Throughout my research, writing and subsequent promotion of The Sniper Mind I trod a very fine line separating the practical reality of being a sniper with the considerable mental and psychological attributes that are part of the role.
My primary focus, throughout, was on what we can gleam from the person behind the gun that can help us become better individuals making better decisions even when we are under pressure.
The Sniper Mind Blog hasn’t changed in that regard but the world around us, arguably, is a lot different to the world of 2017 when the book first came out. In that time the world sniper record for a confirmed kill in an active combat environment has been broken by a Canadian sniper who goes by the call-sign ‘Wali’.
I deconstructed his record-breaking shot here. It is worth visiting that link to understand the complexity of the factors that go into achieving that feat.
‘Wali’ Heads For Ukraine
Wali has been called ‘the world’s deadliest sniper’. The reason we are looking at him now is because he has joined the Ukraine Foreign Legion, helping the Ukraine military, fight against unprovoked Russian aggression.
Snipers are highly skilled individuals who are ‘force multipliers’. They exact a higher psychological toll on combatants than undirected automatic weapons fire or shell and mortar fire. Just the idea that someone may be watching you through a sniper scope from a distance that renders them invisible is sufficient in itself to increase the anxiety level soldiers experience. Real-life examples abound, from Chris Kyle, the ‘American Sniper’, whose exploits in Afghanistan were immortalized in a book and then a movie by the same name to Simo Häyhä, Finland’s hero sniper, who the Russians, in that invasion, feared so much that they put a bounty on his head.
In each case these snipers played the same role as the famous WWII Soviet sniper, Vasily Zaitsev. Namely:
- They are morale boosters for their own side.
- They create fear and confusion in the enemy.
- They serve as symbols of military prowess for the victorious side.
- They become part of the narrative the ‘winning’ side presents to the world.
Because of all that they act as identity-curation and values-determinant points of focus.
War is a crazy, distasteful, destructive and morally inexcusable activity. In “Intentional: How to Live, Love, Work and Play Meaningfully” I mentioned the On War written by the Prussian general and once child-soldier, Carl von Clausewitz where he states that “War is merely the continuation of politics with other means."
From our perspective, when we get to that stage, our politics has failed to safeguard human life and needs a major re-think. I would argue so does our societal set-up. Everything that was supposed to safeguard us and didn’t needs to be rethought. This includes our own culpability at a personal level, and this is where things become difficult.
Ilia Krasilshchik, former publisher of independent news outlet Medusa, that became one of the victims of the Kremlin’s crackdown on news outlets that did not slavishly parrot the state line, made the same case in an essay published in The New York Times that is uncomfortable to read.
When things happen that we don’t want to happen, I argue, that they then have to happen. Not because I believe in some predestined reality but because moments such as the war in Ukraine are evidence of system errors.
The system in question, in this case, is the greater world we fashion of nations and governments and systems of governance and the way they all rub up against each other. When that system breaks down to the extent that we experience what we do not want to experience it is largely because, despite the views we articulate we have failed to make sure our views, values and beliefs are adequately represented in the system itself.
Make no mistake here. When it comes to system errors there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. The failure is collective and even if we’ve taken what we think was action to avoid what we experience that action was either wrong or insufficient which is why it wasn’t enough.
System errors are there to force us to make corrections. Corrections always have a cost.
We Are All Responsible
Snipers, by training as well as attitude represent the ultimate level of responsibility in every field of war. Their actions are intentional and the consequences are always highly personal. They do nothing without thinking it through.
‘Wali’s’ decision to join the fighting is the natural, logical conclusion of a process that makes the individual responsible for who they are and what they do and, by extension of that logic, responsible for the wider system that is around them.
For most of us the skillset we possess makes us unsuitable to join an active war zone. But that doesn’t absolve us of responsibility and, it’s becoming more and more evident, that the less we understand this the more system errors we are likely to experience and as these accumulate, none of us will escape their effect.