Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Sitting Duck Syndrome --- calculated fear and terror.

The Sitting Duck Syndrome — the terrorist’s real objective

If you’ve ever dined with a seasoned police officers, combat veterans or anyone who had once been the victim of “surprise violence,” you know the routine. They will insist on picking the right table and sitting in the seat with the best view — and maybe the best access to an exit. If they’ll even go into a movie theater, they’ll probably pick the back row. They never want anyone behind them. They don’t want surprises.
When they were on duty, they were prepared for violence. “Surprise violence” is what haunts them when they’re off duty.
And it can haunt them for the rest of their lives.
The people that a terrorists kill when they set off a bomb or open fire in a school, theater or shopping mall are really the secondary victims. The intended victims are the people who watch the news and experience the repeated coverage of the deadly attack. The goal is to inflict the fear of surprise violence on everyone else. The goal is to terrorize an entire population.
And it’s frighteningly effective.
On July 17, 1984, I had been back from Vietnam for more than 15 years and was busy advancing a career in journalism. But on that day, “surprise violence” enveloped my world and my psyche. Nothing had happened to me directly. But on that day, a troubled man named James Oliver Huberty walked into a crowded McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California, armed with enough firepower to execute 21 customers and employees and injure 19 others.

He was able to keep up the shooting for 77 minutes.
Nobody in my world had any clue as to how I reacted to watching the story repeat and repeat on television. Nobody knew that I was unable to set foot in a McDonald’s for more than five years. Nobody knew about the nightmares that terrorized me — nightmares of being trapped in restaurants, shopping malls, Disneyland, cruise ships or in an office building while a crazed gunman methodically went from helpless victim to helpless victim and executed them.
I still have those nightmares. I still sit in the right seat at the right table at the restaurant. I still sit in the back row if I go to a movie theater. I live a life of fearing that I’m a sitting duck.
People who lived in California on February 9, 1971, or January 17, 1994, may still feel uncomfortable getting stuck in traffic under a bridge or over-cross. Bay Area Californians will remember what happened on October 17, 1989. Their reptilian brain remembers. It warns them that earthquakes cause bridges and over-crosses to collapse.
People who’ve lived through surprise violence are terrified that they are sitting ducks. And when they see it on TV — even if they live thousands of miles from the violence — the terror races through their entire beings.
When I was in Vietnam, the most terrifying moments were when rockets and mortars were pounding around me and there was no place I could go to take cover. It was clinging to the ground and trying to somehow become tiny — to become a smaller target.
Later, when the Viet Cong blew up a bridge up ahead of us while we were driving, unescorted, through an unsecured area, we found ourselves stuck in a traffic jam that only Army engineers could un-jam — only after they built a temporary bridge.
We were sitting ducks. The first explosion was the enemy’s attempt to set us up as sitting ducks. That minor explosion in 1969 still has me on guard today when I’m stuck in traffic. I still feel like a sitting duck. It’s the fear of surprise violence. It’s the fear of being helpless — having no way out.
The bombs that exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon have created the same response in people across the United States. The repeated blasts (repeated and repeated and repeated on television) have communicated with the primitive, “I have to survive” reptilian brains of millions of people. It has put them on notice that, “It could happen here. Today. Tomorrow. Even right now.”
Welcome to the world of terrorism. It’s very effective. People in other parts of the world already know about this.
So in the coming weeks and months, some of us will feel the need to carry weapons or to avoid crowds completely. Others of us will look at the violence that’s happening in distant parts of the world and maybe begin to become a little bit empathic.
Maybe — just maybe — some of us will equate U.S. drones and missiles and bombs with the sitting duck, unexpected violence that is the intended byproduct of terrorists.


Boyd Manes said...

Well written article, Don; poignant and directly to the point! I have also experienced the syndome w/o thanking about it as you describe it. In the early 2000's I flew around a lot (my daughter worked for an airline - I rode free, but on standby.

Now, I do not fly; I drive. I do not like to be among a bunch of people waiting at airports. Boyd

Anonymous said...

Heart wrenching, right (really right) down to the very last line.
With deep respect.
D.F. Wild

Gill Rapoza said...

There are a lot of familiar things in this post. I did not serve in Viet Nam. But I recognize much from other experiences.

While working in the prison system for a full career, I have been in inmate riots. I have had an inmate pull a shank on me only a couple of feet away, and we fought over it. To this day I can see that it was intended to gut me, but I stopped it. I was not alone. One of my team quite literally had my back.

I have seen my own team members cut up and beaten. I have seen a lot of death, though many were inmates. But they are human too. I was there when PSA Flight 182 went down in San Diego when I worked for the SDPD. There were too many bodies and body parts to count. We picked up the pieces.

When I retired from corrections, with an injury I got there, among my biggest thoughts was the fact that I could not help my guys any longer. Leaving them there still in the fight was tough.

I sit in the back of the theaters. I sit where I can watch the most people and maybe the door too in restaurants, near to the wall is better. When our own die, I still go to the funerals, even if we were not friends. I have gone to services for members of other departments. I do other things to be ready for some moment that I hope never comes. But I do not think I am a sitting duck.

I always plug on, no matter what. I refuse to let it get me down despite all I do. I think I do better than just survive. I plan and I think and care for those around me the best I can.

One of the lessons I learned from all of this is that some of us have to stand in the gap. Every society must have those who are willing. And it keeps us from feeling sorry for ourselves.

If I could have somehow reappeared in Boston to help, I would have. There was a lot of hand wringing on my part yesterday. Today is a better day. My heart and prayers are with the Boston PD and all of Boston.

I think I understand.

JoAnne Clark said...

Reminded me of how I felt after 9-11. There is strength in numbers or is there? The essence of PTSD by deffinition

JoAnne Clark said...

Reminded me of of how I felt after 9-11. We've always been told there is strength in numbers or is there? The definition of PSTD in flash back format.

heyfran said...

Sad but true Don. I've dined with folks who only sit certain places. I try not to think about that or behave differently...but maybe I would be wise to alter my habits. How sad to have to think that way