Sympathetic Aggressor

This thought comes out of the “Desensitized to Violence” discussion going on which I recommend if you haven’t read it. The issue of mentally preparing yourself for actually having to defend yourself and how to deal with the emotional aftermath came up in part there. I think most of us have no problem picturing ourselves taking action against a 265 lb muscle bound aggressor.

Law enforcement officers and military personnel have to come to grips with and mentally prepare for the possibility of taking the life of a sympathetic aggressor at some point in their career. For law enforcement in this day and age, it is introduced in the academy training. In considering this, it can be whatever you want it to be. A 12 year old child that is joining a gang and has to commit an act of violence or murder to get in. A teenaged female with a gun robbing the store you are in firing at the owner and other customers. I know when it is proposed, a lot of people have no problem saying something along the lines of, “If it is between them or me, I’ve got no problem pulling the trigger.” I can tell you though, when encountered in a real life street situation, you can see in a new officer’s eyes how real the situation has become to them.

Have we prepared ourselves mentally to be able to defend ourselves or our family against a sympathetic aggressor? Is it something you have considered?


That’s a really tough question. I’m going to go think about that some.


I have a friend, that was a sniper in Vietnam. He does not now, nor will he ever own another firearm. He said it stems from having to decide to either watch his friends die, or shoot “kids.” Mind you, these “kids” were shooting American soldiers with machine guns. He still had a hard time coping. He turned to alcohol, and it cost him his 1st marriage. Later in life, he came to know God, and found his solace in that forgiveness. But, he says he could never use a firearm against another human being. When I put my ccw pistol on, every time, he’s in the back of my thoughts. Can I, if ever it came to this, draw my gun to defend life? Absolutely. Can I do it, with zero mental fallout, well? If ever that answer becomes no, then I believe, I need to reach out. I feel any person that can end another human life, with absolutely zero fallout, should start to really question their level of sanity. I hope to God I never have to face that demon, but I would stare it straight in the eye to defend myself, friends, family, and other human life if necessary.


Agree with @45IPAC. I also balance which would be a more difficult mental hurdle, losing a family member because I didn’t, or taking a life because I didn’t have a choice. There is no winning in that debate just not losing as bad. For now family matters. I can’t control someone else’s actions.


I guess I might be the one here to say if it’s a kid or a full grown adult if it comes down to me having to decide my life or my families life against the one committing the crime I will eliminate the threat and not think twice at that point in time. I will have time to reflect on the situation and run the situation through my head to see if I could have done something different. If it’s life or death I will choose my life over someone else who doesn’t care about life or someone’s family.


To hesitate in making a split second can lead to a nightmare. Situation awareness, mindset to focus on the people that you are going to help guide to safety, looking for concealment and/or cover, and do you stop that threat. You are a walking miracle and you do what you are called to do. If you stopped that threat, you will need help legally, but your witnesses should fill in the blanks of the shooting that may happen or the fulfillment to stop that threat. Training is necessary and you may walk free with all the others. Keep the rules and your education. You are a miracle!


In a shoot for defense setting we are always choosing between one life and another. (This doesn’t mean that I intend to kill them, but I intend to stop the threat and I accept that I may need to kill them to do so.)

In a criminal aggressor, they have elected to take action that has a potentially deadly risk. The choice to start or continue an assault begins and ends with them. We consider them competent to make that choice. I would choose my life or the life of an innocent over theirs.

If the aggressor is an adult, but on drugs, we consider that their decision chain started with taking the drugs. Even if they are not competent at the time of the assault, they still hold responsibility for their drug use and what follows on. I would choose my life or the life of an innocent over theirs.

If the aggressor is mentally ill, it gets harder. I’ve seen that happen, degrading from competent to not competent over time, and its definitely not something they choose. That said, I would still choose my own life or the life of an innocent over theirs.

If the aggressor is a child… they are defacto not competent. We grant latitude all the time in recognition of their brain not being capable of the function required to be fully responsible. Immature thinking or emotional capacity is a real thing. Add to it that we are culturally, and probably biologically, wired to be tolerant of a child’s immaturity and to be protective of them despite their behavior, and it gets to be a much harder choice. Still, in that circumstance I think I would choose my life or the life of an innocent over theirs.

I know a couple people who’ve had to make that choice in war, it’s a hard one to find peace with.

One thing my husband says about why so many men came back from Vietnam crazy or broken, and he did not, is this: There are rules for here, peacetime normal life rules. And there are rules for there, wartime do what you have to in order to come home alive rules. You can’t confuse the two, and you can’t apply the rules from one place to the things you do in the other. If you let the two places and sets of rules run together, your own head becomes an extremely difficult and damaging place to live.

I think perhaps in the moment it becomes truly your life or someone else’s, you’ve entered that other world, and that world’s rules apply.

I wouldn’t voluntarily step into that other world, but if pushed there by unavoidable circumstances or the unpreventable actions of another, I think I understand what the rules are and would be able to act accordingly. And then I’d have to find the way to apply what my husband describes.


To quote a line from Rambo
“To survive a war, you have to become war.”
Under extra ordinary circumstances, ordinary people are capable of extraordinary actions.


“Please do not let today be the day. But should it happen grant me the clarity to see what needs to be seen, the speed to react to what happens outside of my control, the stillness to find my target, the resolve to do what needs to be done, the wisdom to know what needs to be done, and the strength to support those around me in the dark times that will follow. Amen”


@Spence I’m going to put that where I can see it every day.


I have a friend who chooses to keep people at a distance because he had to make the very hard choice in a military situation - shoot a child who was attacking his friends or let his friends die. He said he still sees that child’s face every time he closes his eyes. It’s been double digit years since this situation happened.

My friend has anger issues and a very hard time keeping a job. What he went through in another country was a horrific choice, but his military group came home alive.

Yes, I avoided specific military terms and kept this vague for his privacy.

After he shared his experience with me, I had a hard time carrying for a while. Then my granddaughter was born. I cannot control what others do, I can only control myself and I choose to defend my family - and pray I don’t have to pull the trigger.


@45IPAC, I’m glad your friend found some peace and solace. It is a tough burden taking a life even in war, much more so a child that was attempting to kill you and your friends.

@Zee your husband had a great philosophy, I’m glad it helped him through the tough times both during and after the war.

@dawn, @45IPAC, @Damon it’s good to recognize that we can’t control anyone’s but our own actions and that while we may hurt having to take the life of a sympathetic aggressor, we understand it was their own actions that placed them in harms way. @Dawn, I hope your friend finds some peace as well.

@Spence, that is a great thought or prayer, like Zee, I’m going to keep that one handy. @William_H, training and mental preparedness is key, that is why we are all here, sharing on this forum.


I don’t often share things like that, but I felt it was relevant to this conversation. This is the prayer I say after getting my EDC in place. I couldn’t find one already written that was fitting so I came up with my own.
If it helps someone somewhere then I’m happy to have shared.


@Spence, I appreciate that you did. It gets the perspective right at the beginning of the task of picking up an important responsibility every day. Thank you for sharing it.


Sir, I thank you for your entry and help and I respect you and everyone here. We all have some
experience in a physical and mental battle fields, there’s not a second goes by as it could be our
last. I have been in a battle field where pain, alcoholism, death, and other things have raised
their painful heads. I am not in computation with anyone or to mislead some astray. I have had
much help to stay totally clean and I even had a beautiful wife that love me for 26 years.

When I took on to learn self defense, many firearm usage/handling, and securities of homes, lives, and just to stay out of someone’s business, I found myself enjoying to learn from educate people,
hands on, and protect others. I desire to continue to learn all I can to be the best possible and to be
a better friend or family member.

I have been on the Streets or Towns and Cities to learn and teach how to help the homeless or give them food, in the middle of January and you will find the worst people in any weather. I am not boasting, just to give back ground.

Your training/education, you experiences, people you meet or know are important to me and there is another area, "RUN, HIDE, OR FIGHT I am not military or the police force and I have been helped a lot and I am GRATEFUL. These gifted people are needed and they come to help us and it is time to
be a more responsible hand until they arrive to help us. Priority is a must, help to save people lives.

Thank you

William H Smith Jr


I’m saving it too. thanks Spence!


If a 12 year old shows any signs of this type of behavior they need to start getting mental health help immediately. It is the responsibility of the parents to monitor the behavior of especially vulnerable teens who just want to have a sense of belonging in society.


Evil exists in this world. Most veterans have experienced this firsthand. All we can do is try to keep it at bay, and to resist giving in to it. Battlefield law and civilian law are so different, it can make your head hurt trying to figure out what is the proper response. That’s why training, both mental and physical, are so important.


There is no person alive or dead that can prepare you for the internal effects of taking another human life. In that split second decision everything you thought you knew about yourself will be subject to the harshest jury. Yourself.

I have had the honor and privilege to call GYSGT Carlos Hathcock my friend, this was a topic we discussed when I needed it most. He got very quiet and asked me to describe it. I did. He looked me dead in the eye and said “Did you do it right?” Me: “Yes Gunny.” Him: “Then you can sleep tonight knowing you saved the life of the guy behind you.” I slept good that night for the first time in many months.

He said to me “Killing is easy. Living with it is the hard part. It never goes away and you will always question it. If you don’t then you are not human. Following the rules keeps you from going insane.”

More than I ever wanted to share but applicable.




Thank you, Craig.