Combat breathing and military occupation

In “Fear Factor”, his review of Amanda Ripley’s fascinating-sounding The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes, published in City Journal 21 June 2008, John Robb writes:

… in complex disasters, the biological-fear response can slow thinking so severely that it can kill you.

We can counter fear, however. The best method, FBI trainers say, is to get control of your breathing. “Combat breathing” is a simple variant on Lamaze or yoga training — breathe in four counts, hold four counts, exhale four counts, and repeat. It works because breathing is a combination of the somatic (which we control) and the autonomic (which we can’t easily control) nervous systems. Regulation of the autonomic system deescalates the biological-fear response and returns our higher-level brain functions to full capacity. So one of the best ways you can prepare yourself to overcome fear in a crisis is as simple as a meditation, Lamaze, or yoga class.

I find it fascinating and also sensible that yogic / meditative techniques are now taught by members of the law enforcement community:

Training under stress also will help officers learn to control their arousal level. As their physiological agitation escalates, so might their susceptibility to perceptual and memory distortions. Thus, learning to control arousal level can help reduce distortions. Therefore, officers should receive training in and regularly practice ways to control arousal levels in high-stress situations. One process, the combat breathing technique, has proven highly effective in this area.

Alexis Artwohl, “Perceptual and memory distortion during officer-involved shootings”, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Oct, 2002

This reminds me of Richard Strozzi Heckler’s In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Green Berets, now in its fourth edition.

What fascinates me even more, though, is the discovery that “combat breathing” is a term that was already in use before it was applied to breathing techniques for controlling one’s emotions in crisis conditions. Frantz Fanon coined the term, as far as I am able to determine, to describe the elevated level of frustration under which occupied peoples go through their daily lives.

In writing about Algeria in A Dying Colonialism, Fanon writes (p.65):

There is not occupation of territory, on the one hand, and independence of persons on the other. It is the country as a whole, its history, its daily pulsation that are contested, disfigured, in the hope of a final destruction. Under these conditions, the individual’s breathing is an observed, an occupied breathing. It is a combat breathing.

From this point on, the real values of the occupied quickly tend to acquire a clandestine form of existence. In the presence of the occupier, the occupied learns to dissemble, to resort to trickery.

We might do well to consider Fanon’s words in relation to the occupation of Iraq, as perceived by those who have no cause to welcome it.


Again I am reminded — and this is peripheral to the issue of breathing techniques in combat, but germane to that of religious sanctions for violence — of Gary North’s comment in an appendix (p. 846) to R.J. Rushdoony’s The Institutes of Biblical Law. North suggests that much of what Christ taught his disciples was intended to ease them through the Roman occupation, and would no longer have force once that occupation could be ended:

Nevertheless, this one fact should be apparent: turning the other cheek is a bribe. It is a valid form of action for only so long as the Christian is impotent politically or militarily. By turning the other cheek, the Christian provides the evil coercer with more peace and less temporal danger than he deserves. By any economic definition, such an act involves a gift: it is an extra bonus to the coercing individual that is given only in respect of his power. Remove his power, and he deserves punishment: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Remove his power, and the battered Christian should either bust him in the chops or haul him before the magistrate, and possibly both.

This “dominionist” strand of contemporary Christian thinking — of which Rushdoony’s book is the theological centerpiece, and which exerts some influence on the Christian right as a whole — thus holds Christianity to be a great deal fiercer and more intransigent than a reading of the Beatitudes might lead one to believe.

I somehow don’t think

Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who insult you and persecute you

makes a whole lot of sense if you tag on the words “and keep your fingers crossed” at the end.


2 Responses to “Combat breathing and military occupation”

  1. “Combat breathing” from Fanon to FBI « DoubleQuotes Says:

    […] For further insight, see discussion on my Forensic Theology blog. […]

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