(We have a ton of thoughts on Lt. Col. David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, please click here.)
Many conservatives were introduced to Colonel Grossman’s essay, “On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs” through a chain email circulated on the conservative email-o-sphere. Allegedly addressed to the President of the University of Washington student body, a retired Lt. General Dula who (Again, allegedly. We can’t confirm the details.) wrote this email:
“Miss Edwards, I read of your ‘student activity’ regarding the proposed memorial to Col Greg Boyington, USMC and a Medal of Honor winner. I suspect you will receive a bellyful of angry e-mails from conservative folks like me. You may be too young to appreciate fully the sacrifices of generations of servicemen and servicewomen on whose shoulders you and your fellow students stand. I forgive you for the untutored ways of youth and your naïveté. It may be that you are, simply, a sheep. There’s no dishonor in being a sheep--as long as you know and accept what you are.”
“Please take a couple of minutes to read the following. And be grateful for the thousands--millions--of American sheepdogs who permit you the freedom to express even bad ideas.”
He then inserts Grossman’s sheep dog essay wholesale.
This email is insulting.
First, Grossman and Dula insult “sheep”, calling them all variety of names. Together they label sheep variously “naive”, “untutored”, ungrateful, unable to survive adversity, and (most insultingly for me) “living in denial”. As Grossman writes:
“We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world.”
This leads into the second insult: Dula and Grossman don’t realize they’re insulting people. Dula and Grossman both write, “There’s no dishonor in being a sheep.” Grossman says, “I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep.” Paraphrasing Grossman and the above email, basically say, “Hey, you’re a sheep and I don’t mean that insultingly. You’re a naive, ungrateful coward who lives in denial if you don’t support gun rights, but no offense. Seriously, no offense.”
So the essay allows people to insult their opponents, but claim they aren’t. Two insults in one.
But the real question behind the insults is: who is really living in denial?
All the evidence in foreign policy says that Americans live not just in the safest times in American history, but the safest times in the history of the world. That’s right. We just fought the safest two wars in American history. You are more likely to win the lottery than die of terrorism in the U.S. And the crime rate has plummeted. If you think evil is expanding its reach in the world, you’re living in denial.
And all the evidence says guns kill people. The myth that good guys with guns kill bad guys with guns is just that, a myth. The presence of firearms increases the odds of their use in their own homes, but that’s what the data says. Oh, and guns are most often used in suicides. Again, that’s what the evidence says.
So, in summation, people who don’t carry guns are not “untutored” nor “naive”. The so-called sheep aren’t living in denial. To say otherwise is insulting.
LTC Grossman’s story of sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs is something of a classic essay for military and police men.
When I was younger, I was always fascinated by how things worked. I wanted to know how technology worked, how the economy worked, how any system worked. But I wasn’t going to be an engineer or an economist.
My second thought was always “how do I break it?”
My third thought was “how do I stop someone from breaking it?” Asking the third question made me think like a sheepdog. Soon I’ll be trained as one.
The Sheepdog analogy is the introduction to Dave Grossman’s book On Combat.
“Honor never grows old, and honor rejoices the heart of age. It does so because honor is, finally, about defending those noble and worthy things that deserve defending, even if it comes at a high cost. In our time, that may mean social disapproval, public scorn, hardship, persecution, or as always, even death itself. The question remains: What is worth defending? What is worth dying for? What is worth living for?” – William J. Bennett – in a lecture to the United States Naval Academy November 24, 1997
Truth is, I have a certain amount of respect for Communist and Islamist insurgents. They understand what they are fighting for, even if it is ass-end retarded. Because their goals are ass-end retarded, I have to fight back. And because I fight religious fundamentalism, I am scorned. I don’t much care why, because I know why I have to do it.
One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me:
“Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident.” …
Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.
“Then there are the wolves,” the old war veteran said, “and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.” Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.
“Then there are sheepdogs,” he went on, “and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.”
If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.
The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.
Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, “Baa.”
Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.
Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. Also understand that a sheepdog is a funny critter: He is always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle. That is, the young sheepdogs yearn for a righteous battle. The old sheepdogs are a little older and wiser, but they move to the sound of the guns when needed right along with the young ones.
Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day.
And Grossman continues. It’s worth a read.
It’s a simple analogy, but it conveys the point well enough.