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Warning Against “That First Instinct”

by Warren E. Berkley

Check your moral compass frequently. I have seen it both in combat and in peace. If you do not know who you are walking into a situation, you may not like who you are when you're done. When I was a lieutenant in Vietnam, I lost Lance Corporal Guido Ferranaro from Bethpage, New York, a 19-year-old Marine, to a sniper—the first Marine I'd ever lost in combat. I was filled with rage, and I called in an artillery strike on the village from which the sniper fired. Between the time that I called in the strike and the rounds were fired, my platoon sergeant didn't say a word, he just looked at me. And I realized I was doing the wrong thing, and I called off the artillery strike, and we did what we should've done, which was to sweep through the village. And all we found in that village were women and children.

I do not know how I could live with myself today if I had carried that first instinct forward. The time to decide who you are and what you will let yourself do is not when somebody gets shot, it is not when your wingman gets shot down, it is before you get in that situation so you have an anchor to hold on to. This applies elsewhere.”

Commencement address - The Citadel, Military College of South Carolina
6 May 2006, McAlister Field House. General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Though many of us have never experienced the combat situation General Pace describes, most of us know what he means about “that first instinct.”

We can recall specific circumstances where our first reaction was not the best. It may have been temptation to react with vengeance. It could have been some powerful seduction into other sins of passion or gratification. Or maybe someone in a group offended you, and your impulse was to denounce or destroy the entire group. Often, the devil puts before us some temptation and his hope is, we will not think through the consequences. His purpose is to provoke that first instinct.

God wants us to know we are capable of better things. Building on commitment and attitude and with training from the Word, we can prepare ourselves for right responses.

I can prepare my mind for action (I Peter 1:13). I can live my life “under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt” me “at the proper time,” (I Peter. 5:6). I am able now to “draw near to God,” knowing that “He will draw near to me,” (James 4:8). There is no reason for me to despair or assume I am defeated, for I can “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” (II Timothy 2:1). I can use the time I have now to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 3:14) and I can “do all things through Him who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13).

There is no excuse. And there is no need to be a victim of your own instincts! “And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God,” (Galatians 6:16).

Source: http://www.citadel.edu/pao/addresses/grad06_GenPeterPace.html