By Ernest Emerson
A pretty young flight attendant starts up the aisle to respond to a call light above a seat in row 23. As she passes the fourth row a man stands up steps behind her and grabs her from behind. No one even notices his actions. Her eyes go wide with surprise as he cuts across her neck from her left ear across her throat tearing out the front of her trachea. Still not realizing what has just happened, the flight attendant’s hands come up to her throat, blood spraying from her severed arteries as her expression changes from surprise to mortal terror.
From behind her are heard shouts of “Allah Akbar!” The man strips the flight attendants hands down from her neck fully exposing the gaping wound as her muffled scream is nothing more than loud choking gurgles. Even now passengers are still watching, drawn more to a “commotion” than actually realizing what was really taking place. The man throws the attendant face-down into the aisle and stands with one foot in the middle of her back as she writhes violently about in her last seconds of life upon this earth. Still shouting “Allah Akbar”, the man, now with the crazed look of a rabid animal keeps shouting his cursed chant. The time was 8:19 AM. The date was 9-11-01. The plane was American Airlines Flight #11. And the rest of his unholy team sprang into action.
The initial step of this takeover was a carefully planned and orchestrated event. It took approximately 32 seconds from start to finish. In those 32 seconds, during which two flight attendants had their throats cut, no one even moved, save to “see what was going on.” The Hi-Jackers had planned well, very well. They chose this act of violence as the first act of their deadly play. Why?
Because they were well aware of the affect that an act of extreme violence has on a “normal” person. They were aware of both the physical and psychological effects that this brutal act would provide for them.
Do you think that they would have even stood a chance of taking over the plane if they had merely stood up waving a razor knife and started yelling, “We are taking over this plane!”?
The initial non-reaction of the passengers had nothing to do with bravery or cowardice. It had to do with a human being’s reaction to a spontaneous, out of context event that was so far out of context and so shocking and surreal that the human mind just could not process what was happening. There was no previous frame of reference for the mind to immediately recognize what was going on.
This act of violence and the resulting shock and terror was what enabled these Islamic Jihadists to take control of the airplane and complete their deadly, unholy mission.
I will now introduce you to that first process and it is what I will be discussing in the first half of the discourse on the effects of Extreme Violence.
We have all heard of the “fight or flight” reaction to a spontaneous, unanticipated threat. Well, there is much more to it than just, fight or flight, and there is another process that must take place to completion before fight or flight is even activated.
The purpose of this discussion is to bring you an awareness and understanding of these processes and reactions that will allow you to see them for what they are and to use them to your advantage and not to be completely submissive to them.
Without going into great detail about the historical origin of these processes, I will briefly frame, then explain them so that you understand the process to a sufficient degree to prevent you from being caught completely unaware of their effects should the insanity of extreme violence ever come knocking on your door.
The OODA loop and it is the name given to a process that is the hard wired sequence that the human mind must go through every time you are confronted with a spontaneous, unexpected, stimulus or stress. Please reference Lt. Col John Boyd for a detailed history and thorough analysis of the Ooda loop.
Have you ever come around a corner or turned to go through a doorway when suddenly there was someone already there and you were “startled”. If you have, then you were in the middle of the OODA loop. What OODA stands for is; Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. Whenever the mind “sees” something for the first time, the OODA loop is switched on and running. It only takes a few microseconds to complete from start to finish, but in terms of life or death those few micro seconds might seem to last an eternity.
As the eyes, ears or other sensory organs are triggered by an outside stimulus the first step in the OODA loop, “observe”, is when raw data is being poured in. There is not yet any judgment formed by the mind as to good, bad, threat, benign or anything else. An analogy might be, it’s like turning on the T.V. and seeing the image. You don’t know what program you’re watching for a moment. Every human mind, every person will experience this.
The second phase of the loop, “orient”, is when the mind analyzes and recognizes or defines, what it is that it is “seeing”. That is when the brain, says, human, dog, gunshot, punch, car running a red light, etc. The mind cannot figure out what to do if it doesn’t know what it is hearing, seeing, or feeling. Using the TV analogy, this would be where you see the face of an actor and recognize it, which then tells you which show it is. “It’s Jack Bauer – must be 24.” Orienting, is “recognizing” the raw data and starting to categorize it, which leads to the next resulting phase.
Decision, the d, in OODA is the immediate process of the mind responding to the analysis of the stimulus according to the recognition of the stimulus. During this phase the mind assesses the recognized stimulus and assigns a value to it at which point a trigger is pulled which is the minds decision as to the nature and value of the stimulus and what must be done by the body as a result of the stimulus. For example, gunshot = threat = duck. A punch to the face would trigger, Danger = hands up and cover. A honking horn and screeching tires = danger = get back on the curb or if you’re driving, hit the brakes. Once again using the TV analogy this is when after recognizing “24” you decide, leave it on or, “I’ve already seen this episode, change channels.”
And the next step is reaching for the remote. That next step is action. This is the moment in time when Observe, Orient, and Decide have come up with a conclusion and potential response, a fire solution, to the initial stimulus. Notice I say potential. That’s because, to the outside world, nothing would have appeared to have happened yet. Everything up to this point everything is internal. “Action,” is now the moment when everything previous has caused the brain to fire off an electro-chemical signal through the nervous system to trigger the proper muscles into action. This is when you finally, duck, cover, crouch, recoil, turn, jump back to the curb, or physically push the button on the TV remote. It is the end result, the physical manifestation of the OODA loop process.
Now, the way that I’ve described it here it would make it seem like this process takes minutes to complete. That is only because I have the luxury of discussing this in the safe cocoon of after-the-fact analysis. In fact this is the reason that so many juries, no, all juries have so much trouble understanding why a police officer drew and fired his gun. What originally took a second to take place is presented to a jury over days, or sometimes weeks of discussion. Whereas uneducated jurors have the luxury of long analysis and deliberations, an officer has only micro seconds to interpret, decide and act. regen, “Why did you shoot? He only was pointing his cell phone at you.”
The problem is that in these micro-seconds of extreme danger where these life or death decisions are made, the mind sometimes misinterprets the picture that it sees.
Some of the real answers to that last question are the result of another process that is also taking place during the response to unexpected spontaneous stimulus. It is commonly called the Flight or Flight response and there is much more to it than most of us know.
We’ll delve into that process in the next article – Extreme Violence Part II: Fight or Flight –
It’s not your only choice.
From the Editor: Thanks to Ernest Emerson for this series on personal combat. Ernest is a hand combat instructor and knife-maker – learn more about him here http://www.emersonknives.com/