The other day I was contemplating the chaos throughout the World caused by suicide bombers, young dissidents and the like, with no end product to show for their efforts but mayhem. I wondered if I was right to blame it all on adrenalin. So I examined my own life in relation to circumstances where adrenalin played a part.
Firstly there was the ridiculous period when I was in the Local Defence Volunteers, at about the time of Dunkirk. There we were, old men, chatting about their experiences in WW1; shopkeepers, farmers etc and me. We were waiting for the hordes of German, trained, well armed paratroopers, with about one shotgun or WW1 revolver, between two of us. If the paratroopers had arrived how far down the hill would I have been able to cycle with my dispatch, before being brought down, and the alarm would have been raised anyway. I believe we were all there for excitement and to be part of the action.
Next it was the London Blitz. I and my mates patrolled the area, especially the gun batteries on nights when we were not fire watching in some hazardous part of the City. Both activities were exciting, a break from the dull old day.
The Home Guard too, creeping about on exorcises in the dark in uniform, shooting at Bisley, or doing guard duty with the regular soldiers in blockhouses in Westminster. It was interesting, exciting and not to be missed.
The Royal Navy, on convoy. There is nothing that will stir the blood like the fierce clanging of the Action Stations Bell. What with the rush to one’s station, be it a gun turret, the Plot, the stern with the depth charges, or an office in the bowels of the ship, with the ominous bangs and clatters as all the water-tight doors and hatches were locked behind one, the adrenalin was high. There would be times when the ship quietly kept station at six knots, we were going through a suspected minefield. but others when the bow would rise, the ship would turn on a sixpence, with all the loose gear sliding across the deck, or across the mess table onto the deck, as we headed off after a target – then the adrenalin level changed.
Think of Diving, especially in the old helmet and heavy weight suits. Imagine, alone down there, on your first dive, you sink up to your waist in thick black mud, in water so polluted you can’t see your hand in front of your face. You have had a day’s training in a tank, suddenly you realise you are sinking deeper, and can’t kick yourself out. I believe it is the adrenalin which permits you to stop panicking, take stock, remember your training and get yourself out of the mud. At the same time I was also taught closed-circuit breathing, using pure oxygen being recycled through carbon, so that you have no air bubbles for people to discover – frogmen’s gear. In the early fifties, at the time of Suez, I was working for the Admiralty, and my boss came to me and told me I might be sent as a diver to the Middle East with the rank of Commander, I assumed as a frogman. I was surprised, but elated, couldn’t wait! It didn’t happen, the war was too short – thankfully.
Finally there was the Police in Belfast at the height of the Troubles – ’70 to ’72. I was so appalled, and frustrated with the situation. Although I had a responsible job I joined up as a constable, on duty several nights a week. Standing like a target, doesn’t create adrenalin, but a sudden call, and flying through the city in the dark in a Landrover to a shooting incident really does, as does creeping up alleys looking for a gunman.
I relate all this for three reasons, I feel I know what it is like to want to get into the action, be part of it, and to assume if anyone is injured it won’t be me. Secondly, because I believe there are those who sometimes subconsciously seek risk, and are truly confident they can handle it when thrust into it. Included in these is the psychological urge for the excitement of risk, especially in the teenager. Finally there is also the uncontrollable urge to right a wrong, which is so immense, so frustrating it has to be tackled.
From my experience and the view of my own character, I do not believe most of the suicide bombers are really up for a serious cause, they are out for excitement, when one adds martyrdom as an ingredient, and also contradictorily, the Koran’s teaching being against the murder of the innocents.