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The Ethical Warrior: The hunting story

Physical and ethical training used by USMC may help officers confront, survive, and live with the realities of modern law enforcement

Robert L. Humphrey, an Iwo Jima Marine rifle platoon commander who worked for the State Department during the Cold War, had to resolve a conflict between the U.S. and an allied country in Asia Minor. The local people wanted the Americans to go home, while the Americans had a strategic interest in keeping the Cold War missile base. Humphrey discovered that many of the U.S. servicemen considered the locals to be “stupid, dumb, dirty, dishonest, untrustworthy, disloyal, cowardly, lazy, unsanitary, immoral, cruel, crazy, and downright subhuman.”

Understandably, the local people’s perception was that the Americans did not view them as equal human beings. Their opposition to the presence of the U.S. installation was based on the fact that they simply wanted to be treated with respect and dignity.

One day, as a diversion from his job, Humphrey decided to go hunting for wild boar with some personnel from the American embassy. They took a truck from the motor pool and headed out to the boondocks, stopping at a village to hire some local men to beat the brush and act as guides. This village was very poor. The huts were made of mud and there was no electricity or running water. The streets were unpaved dirt and the whole village smelled. The men looked surly and wore dirty clothes. The women covered their faces, and the children had runny noses and were dressed in rags.

One American in the truck said, “This place stinks.”

Another said, “These people live just like animals.”

Finally, a young air force man said, “Yeah, they got nothin’ to live for; they may as well be dead.”

Then, an old sergeant in the truck spoke up. He was the quiet type who never said much. In fact, except for his uniform, he kind of reminded you of one of the tough men in the village. He looked at the young airman and said, “You think they got nothin’ to live for, do you? Well, if you are so sure, why don’t you just take my knife, jump down off the back of this truck, and go try to kill one of them?”

Dead silence. Humphrey was amazed.

It was the first time that anyone had said anything that had actually silenced the negative talk about these local people. The sergeant went on to say, “I don’t know either why they value their lives so much. Maybe it’s those snotty nosed kids, or the women in the pantaloons. But whatever it is, they care about their lives and the lives of their loved ones, same as we Americans do. And if we don’t stop talking bad about them, they will kick us out of this country!”

Humphrey asked him what we Americans, with all our wealth, could do to prove our belief in the peasants’ equality despite their destitution. The sergeant answered, “You got to be brave enough to jump off the back of this truck, knee deep in the mud and sheep dung. You got to have the courage to walk through this village with a smile on your face. And when you see the smelliest, scariest looking peasant, you got to be able to look him in the face and let him know, just with your eyes, that you know he is a man who hurts like you do, and hopes like you do, and wants for his kids just like we all do. It is that way, or we lose.”

The hunting story has immediate and strong emotional impact. We sympathize with those poor villagers, perhaps because most people naturally root for the “underdog.”

Almost everyone understands the pain and anger that arise from disrespect. The people in that village weren’t speaking out, but in their hearts each of them was saying: “Don’t look down on me. You are my equal — my life and the lives of my loved ones are as important to me as yours are to you.” Everyone in the truck suddenly understood two things. First, despite how worthless the villager’s life might appear, no one would actually try to kill him because taking innocent human life is anathema to all moral people. Second, if attacked, the villager would have defended himself with all his might because he loved his life and the lives of his loved ones just as much as everyone else. At last, here was Humphrey’s way to make the truth that “all men are created equal” truly self evident.

Humphrey had great success relating this insight he called the “Life Value” to other military personnel at the U.S. base in formal presentations. However, he realized that he needed a way to sustain the idea of equality while reinforcing the important physical aspect of the moral lesson. Drawing on his own experience, and relying on the universal impulse for young servicemen to prove their manhood, Humphrey offered free boxing lessons to anyone interested. He found that moral lessons were easier to teach when the students bonded through the combination of physical danger and fortitude necessary to excel at boxing.

Valuing one’s own life is only half of the equation. When we talk about the Life Value, whose life are we exactly talking about? The Life Value is a dual value — self and others. Ethical people have a good sense of how to keep that balance. There is no more important factor at any level of law enforcement than the duty to protect the community being served. A preeminent focus on this “Dual Life Value” of self and others may be an excellent moral basis upon which to build a sense of duty to “protect and serve” as a law enforcement officer.

Ethics are moral values in action. A person who knows the difference between right and wrong — and prefers the right — is moral. A person whose morality is reflected in their willingness to do the right thing — even if it is hard or dangerous — is ethical. It starts in the school yard. Most everybody knows that the bully is wrong — that’s morality. But only a few will speak up to protect the one getting bullied by calling for a teacher — that’s ethics. Even fewer will step in physically to actually protect the child being bullied — that’s the behavior of an Ethical Warrior.

Law enforcement officers serve daily in a jungle full of “experts” in criminal behavior and moral gray areas. But Life is the “true north” of the moral compass that can keep officers on track. When we possess a calibrated compass, we can more reliably navigate that jungle. Without trying to gloss over the very real fact that Ethical Warriors like Marines and law enforcement officers may need to use force, we can articulate clearly that force is only to be used to protect life. The Dual Life Value is the guiding bedrock principle that can inspire us to protect and serve.

Why Martial Arts?
As the hunting story illustrates, ethics are ultimately moral-physical. Moral people may want to step up and do the right thing, but they often lack the physical courage and ability. Martial arts give them the necessary skills and confidence. And that is why Ethical Warrior training includes — and must include — martial arts, especially for professionals like Marines or law enforcement officers.

It is also important that the training be ongoing. An interesting challenge with Ethical Warriorship is that the lessons tend to “wear off” without sustainment. The warrior ethic must be sustained by continuous physical-moral training. For the Marines, that means at least a few hours a week of the physical MCMAP training with the moral tie-ins. For law enforcement, that would mean a deliberate effort to integrate appropriate Warrior Ethics tie-ins into some type of tactical training.

In Summary
So how do we apply the Marine Ethical Warrior approach to the law enforcement profession? The answer may lie in determining the value of a proposed description of the desired end-state. A law enforcement Ethical Warrior would view everyone foremost as a life to be valued, protected, and defended, regardless of race, nationality, economic, or legal status. When called upon to deal with someone engaging in criminal behavior, the law enforcement Ethical Warrior would be motivated first by protecting those he or she serves, and ultimately even protecting the criminal if possible.

This vision may be particularly appropriate in the context of community policing. The value of involving the community in policing has been well established. The success of this approach depends on being able to develop effective relationships with community leaders and organizations, and on developing a basic sense of trust and respect between officers and the community. One of the obstacles to developing trust is the tendency for the police and the community served to each view their counterpart as the “other.” Police in Salinas, Calif. recently started incorporating military counterinsurgency theory into their policing strategy as a way to win the hearts and minds of gang members. A clear demonstration of commitment to the Dual Life Value could be an excellent way for the law enforcement side to begin to bridge this divide. It could also support departmental morale by giving individual officers a renewed sense of the noble feeling of being a protector.

If we conclude the Ethical Warrior approach could be useful, we must address how the training can be adapted for a law enforcement context. The demands of patrol, investigation, and other functions occupy most law enforcement time and resources. Yet adaptation and innovation could be used to devise an effective approach.

All law enforcement agencies have some type of defensive tactics program. While these programs might not be characterized as martial arts, they possess the physical element which could be integrated with values stories to teach the Warrior Ethic.

Dr. Humphrey’s stories resonate with most people, but other appropriate law enforcement stories could be identified that convey the same lessons of valuing and protecting life. The training sessions would not have to be long, just scheduled regularly to accomplish the all-important goal of sustainment.

Law enforcement officers should be shining examples of the best values of the societies they serve. A proper physical-moral training and sustainment regimen can activate a feeling of “nobility” in our officers, and perhaps, even help them avoid PTSD (or burnout). The result will be more motivated officers, greater respect for the law enforcement profession, and more effective policing for our communities.

About the Authors
Jack E. Hoban is president of Resolution Group International and a subject matter expert for the U.S. Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. Bruce J. Gourlie is a Special Agent of the FBI and a former U.S. Army infantry officer.

About the Authors
Jack E. Hoban is president of Resolution Group International and a subject matter expert for the U.S. Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. Bruce J. Gourlie is a Special Agent of the FBI and a former U.S. Army infantry officer. Correspondence can be sent to both authors via Jack Hoban

In partnership with Police1 Contributor Dr. George Thompson, Jack Hoban will be instructing “Verbal Judo and RGI Tactical Skills,” a user-level combined course, on August 4-6, 2010 in Syracuse, New York. Check for additional details here:

Jack E. Hoban is president of Resolution Group International, subject matter expert for Combatives and Warrior Ethics for the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, and trains police officers in de-escalation skills.

Bruce J. Gourlie is a former U.S. Army infantry officer, a retired FBI Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge for Intelligence and currently the director of security in a large healthcare system.

Correspondence can be sent to both authors by emailing Hoban & Gourlie.