Heroes and Cowards

As yet I have read nothing but scorn and condemnation for Florida deputy Scot Peterson, leading me to wonder whether there is any middle ground between hero and coward in his case. An early account mentioned that he had a long exemplary record prior to the mass shooting that left 17 dead.

Mr. Peterson was armed with a pistol. He says he thought the shooting was external to the building during a crucial four minutes during which his boss says he could have possibly saved lives. Even if this is not true, one might consider the situation he was up against, a notoriously inaccurate weapon with a 5, 6 or 9 bullet magazine against a semiautomatic rifle capable of spraying bullets, high-velocity and possibly armor-piercing, at 60 to 90 rounds a minute.

There are good reasons for SWAT protocols, the team approach, the armor, the deescalation communication attempts. An assailant will always have the advantage of foresight and planning, e.g., the pulling of the fire alarm in the Parkland shooting and the blending in with the fleeing students. Had Peterson thought about this situation ahead of time, and surely he had because of the commonality of mass shooting now, he must have considered the possibility of wounding or killing an innocent in the melee. He was no youth and and he would know this would be a tough thing to live with.

Heroism is highly revered in our culture, but the real thing is rare. Only six Medals of Honor have been awarded since 9/11 and only 472 in WW II. Since Pearl Harbor, 60% were awarded posthumously. The actions that merit this are usually spontaneous and derive from total selfless commitment to one’s comrades. I submit that while this is highly laudable, it ought to be the epitome of what is expected and not what is demanded of all. Men are not taught to fall on live grenades. There is good reason why the most effective military recruits are the very young and it’s not just physical vigor. Reality sets in with age. Congress, famously, has almost no personal experience with such situations.

I debated for a while whether I even ought to post these thoughts for we are culturally conditioned to accept nothing less than perfection from military and police ideals. Real life is much more messy. I will be interested in your reactions, particularly as they pertain to the gun control issues. I understand that deputies in Broward County will now carry semiautomatic long guns.  This is logical, given that these weapons are so easy to acquire.

When I was in the Navy I saw police in the Philippines patrolling the streets with machine guns. We are becoming much like them.

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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5 Responses to Heroes and Cowards

  1. Good points, Jim. Time for a little reality to set in. It’s easy to sit back after the fact and declare what we would do, or worse, what we expect others to do. I don’t know what training officer Peterson had in dealing with the situation he faced at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, but I’m pretty sure there was something along the lines of trying not getting yourself killed against overwhelming force. If Peterson had rushed in when the Monday morning quarterbacks said he should, the toll would likely be 17 dead plus one police officer.

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  2. aFrankAngle says:

    I too was recently thinking about the deputy – especially after The Blocks for condemned him and telling everyone that he could have stopped the shooter without a weapon. Meanwhile oh where will our society for from here? I cannot foresee a good place.

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  3. PiedType says:

    Peterson knew that his job might entail confronting a shooter in the school. If he wasn’t prepared to do that, he should not have taken the job. As for his thinking the shooter was outside, that point didn’t come out until after he’d hired a lawyer. Methinks it was just an alibi dreamed up by the lawyer. Few of us would have rushed into that school, but as the armed school security guard, that was Peterson’s job. Kids were dying while he stood outside. Two teachers died trying to protect those kids; that wasn’t their job and they weren’t armed, but they still tried. Meanwhile Peterson and three other armed deputies stood outside. Don’t ask me to forgive them.

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  4. Jim R says:

    Messy indeed. As a former classroom teacher, I oppose putting teachers in the role of armed defenders. They already wear too many hats. As for Peterson, I’m in no position to judge him. I do judge our society harshly for allowing the absurd spread of weaponry meant only for mayhem.

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  5. Daniel Digby says:

    I’m a little late in reading this. Our heroic president told us he would have rushed right in and confronted the shooter, as would all of the Republican governors listening to him. Where are our heroes when we need them the most? I can just imagine Trump showing up on the scene and demanding the guy lay down his weapons “or else”, and the gunman meekly complying.

    Short of having Trump and the governors available at all future shootings we can have a bucket of stones for the students to throw at shooters, and as they run up to get their stones, the shooter can pick them off until he runs out of bullets. Excellent strategy. Or we could eliminate the doors to the school, preventing any shooter or student from getting in or out, Or we could use Trump’s own well-considered policy and let everyone carry a gun to school so the good guys would out-number the bad guy. There seems to be no shortage of incredible ideas for solving this problem when heroes like Trump are in short supply.

    The best idea seems to be keeping victims in our thoughts and prayers, since that seems to be our legislators’ firm consensus.

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