might be unnerving to some, self-preservation. Such forms of psychological reconditioning are considered necessary to produce strong warriors capable of functioning as a team in the deadliest and most terrifying situations possible.

To elaborate on this point, let me give a personal testimony:

One thing that happens for everyone is that immediately upon arriving at boot camp you get to call home. It isn’t a real call. You have a short script where you basically say that you’re there and you’re alive. That is all. A few weeks in, though, our Senior Drill Instructor found out that we didn’t get ours. No one in the entire company did, for some reason. Someone in admin probably screwed something up. About a month in he made sure that we got ours. As a platoon we got to go down to the phone center and speak with our families.

I’ll never forget the day. It was July 7th, which just happened to be my 19th birthday. I called my wife’s phone. After a month of boot camp it was refreshing to hear her voice again. I told her that I would have to leave soon. The phone line would just cut off and that would be it, so we had to make the most of the few minutes we had. I think I got about ten minutes to speak. It was really a blessing. I have no idea what we talked about, but I remember the peaceful calm of hearing her voice. Jennie was like rain after walking in the desert.

As I knew it would, our time ran out. The line went dead. I was prepared for it, but still for a moment your heart breaks again just like it did the day you left. Regardless, I was happy. It isn’t often that a platoon gets to just have ten minutes to speak back home. There were a few tears that rolled down my face as I returned to the platoon. I know a few of the other recruits noticed. I was the only married recruit in the platoon, at that time almost all of us were just fresh high school graduates. I think they all knew how hard it was for me. No one ever said a thing to me about the tears, though. I was happy. It was my best birthday present ever.

It was a great present because of how very distant Jennie seemed to me at that time. As much as it hurt at times, I think it may have been the best thing for a while. I had a month with absolutely no communication with her, thirty-three days to be exact. The next two would see even less. She was on my mind often, but not as a constant. She was far enough away, and I was busy enough that I was focused on what was in front of me. I had to listen to the Drill Instructor’s guidance, focus on my rifle sights, on the marching, studying first aid, or on my weapon’s maintenance. I honestly don’t know if I could have fully been gained the full breadth of what I had to learn if I went back to her every night and had to show up to formation in the mornings. I don’t even know if I would have been able to do it if I got to call home whenever I wanted, knowing all the gossip of a town and people that were barely relevant to me anymore. After boot camp, I could call and say “Hi,” through all of my job training school, but not at boot.

Granted, it does seem cruel to keep people away from their families when technology has made it so easy to put them within arm’s reach. The truth, however, is that it doesn’t make for good warriors. We don’t get to have our families when we go on deployment or to some war, so it is probably good to get used to that. Same for the families. There is a very hard reality, that part of boot camp is intense because recruits must deal with the isolation from the civilian world they knew. In its place they have to adapt to a new group of people that aren’t their family, but which will be surrounding them every minute, of every day, through the hardest tribulations and crucibles, as well as the victories and triumphs. Though the recruits may be isolated, they will never be alone. They will learn to act and think as a unit, one of their first real lessons in the arts of warfare.121226-M-VH750-061

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If China is Doing Fine Without a Blue-Water Navy, Why Does America Need One?

China isn’t fine without a blue water navy. They have one; it’s called the US Navy. The failure in many people’s belief is that it makes sense to compare the United States to any other nation in the world. It doesn’t.

Where many people fail in their understanding of US government spending on military expenditures is that they don’t understand the purpose of the United States Navy. It doesn’t exist  simply so that we can beat all other potential combatants in a one-on-one exchange of fisticuffs. It can, but if that were its only mission, it could afford to play the game the same way all the others do.

In this case, the faulty assumption is that if we only focus on beating the Chinese, we’ll still be ahead. The most logical way to do that then must be to eliminate the “useless” elements where we don’t directly compete. China doesn’t need it; why should we? This, however, ignores that the US isn’t playing the same game as the Chinese. In fact, the military mission of the Chinese Navy isn’t even in the same league as the Americans.

This logic fails because of the most crucial reason why the US Navy exists. It isn’t just to beat the other guys. It’s to provide economic security over global commons.

“The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas” – Official Mission Statement of the US Navy

The United States is the only world power which has taken responsibility over all international trade lanes. Others are active participants, but absent a single global leader, their influence would be negligible. All other powers are regional and only enforce their strength locally, with the exception of only a few like the United Kingdom. The rest, nations like China, are focused on the creation and maintenance of green water fleets. They use their fleets not to secure global trade lane access for all nations, and the ability to take part in economic cooperation, but to enforce their own local agendas, pestering their neighbors and securing their own trade routes. They have no ability to benefit anyone elsewhere and little incentive to try.

This isn’t important, however, because other nations have no reason to. That responsibility lies with the Americans because the rest of the world knows that if the trade lanes stop, the Americans would suffer from it, as well. They, therefore, have an interest in ignoring blue water operations so that they can pursue local goals, saving the money on an expensive global fleet while still making foreign trade and still gaining political leverage in their local spheres. The system has nothing but benefits for places like China, but it puts the burden of securing that prosperity on the United States.

What makes this situation even more complicated is that the United States can’t leave this arrangement. If they did, the global economic house of cards comes crumbling down, not just for them, but for everyone else, as well. It’s also certain that whoever takes their place would put the United States in a worse position than if they just stayed in control in the first place.

So the original premise is wrong. China doesn’t do fine because they don’t waste money on a blue water fleet. They do fine because America’s blue water navy secures their access to global commons and the world trade market.

Black Friday

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As I am sure you have guessed, for Marines, the term Black Friday has nothing to do with holiday bargain shopping. Black Friday, for us, is a day you remember for the rest of your life. This is when Marine Corps basic training begins. Black Friday is the day you meet your real Drill Instructors. Up to this point, the instructors who have been over you were Receiving Drill Instructors. Their job ends on Training Day 1. On T-Day 1, Black Friday, recruits will meet the men who will be over them and with them for every step of the next three months.

Like all other major milestones of boot camp, there is ceremony involved in this. The meeting of the Drill Instructors begins with introductions by your Series Commander late in the morning. This involves a speech where he will outline some of the expectations that will be placed on recruits, as well as formally introduce the platoon to their Drill Instructors. It’s actually a very well rehearsed ceremony that has been, like so many others, exactly the same since time immemorial. During this speech, the Series Commander will lead the Drill Instructors in the Drill Instructor’s Creed. It’s a powerful event from the perspective of new recruits sitting there watching it from the floor. Following the creed, the Series Commander will exit, leaving the Senior Drill Instructor in charge of the platoon. His speech is one that few recruits will forget. It’s important to really understand how much aggression goes into being a Drill Instructor. They are masters of intimidation and you will feel that in every word of the Senior Drill Instructor’s Black Friday speech. Words alone don’t do justice to understanding the moment, so I’ll share this instead:

Up to this point, the recruits have basically been told what is expected of them and what is expected of their Drill Instructors. Note that in no way was it alluded to that anyone would be nice to recruits. You really don’t understand that during the Drill Instructor’s Creed or the Senior’s “welcome aboard” speech. You feel nervous and intimidated, but you really have no clue what you are in for.

Then there is a moment after the first introductions that the Senior Drill Instructor will finish off his speech with a fateful series of words.

“Drill Instructors, take charge and carry out the plan of the day.”

Which they will respond, “Aye, Aye Senior Drill Instructor.” and he will walk back into his office, slamming the door behind him. In your mind you’re thinking, “Maybe there is going to be another speech. Maybe this is all we are going to be doing today. That would be nice.” This would be wrong. The speeches are over. The sitting is over. From this point on, those remaining Drill Instructors will introduce you into the full fury of the decision you have just made.

What follows the Senior Drill Instructor’s welcome is nothing less than a torrent of hate and terror recruits could probably never imagine. Recruits are ordered across the squad bay as the Drill Instructors scream and shout with the pent up fires of a thousand angry suns. There is noise and movement everywhere. It’s true chaos. Recruits will carry their sea bags loaded with gear around with them all over the squad bay, running back and forth, for painful hours on end. Drill Instructors will flip recruit’s footlockers, spewing all the belongings they owned out into massive mounds on the floor of the squad bay. They’ll toss the recruits bunks across the room. Bottles of soap, toothpaste and shaving gel will break and shatter, leaving the piles of personal belongings and issued gear trashed all over the floor. Then the recruits will be marched around and around, back and forth, following every command of the Drill Instructors, though never fast enough, never loud enough, and never with enough of the ever loving intensity demanded of them. All the while the parade of pandemonium continues, recruits will be kicking each other’s gear around in haphazard piles across the squad bay.

During this time, recruits are introduced to the concept of Incentive Training, or IT at this point. Drill Instructors are allowed to use incentive training to instill discipline and correct mistakes. I’ll get to that later. It’s rough and every one of them will go through it. They’ll do more jumping jacks, pushups, mountain climbers, and other exercises than anyone ever imagined. After this, sometimes Drill Instructors will insist on “tours of the base.”  Recruits will be filed as fast as their collective feet will carry them to a pit of sand outside the barracks. The entire platoon will be ordered to push up, flutter-kick, side-straddle-hop, and run in place until they will be completely exhausted and given-out, basking in the precious moments when their sweat covered faces rested against the sand. Then the will visit another sand pit somewhere else. Then they will visit another somewhere else, far, far away, somewhere on the other side of the base.

Finally, covered in sand and sweat, the recruits will file back to the barracks and pull out their canteens. They will drink, and drink, and drink, drinking until they had proved they had finished every last drop, then they would refill their canteens, and drink some more. This, as you might expect, is to keep them from dying of dehydration and exhaustion. This cycle of what seemed to be mindless torment won’t end until many hours later. They still have to return their home back to some semblance of normalcy after it had been reduced to what, metaphorically, could be described as a war zone. The following two videos are much more clear about what Day 1 will be like than the, “kind and gentle” speech the Series Commander might leave one believing.

The truth was, as the recruits parade around the room, being screamed at by terrifying men, they will each be wondering what they got themselves into. Regardless of what they may be thinking, they are still a long way from the end of T-Day 1. At least by that point they’ll understood why T-Day 1 is known throughout the Corps as Black Friday. Motivated Devil, a youtuber who creates FPS video footage while telling stories about life in the Marines spells it out well. In his words:

It’s pretty much the hardest day, it really is. It’s going to test you. You’re going to be thinking, did I make the right move? Am I supposed to be here? Even myself, I’m not going to to lie, I was like what the Hell did I get myself into? Am I going to make it out of this? Am I going to become a Marine? It’s the hardest day just because it’s the  mentally hardest day, because it’s your first day of meeting your Drill Instructors and they want nothing to do, but to f*** you up. They just want to f*** you up all day…

But the whole day, their main goal is to just break you down and make you think, did I do this for the right reason? Am I supposed to be here?

And therein lies the reasoning for Black Friday’s existence. On Black Friday, meeting your Drill Instructors is an experience no one forgets. Recruits see how relentless they can get. They are also sort of made aware what DIs won’t do. Recruits see that no human being has ever terrified them that much, but they never actually touch them. DIs might adjust your stance in a manner you don’t consider delicate, but you’re not going to get a Full Metal Jacket punch to gut any time soon. You realize you won’t be beaten up, punched or kicked, or thrown into anything. The only real things they do to you is tell you to do mundane stuff in the most horrible way imaginable. You will survive that. It’s important to realize that, no matter what happens from here, you’re going to survive. This is mostly because, from the point a recruit is “picked-up” into their boot camp platoon, there really is no going back. From Black Friday on, it is easier to finish boot camp than to get yourself kicked out or separated from recruit training.

Surviving Day-1 of training is important because it sets the pace for everything else to come afterward. You clearly gain an appreciation of the Drill Instructor’s and accept that the easiest thing for you to do to get through boot camp is just to do whatever they say and to do it fast. It simply isn’t worth the inconvenience you know they are capable of, to do anything less. It’s odd how that sort of mentality builds stamina and motivation. Recruits will need these to carry them through to the end of training. They aren’t going to have time to not listen or to move slowly at any point over the next three months of Recruit Training. There is just too much to learn.

Reaper

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Boom! Head Shot – Physical Realities of Ballistics and the Instant Kill

I was asked a disturbingly cool question not long ago which prompted me to write about the question. “Jon, you were in the Marines and know a lot about deadly stuff that goes boom. Your tagline also reads ‘A nice guy who knows some scary stuff.’ So, what is something that could kill us so quickly that we wouldn’t even know?”

Well, my morbidly curious friends, firing just about any caliber round in this area will pretty much do it.

This is called the “T-box” by police and military security forces because of it’s obvious shape. When these individuals are placed in lethal force encounters, this area is emphasized as a vital target area, second only to the center of the chest. It is valued so highly because it is the single most lethal part of the body to succumb to violent kinetic pressure and if the round is delivered accurately, will guarantee the end of any adversary’s aggression. If troops or law enforcement officers can fire within this very small field, it is virtually guaranteed to instantly kill any combatant. The only reason it isn’t trained to be the first area shooters aim for is that the shot is extremely difficult and in situations where lethal force is required, sometimes just crossing the finish line matters more than the grace and finesse with which one does so.

The Mythical Head Shot

A simple “head shot” may not be enough to completely stop the enemy dead in their tracks. Video games and movies give the idea that, so long as you “tag” the head, a person will drop dead with no questions asked. This movie myth is factually inaccurate. Numerous cases have shown individuals who have survived being shot in the head, not resulting in death of the intended target. Other cases will show people who have suffered varying levels of brain damage, but not death. Many times no brain damage occurred and the only resulting injury was just cosmetic damage to the face. There are even some reports of people being shot so closely, and at such an angle, that the bullet was deflected and simply bounced off the skull, leaving literally nothing more a scratch. All of these are survivable and sometimes even result with little loss of quality of life. For that reason, most “head shots” aren’t guaranteed kills. Some won’t even end the threat happening at the moment. Firing within the T-Box, however, is.

Why the T-Box is Lethal

The T-box covers the nose and behind the eyes. These sensory organs don’t actually matter themselves, but are simply the target area. What makes the T-Box different from any other area is the part of the brain which rests directly behind it. Beyond this point is the lower brain, the parts most responsible for the processes that cause us to continue living. It houses the brain stem which is responsible for our organs functioning automatically, namely our heart, lungs, our central nervous system, as well as controlling the rest of our brain itself. This means that losing it guarantees a complete and instantaneous loss of consciousness and life.

Internal Ballistics

The truth is, the T-Box can actually be much larger depending on the caliber of the round. This is because ballistic effects on soft targets have cumulative effects which help to guarantee a complete loss of lower brain function. A round doesn’t just pass through a medium. Another movie myth would suggest that a bullet just punctures at a given point of entry then bores a bullet sized hole all the way through. Reality is much more graphic than that.

Like any kinetic object, a moving object will release it’s energy into the medium with which it travels. My examples will be with a standard issue 9mm Beretta pistol, commonly issued throughout the military and law enforcement, as well as widely available to the common buyer. The energy of that weapon can be measured as an 8 gram mass moving at around 381 meters per second generating about 3 Newtons of force. Those three or so Newtons of energy will be released into a target proportionally to the resistance it gives the round as it travels. A good analog for what 3 Newtons is would be the force of 3 apples falling. This doesn’t sound extremely powerful, but it must also be emphasized that this is a massive amount of force being emanated from a very narrow channel, the cavity created by the bullet. This transition of force results in the round slowing down as the cavity it created expands explosively.

This is what explosive expansion looks like on ballistics gel, the best analog for human bodily tissue.  Ballistics experts even measure this property, referred to as “cavitation” or the measurement of the cavity produced by ballistics. This gel features a larger round than the 9mm, but showcases the effects within the human body. This is an especially potent event in the brain. It can’t be communicated enough that most of a bullet’s damage doesn’t center on the direct path it takes through the body, but through the absorption of energy. The most important factor to consider is that that cavity you see above shouldn’t just be smaller; it shouldn’t exist. We are talking about cells which once touched being violently propelled from one another. Within the brain, that represents cells and neurons that exist and operate within nanometers, momentarily separated by a space of several inches, and never able to return to their original structure.

Placing this event anywhere near the lower brain, namely the brain stem, will result in the violent and immediate fragmentation of all necessary working processes providing both awareness to the victim, as well as control of all bodily functions. That means they are instantly dead.

But Will We Know It’s Coming?

So we have shown that any round placed within this area will result in death, absolutely and non-negotiably, but are we sure we wouldn’t be able to realize we had been shot, or even shot at, first? Now we are asking a question about the comparison of the speed of a bullet in flight and the cognitive capabilities of the human perceptive system. Our 9mm Beretta fires a round which has a muzzle velocity, the speed it travels through the air when it leaves the weapon, of around 1,250 ft/s or 381 m/s.

Reaction time for people is something like 0.2 seconds if you are skilled and practiced at very certain tasks which you are prepared for and expect to occur. That isn’t the case here. Under normal conditions, you could expect to be able to react to something, given about 1.5 seconds notice. Using our metrics from the Beretta, at the velocity the round is moving, you would have to be capable of watching the round moving for over 570 meters, or over a third of a mile, just to have time to react to it. Considering the size and speed of the round in question, I am going to consider that, for all intents and purposes, impossible.

You also won’t be able to hear the round fire either. The speed of sound is 1,126 feet per second, or 343.205 m/s. Looking back at our old numbers, the 9mm Beretta clocks in at 1,250 ft/s or 381 m/s. Therefore, the round is traveling at supersonic speed. For that reason, you would never hear it coming until long after it had had done it’s job. For argument’s sake, in the case of the slowest bullets out there, ballistic velocity is still 339.7504 m/s. That’s not faster than the speed of sound, but are only 4 m/s slower than Mach 1. Given that this difference makes the slowest rounds only .01% slower than sound and the fact we still require another 1.5 seconds to process that sound, this bullet would still have had to have traveled over a fifth of a mile before you could possibly hear it in time to recognize and process. Being that no handgun firing such a slow round is even effective at that range, and also that there is no way to know if you are diving to a safer location than you already occupy, we could say that it too is rhetorical. There is no chance that you will ever hear a round with your name on it.

The Gruesome Truth

Having said all this, you can safely know that any unfortunate victim of being shot with any caliber round aimed directly to the imaginary T-box area of the face will be dead. In fact, they will die so thoroughly and immediately, that the last cognisant thing their mind registers will be the sight of the barrel of the weapon which was about to kill them… before their brain explodes.


That was twisted. I hope you enjoyed it. If you would like to support me, please visit my Patreon support page. For more content like this, visit my blog –Jon’s Deep Thoughts. Thanks for reading you morbidly curious individual.

We Swear You’re Not Being Brainwashed – Welcome to Marine Corps Receiving

On this section of the series explaining the rationale behind why boot camp is so intensive we will be talking about Receiving and the first few days of boot and why they are so crucial to the training that will follow. Receiving is a period before training begins. You arrive at boot camp, but for the first few days or so, you don’t actually train. Officially, boot camp hasn’t actually started. Functionally, receiving phase is necessary for little more than getting your paperwork taken care of. You just do paperwork getting into the federal documentation system. You will receive all your gear and start your initial process into “getting ready” for bootcamp. Of course, it’s the way you do all of this that is important. The fact that boot camp hasn’t actually started shouldn’t imply that recruits are relaxed, just waiting around, or playing Madden on the couch by any means. The entire time recruits are still hounded, hassled, yelled at, screamed at, hurried, stressed out, and berated for at least part of every inch of every step they take by inexplicably angry men standing around every corner. There’s more, though.

Later in that first night, a recruit will go through the numerous immediate rites of passage that are part of the boot camp, and more broadly, the Marine Corps and military experience all together. That first night provides recruits with the rather impactful physical transformation and uniformity that will be necessary later on to build unit integrity. The first of which, is when they get the haircuts.

Why is the haircut so important? To be completely honest, it is part of the erosion of individuality. What? Yes, the erosion of individuality. Sure, the official response is that the military haircut is to ensure that military member’s gas masks secure properly (which is true), but in the indoctrination phase, it is necessary for that other psychological reason, repression of individuality and the building of unit cohesion.

Why should a warrior lose his individuality? Individuality is what makes him special and unique, right? It is what makes him valuable, right? It’s what the modern American culture is based on! While this is true, in theory, it can also be a problem if you are trying to make an individual into a team oriented warrior.

Individuality makes recruits feel special and unique. It makes them feel different and as if they might be above someone or something else, say, like being dragged through mud or forced to march fifty miles in the span of three days with no food or rest. They are better than the orders they might receive. Individuality makes people feel that, in some indescribable way, they are better than other members of the platoon. They are too good for the treatment that is part of the boot camp experience and transformation. You wash that away with uniformly matching haircuts and attire, and that sense of individuality erodes away. From day one, everyone is the same. In fact, during my time, being called “an individual” was an insult as it meant that you were a person who couldn’t put the needs of the others before your own. Yes, individuality is repressed as they will spend the next three months dressed the same, act the same, and look the same. It’s an important part of the transition. Eventually, individuality is encouraged again, later on after boot camp, such as the School of Infantry or their Military Occupational Speciality Training. As NCO’s it will be a major part of their Corporal’s Courses and Sergeant’s Courses, with senior members eventually moving on staff colleges, where the importance of individual leadership is central to their training. The military doesn’t want robots, but for those first few months, and beginning in receiving, it’s important to put the unit first in the mind of recruits. The best way to do that is make them all look as close to identical as is possible.

Now we move on to something else very important and why I say that it is “psychological” retraining. You go through the next few days running from place to place, doing this, that, this, that and you won’t even realize… you haven’t really slept in three days. Yeah, you will go through about three days without sleep upon arrival. The whole time you are completely exhausted while running on adrenaline or fear, and hearing over and over, that you are inferior. That is, inferior to real Marines, which you aren’t yet. You haven’t earned the title, after all. You aren’t thinking about it, but those little jabs at your personal self-image are sinking in. You are completely tired and these things build up. Without realizing it, you start to believe that these things which are being told to you are true, that there is a weakness in you and that you are less than the perfect person you could be. In your current state, eventually, your mental defenses will be weakened to the point you embrace them and that you must change to live up to the obligation you have taken up.

I want to say something that should be important to you as the reader:  The whole idea of getting people tired enough to accept subtle, but constant attacks on their psyche reads very much like brainwashing. Actually the clinical term would be classical and operant conditioning, but don’t worry about the fancy psychology jargon. The idea of it, brainwashing, conditioning, repression of individuality, mind games, or whatever you want to call it, scares a lot of people. They think about  military, and especially the Marines, using all these tricks to kill the humans inside and turn our children into some sort of mindless killbots. That isn’t true, I’ll be doing a piece later on why boot camp training isn’t brainwashing, but for now, I will agree that the techniques are severe. They’re much more severe than the stress from test day at a university and much more so than day-to-day stress at a job. We have to remember the fundamental mission of boot camp.

You have to train 18 year olds to run to the sound of gunfire and perform under fire and the threat of death.

When you are constantly being told that you aren’t good enough to be in the Marines, and constantly being reminded that you aren’t ready war… it is true. No eighteen year old kid fresh out of high school is. There are many habits that kids and civilians have that need to be unlearned for success in a life where matters of life and death are literal. Like we said, they have to run into battle, and that sense of self-preservation is damaging to the mission, the other members of their team, and in a way that doesn’t lend itself very easily to reason, themselves. When any individual isn’t fully involved in the mission at hand, they create an environment that decreases the chance of any of them getting back home. College will never provide a normal person with that dilemma and why “mind games” aren’t necessary for the creation of a normal office going, suite and tie wearing individual.

At this point we are still less than one week into bootcamp. Once they’ve accepted, whether cognitively or not, that they aren’t ready to be in war… that’s when they are ready to begin training. The recruits are about to experience Training Day 1, known as Black Friday. After Receiving and over the next three months, the recruits will face exercising in endurance, training in the arts of war, and learn to act and think as a unit. These are some of the more important things that are trained, but they can only happen once a recruit fully embraces the fact that they aren’t yet a warrior.

Continue on to Black Friday.

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