Not One Step Back
Fear is a complex emotion. We need it to survive but to much fear can have a crippling effect on how we can deal with our problems. The nature of PTSD makes dealing with fear an even more difficult prospect.
We know the score well enough. The oily unpleasant sensation in the pit of our bellies, the tight breathing and the underlying anxiety eroding away, the monotony of dread interrupted only by the intervention of pharmaceuticals or brain spiking panic attacks.
Yes despite the constant presence of our malaise we are still in a position where we have to fight to survive. PTSD and fear aside we must either stand and fight or be simply run over by our enemies and or our circumstances.
To deal with fear there are certain aspects of this base emotion we need to understand. The first relevant truth is that nearly everyone feels fear. It is just that some are better at concealing it than others. To not feel fear at all is the result of a disorder not evidence of courage.
The next relevant truth is that courage is the resolve to act in the grip of fear. To be brave and determined is not easy but when we are brave and determined we are being so in the face of adversity and the first adversary is our fear. Avoidance is a survival tactic and it is often effective. But avoidance like everything else in this life has limits to its effectiveness.
There are also times when we must stand and fight even in the sure knowledge of our defeat. This is not to say that we take on foolish challenges or wallow in pedantry. I am talking of the moment that we all must face, the moment of inevitable defeat. We rarely know when the moment of that defeat will come, all we know is that one day it will come. Yet the fear that comes with the knowledge of that day is enough to prevent many of us fighting back in the first place.
Humanity has faced this conundrum since our ancestors first walked on this planet. Our instinct is to survive yet we are burdened with the sure knowledge of our physical defeat. Yet as human beings we have another facet to our existence and one that separates us from most if not all animals. Our identity makes us who we are and this component of our existence is the aspect of ourselves that can transcend our physical mortality.
This understanding of the importance of identity over long term physical survival is illustrated by the story of the German Battleship Bismarck. Bismarck was the pride of the German navy at the time of WWII. The story of Bismarck also contains other essential elements of human endeavor, the disasters bought on by the demands of necessity, the facing of daunting odds and a defiant last stand that will remain embedded in history until the end of civilisation.
The British had been masters of the seas for centuries and Germany was a mere upstart when it came to naval warfare. Yet the advent of the war had driven Britain to throw all her resources into churning out ordinance and vehicles at a frantic pace. This was to cost the British Navy heavily. The British flagship The Hood was due for an upgrade in 1941 but the outbreak of war prevented the upgrade from taking place.
On the 24th May 1941 Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen were fated to meet HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales in battle. The contest between the Hood and Bismarck was to last a mere eight minutes. As the Hood closed in on Bismarck she was subjected to repeated salvo’s from Bismarck's considerable arsenal.
The upgrade the Hood had been due for would have involved the reinforcement of the armour on her deck. In the absence of that upgrade a 38 cm shell fired from one of Bismarck's heaviest guns tore through the Hood's deck and penetrated the rear magazine where the Hood had her ammunition stored for her rear guns. The magazine contained 110 Tons of cordite and the resulting explosion tore the Hood in half in a searing gout of fire and the horrified sailors on the Prince of Wales could only watch helplessly as the Hood and all aboard her simply ceased to exist. One moment the Hood was engaged in battle in all her might and the next moment she was gone as if she had never been.
Churchill was incandescent with rage and ordered every available ship in the Royal Navy to hunt Bismarck down and sink her in turn. So began one of the most famous naval chases in history. As the British navy hounded Bismarck across the Atlantic her Captain tried everything he could to shake his pursuers. The balance tipped first one way then the other. In the end it was the courage of a handful of pilots and a design flaw in Bismarck that was to ultimately seal Bismarck's fate.
The Germans had discovered in testing that the Bismarck was not able to steer effectively with her engines alone thus leaving her very dependent on her rudders. The German's decided that the odds of taking a hit in the rudders was minimal and so the flaw was ignored. The British had lost Bismarck and in desperation launched outdated WWI aircraft off one of their ships to try and find her. The Swordfish torpedo bombers found Bismarck and engaged her on more than one occasion but on the last sortie one of the pilots managed to hit Bismarck in the port rudder jamming it hopelessly and finally crippling the Battleship in a meaningful way. The British navy closed in on their prey. Old technology had succeeded in damaging the modern warship , a small plane made mostly of wood had hamstrung the steel Goliath that was the pride of the German navy.
At the end of her life Bismarck was alone, the Prinz Eugen had disengaged and evaded the British and Bismarck was crippled and almost dead in the water with British vengeance bearing down on her from all directions. At the last Bismarck turned on her pursuers and spat her defiance with every gun available to her but she was out numbered and out gunned. Round after armour piercing round tore Bismarck to pieces and after some hours of engagement the Bismarck's crew scuttled her and one of the greatest naval battles in history came to a close. Bismarck was dead and most of her crew with her.
For years now I have pondered the rationale of Bismarck's captain. Why did he not surrender and save his life and the lives of his crew? On the face of it that seems the sensible course of action. I finally reached the conclusion that Bismarck turned and fought because she was Bismarck. Bismarck died as she was, a Leviathan fighting for her very survival. If she had of surrendered then Bismarck would have been reduced to a tool of British propaganda, a symbol of defeat and a target of ridicule. This was clearly an intolerable outcome.
Bismarck taught me a lesson I needed to learn to fight on in the face of my fear. It is better to fall a wolf in combat than to be taken like a sheep at an abattoir. Once we can recognise that we learn that short term survival at the expense of what makes us what we are or could be is the price we must pay for giving in to our fear. We can be brave and we can show courage. To fail to fight because of the fear of losing will find us out in the end.