Culture Military

The blame-game in combat

Private Matheson didn’t just hear the rounds zip past his head, he felt them. The feeling would have been more unsettling if he hadn’t been busy shooting back, glancing over at his team leader to make sure he was doing the right thing, and focusing on his next piece of cover to bound to.

“Bound forward!” Sergeant James cried over the gunfire. Immediately the SAW roared with a barrage of lead, and the enemy ducked behind cover — they had precious seconds to maneuver.

Matheson eyed a cement road barrier, crumbled in half but that would provide good cover. He leaped to his feet, sprinted with all his might, and then careened to his knees behind the barrier not three seconds later. Before anyone knew it, his rifle was up and he was shooting again.

The 20-year-old blinked and they were already clearing through. With a pop-pop, two extra bullets were put into the enemy, lying there on the ground mangled and torn to pieces. Two bodies reduced to mounds of flesh — it would have made his stomach turn if his stomach had the time.

“Matheson!” Sergeant James called to him, “You good?”

“Good, sergeant. Up, up, four mags,” he said through labored breaths.

In a flurry of voices, all was confirmed well throughout 2nd squad, there at the limit of their advance past the fallen enemy’s position.

“Alright, Matheson – Doc’s taking care of McLeod, he took a round to the leg but I think he’s gonna be alright. Just go back and make sure he’s got solid security.”

Private Matheson glanced back at James, confused look on his face. “What? Wasn’t my fault McLeod got shot. I didn’t shoot him.”

“…fucking excuse me?”

“McLeod took cover behind that tiny tree, he knows better than that. His leg was sticking right out. I’m not helping him, and I’m certainly not taking his sector of fire.”

The Sergeant stared at him in disbelief. “Listen, Matheson, so help me God if you don’t get over there I’m going to f—”


This is where the record scratches and we freeze-frame on Private Matheson’s dumb face. And we’d better stop the story before Sgt. James storms over and beats the living hell out of the kid.

Of course, this is a made up story. It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is — if there’s a problem in combat, you fix it. That’s it. The blame-game might be useful later, after the mission is over, so James can ensure that all his men know how to properly use cover. But in the middle of a mission? It’s infinitely more important that the problem gets resolved. Acting from blame or spite only gets more people hurt or killed, and it certainly won’t contribute to accomplishing the mission.

And yet how many times do you see this today, outside of combat? How often are we concerned with who’s to blame over finding a solution to the problem? In the political realm, you hear it all the time: “Hillary did worse” or “Funny that you care about the troops now that you can use it as ammo against Trump.”

Or on a more personal level: “I’d treat them with respect if they did anything to deserve it. Until then, I’m going to continue to sit here and jab and make snarky remarks like a 12-year-old,” or “they started it when they did XYZ.”

Like Private Matheson, we might be technically correct when we say things like that. But you have to ask yourself — what are you really trying to accomplish? Are you just trying to define sides and point out blame, but ultimately accomplish nothing?

Or are you trying to strategically resolve an issue? Because if you’re not, you’re just blithering on like half of the rest of the people on the internet.

This happens very often when you suggest someone “reach out” and make amends with “the other side.” “They started it,” is a standard response, or “I will when they get their act together.” Maybe they’re right on all accounts. So what? I’ll ask it again: what are you trying to accomplish when you open your mouth (or type with your fingers)?

It turns out that a whole lot of people are more like Private Matheson than we would like to admit.


Featured image: DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Stacy L. Pearsall, U.S. Air Force. (Released) 


0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

Right on Luke!

2 years ago

Superbly put

2 years ago

Well put Luke. Sadly, we tell our kids not to engage in this game only to give them front seats to MVP players as adults. Then we wonder…where did they learn that? Great lessons here.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
%d bloggers like this: