Review of Reviews

What Is Bravery?

September 15 1940
Review of Reviews

What Is Bravery?

September 15 1940

What Is Bravery?

Review of Reviews

Determination and SelfControl Are The Essentials, States An Authority

BRAVERY is mostly a matter of plain determination, and anyone can train himself to be as brave as he needs to be, states an article in Defence, The Services’ Magazine, London. We are told:

The man who exposes himself recklessly in the front line is not brave, but a plain fool, who is not only throwing his own life away but is drawing the fire which may cause needless casualties among his comrades.

The country doesn’t pay a soldier to get killed, but to stay alive and kill enemies. Yet the man who is the essence of caution and always keeps his head below the parapet will certainly not be thought much of.

You see, the soldier is first and foremost a practical man. His comment on any given action is: “What’s the use of it?” Recklessness can sometimes be essential. It may save a man’s life, or gain invaluable information, or save precious time.

The difference usually is that the reckless fool performs his antics with a selfconscious swagger, while the brave man does them as though they were the normal and obvious thing to do.

Bravery isn’t a matter of what you feel like inside. The man who says he never feels afraid is either a liar or insane. Fear is an enormously powerful emotion implanted in us by nature for the purpose of preserving our lives. The only thing that will stimulate the adrenal glands to abnormal activity is fear.

Under its influence they greatly increase the secretion of their marvellous fluid, which acts on the body as a supercharger acts on a car. It speeds up mind, nerves and muscles, and enables us to perform feats of strength, agility and quick thinking that are normally far beyond our capacity.

Whether you are a hero or a coward depends on how you use the powers conferred upon you by this rush of adrenalin into the blood stream. If you use them to remove yourself as rapidly as possible to a place of safety you may be showing either reasonable caution or abject cowardice, depending on circumstances. The really brave man will always try to use the stimulus of fear in order to do the best he can for the cause he serves.

It is clear, then, that true bravery demands something more than indifference to personal danger. It needs expert knowledge. The more one knows, the better can one decide what is best to do in any given situation. The man who has mastered a job is unlikely to feel panic if calk'd upon to do it in dangerous circumstances.

A large proportion of what we call bravery is just plain determination. If every man in a battalion is determined to capture a given objective, that jx>sition will usually be carried. It was found again and again in the last war that supposedly impregnable positions could be captured by determined troops, whereas far more vulnerable places were successfully held against men who lacked this spirit.

Determination need not involve the element of risk. That is why generals are dubious about battalions which have a large number of men falling out on route marches. They know that if men have insufficient perseverance to carry them through a twentv-mile tramp in spite of fatigue, they will not be likely to force their way forward until they get within bayonet thrust of the enemy.

Then again, there ist the question of ; ruthlessness. I doubt whether a really brave man could be consistently softhearted and unselfish. It is not merely a matter of being able to ignore the danger of personal mutilation or death. In war one becomes curiously indifferent to such things. It requires far more bravery to

order men one likes to do a job that will mean almost certain death, while one stops behind in comparative safety.

A pilot who would go joyously into an aerial scrap against impossible odds would go almost crazy when, promoted to a senior position, he could only wait helplessly at the airdrome and issue orders to others to do the dirty work.

Perhaps the most important attribute of bravery is self-control.

Staying in a spot because you have been ordered to stop there.

Looking cheerful and confident when you wish you were a thousand miles away.

Keeping your limbs steady when your knees want to do a tap dance.

Not that the outward signs of fear would matter much if you were alone. They are mostly simple physical reactions which would be almost exactly duplicated if a doctor gave you an injection of adrenalin, and have little to do with the way you personally would behave.

But because fear can so easily develop into panic, and panic is communicated mainly by instinctive mimicry, it is vitally important to avoid giving way to open symptoms of fear.