Have you ever questioned your own conscience?
I have, but maybe that is just one of the pitfalls of living someone else’s life for a decade.
When I was in the field, we had an odd regulation that required each of us to set foot CONUS (Continental United States), a minimum of once every five calendar years. If we went over five years, it took a buttload of paperwork to prove you hadn’t abandoned your citizenship.
I was based out of a NATO country so all I had to do was take a vacation that included a stop in the US every five years. I only had to do it once, and it doubled as a recruiting trip.
I did get sent back CONUS one other time though. It was just about three years into the field – right after an unusually violent encounter east of the Elbe.
I had completely lost the tell-tale accent that clued anyone in that I was a native English speaker and was rarely pegged as American. I was on a South Afrikan passport, but most people assumed I was from someplace east. I was more at home in that charade than I have ever been in my own skin.
We pulled a high-risk mission and executed it perfectly – home in 9 days with “a feather up our asses,” as my #2 Heinrich would say.
I never did get him to understand it was “IN” not “UP” and “HAT” not “ASS.”
Then…… came the post-mission debrief. Both my mission partners made mention of something I did that kind of freaked both of them out. It freaked me out when I realized what I did and that I didn’t realize I did it at the time. It still kind of bothers me.
Anyway – my next stop was with our group Doctor to do a blood test and give me the dreaded Gamma Globulin shot, then on to a guy named Dr. Staffler – our group shrink.
I knew Staffler pretty well. Anytime you got back from a hot mission, Staffler would have a few words with you – just to see how you were holding up.
Five years in the field was a lifetime – any longer often led to a mental breakdown and in several cases before my time, Suicide. It got so bad that one group I worked with gave their field guys a Sodium Pentothal briefing.
A procedure where the operator is sedated with Sodium Pentothal and told a story – a story stashed in the operators sub-conscious that should be what comes out in intense interrogation – they also put a “STAY ALIVE” no matter what, and NEVER commit suicide order in their heads – it worked, at least in my case it worked.
As a general rule, they always protect their investment. Spending several hundred-thousand to train an operator, just to have them get all weepy eyed and check out early was simply unacceptable.
Staffler decided I needed to take a break CONUS and clear my head – my U.S. Command decided I would submit to a second eval before I was sent back to the field, so I went to Dallas Texas for a month.
Instead of a standard “did you hate your mother” Psycho-babble, all I was asked to do was submit to a Polygraph. Polygraphs were standard in periodic security clearance investigations, but over the 33 days I was in Dallas, I took over 125 polygraph tests.
Some were long and intense; some were just one or two questions; for some I was told to try to beat the machine. Some were a complete surprise, a 0200hrs jerk ole Gid out of bed and give him a polygraph and see if he can still pull it off half-awake, kind of thing.
It became a game to beat the machine, and I found if I shifted my mind to one of my field personalities – my readings change to reflect only the truth of that personality. I got so I could answer the same question 3 times in a row and give three false answers, and all of them register true then tell the truth, and make it register false, because it was false for the personality in my head.
I was lovin it. These Navy guys giving the tests had that perpetual bovine expression, I think one of them was actually afraid of me.
The evaluation finally came to an end, and I was summoned to an office where three medical officers waited, I knew they were officers because they introduced themselves by rank – Two LT. Cols and a Captain with an accent.
The conclusion was that I was either born without a conscience – or lost it. I was determined to be incapable of true remorse and without the moral checks and balances, most people live by.
One said it was possible that something I did in the field had effectively erased my conscience, he went on that “Living without the fight or flight emotion 24-7 would eventually settle me down.”
Now that was an odd sensation… to be told you have no conscience.
The one in charge told me he was recommending I be removed from the field. – my first response was “Fuck You – sir.”
That went over like a rumbling fart on a first date – he offered to write me up.
One of the others agreed but was more concerned I would go native – He said “people void of conscience and moral borders tend to be loose with their loyalties.” – That damn near got him shot in the face, and I was, as always, armed.
One thing that can never be questioned is my loyalties.
The third Dr. basically said, “Dibs – we’ll take him.” Not exactly that but that was the message… he was clear that I should not be pulled from the field under any circumstance. His accent told me he was one of the boys from Tel Aviv, and I’m sure he saw the slightly suppressed smile that was emanating from down deep.
The Captain must have had some stroke because I was given orders to return to my group. I made the trip home and within six months was reassigned to work with a group from the Captain’s home country – Same theater just a different command.
In the following 20 years, that one issue of not having a conscience rose its ugly head every time a Background investigation was done on me. Even when I came back to the states for good, I was provided a job working on the B-2 program, and my clearance was held up 90 days over it.
I’ve questioned the whole thing millions of times.
I accepted the King’s Schilling, and I spent it on myself. – Do I have no conscience? Or did I sell it too?
I’ve done things that would make you say that. Of this, there is no question. There was a time that I would follow any order – without question and without emotion, and there are things I’m not proud of, but I know the pain the rises up like bile in my spirit when I wake up to the face of a heart I stopped. I sometimes search a crowd because I saw a face that shook me to the core.
I am what I have become but I do have a conscience – and I know remorse.
They just taught me how to turn them off when the mission came first.
I’ll get to answer for that one day – but I think I’ll be OK. – It was that King’s Schilling and I wear his mark.
I will say that I’m not sure I would have gone for the ride had I known what I would become and how hard it would be to return from that place.
Tip one with me to our dead.