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The Internal Inconsistency of Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves Analogy

(We still have a ton of thoughts on Lt. Col. David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, please click here.)

We had a ton of material that didn’t make the Slate piece, and that’s the luxury of having your own blog: we can post it here. But we’re almost finished debunking this analogy, after one last post tomorrow.

Today, we’re criticizing the analogy through its own internal logic. Even assuming society can be neatly divided into three different groups, problems arise. For example...

Wolves believe they’re sheepdogs.

To put this another way--again, using the logic of the analogy that these categories exist--there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature: wolves don’t know they’re wolves. As the old axiom goes, a good villain believes he’s the hero in his own movie. (Every terrorist is a freedom fighter, too.)

If you believe otherwise, you fundamentally misunderstand the enemy you’re fighting. ISIS doesn’t consider themselves wolves. They believe America and the West are wolves. If we don’t know why they’re fighting, we’ll never be able to address the underlying concerns of the movement. And we won’t be able to stop it.

How come wolves can’t become sheep?

Grossman writes that sheepdog-ness is not innate, but a choice. How come that choice doesn’t apply to the wolves? Grossman spends a lot of time convincing sheep to become sheepdogs (i.e. arm themselves) but almost no time writing about rehabilitating the wolves instead of killing them.

Using a simple analogy to paint the world in good versus evil terms does little to solve global problems, and probably more to promote them.

The sheep don’t fear the sheepdog.

One of the many things Grossman gets wrong is the sheep’s fear of the sheepdog. In Grossman’s worldview, the sheep fear the sheepdog because he has sharp teeth. They don’t understand him and wish the sheepdog could de-fang himself.

But as James Fallows wrote last month, “This has become the way we assume the American military will be discussed by politicians and in the press: Overblown, limitless praise, absent the caveats or public skepticism we would apply to other American institutions, especially ones that run on taxpayer money.”

In short, soldiers don’t suffer from a lack of praise from the sheep. As we’ve written about before, since the Vietnam war, Americans can’t praise the soldiers enough. Ironically, American Sniper’s box office returns prove it.

To go a step further on the above point, this analogy is just one more way soldiers, veterans and gung-ho supporters of the military bash their critics. If you criticize the military, prepare to get yelled at. And one of the moral justifications is that critics of the military are just sheep who want to de-fang the sheepdog.