First Responders and “War Stories”

A Reflection on One Possible Reason Cops (and Other First Responders) Might Tell “War Stories,” Which an Interlocutor Dismissed as “Whoppers”:  Notwithstanding Potential Embellishment, Are the Basic Details of Most Such Stories Accurate?  Is There Any Basis for Assuming That, As a Rule, They Are Not? 

By Ken K. Gourdin

Elsewhere on the blog, I have written of first responders’ potential for using humor as a defense mechanism, as a way of processing (in as healthy a way as possible) experiences which, otherwise, are difficult to talk about.

Another poster at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion related her (?) attendance at a fireside, the colloquial term for a (usually) evening gathering of Latter-day Saints for the purpose of hearing featured speaker(s) on specific topic(s).  This particular fireside featured two members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were law enforcement officers and who related accounts of how the Lord protected them in the line of duty.  The theme of the thread is men’s need to tell such stories, perhaps to mask insecurity.

While emotional reactions are not uncommon occurrences for members of the Church of Jesus Christ who feel the Holy Spirit, this poster seemed to have an emotional reaction for different reasons, reasons which, frankly, left me baffled and which she never clarified.  (The post was a bit rambling; she started out talking about the Super Bowl—this thread was started in February of 2014—and implicitly questioning whether watching the game is an appropriate Sabbath Day activity.  I certainly won’t say that it is, nor will I say that I have never watched nor followed it as it has taken place; that makes me something of a hypocrite, I know: welcome to the human race.)

She used the term “whoppers” to describe these experiences.  At, the second definition listed for the term “whopper” is “a big lie” (last accessed February 8, 2017).

I replied:

I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic.  Maybe I simply have a huge blind spot because I come from a law enforcement family and because I don’t know exactly what you mean when you use the term “whoppers,” but I’m having trouble connecting the dots.  You know that this man/these men were telling “whoppers” because … ? The Spirit told you this man/these men were telling blatant falsehoods?  You gleaned enough information about their backgrounds that you were able to research those backgrounds against the accounts related, and you discovered glaring discrepancies between the two?  And even given that you know enough to conclude that these men were telling falsehoods (again, with due respect) I’m still puzzled by your reaction: I might be miffed; I might be chagrined that I just invested an hour or two of my time (or perhaps more) that I’ll never get back in something that turned out to not be worthwhile, but … tears?

While I do think that we need to exercise care in presuming that—since equally faithful people of all religious stripes  aren’t always protected in dangerous situations—protection in the face of danger is some kind of sign of the Lord’s favor, I had a hard time understanding her negative reaction.  While the Lord extends or withholds his protection based on what best will meet His individual plan for the person(s) involved (whether that plan involves continuing one’s sojourn in mortality or being called home on a particular occasion), I have a hard time understanding how speaking of such protection, and perhaps of the accompanying feeling that the Lord protected the person in peril because that person has not yet accomplished everything that the Lord would have him do in mortality, is a bad thing.

Another poster, a good Catholic brother whose son is a law enforcement officer (bless him and his family, including his good father, for his service!), chimed in.  “Vince has some stories,” he wrote.  “I love hearing them.  It [taking the opportunity to relate them] is not insecurity.  I beg him to tell his stories.”

Later, I wrote:

Another (slightly altered) Coveyism [from Latter-day Saint philosopher, author, and motivator Stephen R. Covey]: We don’t see past events as they were; we see them as we are.  If someone recounts an event from his past to me, I don’t necessarily want to hear simply a cold, clinical recitation of facts which is devoid of emotion.  I want to know how he interacted with and reacted to this event from his past. What insight did he gain from it, what did he learn from it? Did it change (and by change, I mean did it improve (hopefully)) his approach to life in any way?  If so, how?  If I simply hear the perhaps-embellished tale, I might, depending on my relationship with the person and other circumstances, probe for these sorts of details.  Now, having said this, is a perhaps-embellished tale on the order of a baldfaced lie or another naked effort to deceive and/or to take advantage of someone?  Again, perhaps I am simply tone-deaf to these sorts of things, but I don’t necessarily put such accounts in that category.

Still later, I wrote:

Another observation.  People wonder why law enforcement officers and soldiers joke around with each other at gruesome crime scenes and battle scenes.  Capt. Hawkeye Pierce, M.D., of M*A*S*H had an astute observation when a patient he treated asked how come he joked about everything.  Implicitly referencing the horrors of war, he replied that joking about it was the only way he could open his mouth about it without screaming.

Perhaps something similar is at work here.  Soldiers and law enforcement officers actually have seen many things most of the rest of us are reluctant even to contemplate.  With due respect for the sensitivities of many, would we prefer that those who protect us (law enforcement officers, soldiers, and others) scream and dissolve into tears when confronted with such circumstances because that’s what we would do (not that that’s not a normal human response)?  Or would we rather that they keep their composure and do their jobs?  Perhaps sharing accounts of these experiences and attempting to find the humor in them is, in part, an effort to process these things in a reasonably healthy manner (as opposed to the alternative of keeping them, and the emotions associated with them, bottled up, or allowing that emotion to manifest itself in unhealthy ways).  As strange as such attempts to process these experiences might seem to outsiders, the incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychic maladies among law enforcement officers and soldiers already is high enough: insisting that they not talk about their experiences won’t do anything to improve that state of affairs.

The thread’s originator asked, “Can someone explain to me why some men have to tell [whoppers] about their past triumphs?” And I responded:

A fish story might be a “whopper”; a tale of a past athletic contest/conquest might be a “whopper.”  It’s true that (1) we don’t see the past as it is, we see it as we are/were; and (2) there is apt always to be some difference between our experiences and how we describe them after the fact because mere words always are likely to be inadequate.  That said, I’m still somewhat troubled by your continued reference to accounts of law enforcement officers’ experiences as “whoppers.”  In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya of The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word.  I danna think it means what you think it means.” defines the word “whopper” as “A big lie.”  (last accessed February 8, 2017).

Potential for embellishment aside, I’d still like to know why you don’t find the essential facts of such accounts credible.  Again, with due respect, what is the basis of your doubt?  Do you know any of those who related such accounts personally?  Have you interacted with them in the past in ways that would cause you to doubt their general reputation for honesty?

Another poster wrote, “Most of those guys have not aged emotionally since they were playing war as kids in the backyard.”  I responded, “With due respect, if you’re including law enforcement officers in that group rather than simply speaking generally, I disagree.  Please see my previous post(s) for alternate explanations as to why officers might feel compelled to share their experiences.”

Referring to my earlier reference to Capt. Hawkeye Pierce of M*A*S*H and how he said that, essentially, humor is an emotional defense mechanism, another poster wrote (apparently dismissively, although the presence or absence of such nuances can be hard to grasp in written communication), “So my endless joking probably means I would scream about everyday life all the time as a [thing] of abject horror. That actually makes a lot of sense.”

I replied:

I offered [what I wrote] as one possible explanation for behavior that occurs among specific groups in a specific context.  So, if you’re a law enforcement officer or a soldier (or have been one), have had experiences similar to the ones I described, and have related accounts about them after the fact (often invoking humor), then feel free to wear that shoe/boot.  If not, feel free to discard it.



About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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