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Guest Post: Paranoia Vs. Situational Awareness

(Today's post is by Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

As I walked home along a familiar route with the family dog and my father, he paused before a shadow filled alcove and looked into the emptiness. With his hand on my shoulder, he stopped me to grab my attention from my daydreaming. My father, stirred by something familiar, decided to impart a lesson to his son.

He pointed to the inlet.
“Always ready,” he told me. “If someone wanted to hurt you, this is the type of place that they might hide to attack.” These were not his exact word mind you, but the sentiment he intended to impart is the very same. Simply, to be mindful. To be safe.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t understand. I couldn’t. An imaginative child, I wondered who would ever want to hurt me. My child-like naivety confined my perception of violence to action movies, most of which strangely starred Jean Claude Van Damme. Perhaps a Terminator would be after me. The only reason anyone would want to hurt me, I figured, was that I was the hero of some fantastic adventure story, or the less exciting ally of that hero that he or she must save.  Raised in white suburbia, this was my view of danger.
Danger was not, however, foreign to my father. As a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, danger was always present. Whether it was the terrain you walked that might be laden with land mines or makeshift bamboo traps, a friendly South Vietnamese shop owner who was secretly feeding troop information to the VC, or any bush or tree or elevated position that might hide a lone sniper; my father was taught, and experienced, the value of situational awareness.
Soldiers are taught to mind their surroundings. To be watchful. Constantly at the ready. In operations area, especially in our current era, a soldier is consistently in harms way. My father was told and learned through experience, that if an individual is not wearing a US military uniform, they are potentially an enemy. Even women and children were potential combatants. Not that civilians are considered combatants, merely that there were stories of women and children taking up arms to kill American soldiers. With such knowledge and rumors, as well as the constant submersion in an unfamiliar territory, it is understandable that a soldier would be constantly on his guard.
When a soldier comes home, certain things do not turn off. At least not right away. Even in peace time. Especially, when that soldier stays in the service. This happened to my father after the war. And here in the US, in peaceful southern California suburbs, situational awareness is viewed as paranoia.
There’s no change in my father’s thought process. Simply in one part of the world, how he thinks in regards to what is around him is considered valuable, where as in another part of the world, it is strange. This is because the world itself is different. When a soldier comes home, it’s no longer a war zone. But it’s too difficult to ignore something that was so ingrained into their thought process.
Combat veterans come home and often have a difficult time adjusting. The variation of returning to peace is vast. Some miss their comrades. Some cannot sleep unless they have a pistol under their pillow. And some are thought to be paranoid because they cannot shut off what they learned.

For more on this topic, please read "When They ARE Out to Get You."

four comments

I had the same feeling as a kid with action movies. That was war.

I loved the tone on this piece Matty P. It really captures the feeling of two different worlds, combat and return. I find myself falling into patterns of thinking like that as well, not that severe, but I still think like that.

Matty, you’ve managed to write this post with a lot of compassion and insight and presented it in a way where the reader gains great understanding for the main character (your father). This is really well done!

On a more personal basis I wish I could feel that the “outside” is dangerous – for me it’s always right here and now, somehow I always end up in situations where I have to watch my back or risk too much – really frustrating, because all I want is just to live in peace!

As for the parental side of it: I tell my sons they should think of a building site as if it was a battlefield. Anything can come down on them, anything collapse or blow up… and you’ve always gotta keep an eye on what the others are doing! Just hope they get it, because I’ve seen too many near misses and incidents that didn’t work out quite so well…

@Eric, the action movies tend to over exaggerate this… but at the same time, it happens to come in handy for the ex-military hero character who has to rescue his family from well trained but crooked sighted villains.

@Michael, there’s nothing wrong with wanting security for yourself and your family.

@Sarah, that’s kind of you. I too have never really consider myself at particular risk for danger. Still, I do value my father’s lessons. Just like your sons, it’s important to be aware of my surroundings because even if it’s not from malicious intend, dangers do persist.