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Answering the Critics Part 1: Quotes, Context and the Origins of The Sheepdog Analogy

(We have a ton of thoughts on Lt. Col. David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, check out the posts below:

- On V in Other Places: Slate's "The Surprising History of American Sniper’s “Wolves, Sheep, and Sheepdogs” Speech”

- Race, Evil, and Black Wolves: Answering the Critics Part 2

- The Most Insulting Part of the Sheepdog Analogy

- Now Who's Being Naive? When Sheepdogs Kill Sheep

- The Internal Inconsistency of Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves Analogy

- Some Closing Thoughts on Wolves, Sheep and Sheepdogs Analogy

- Wolves, Sheepdogs and the Cops I Know)

Our Slate piece from two weeks ago (“The Surprising History of American Sniper’s “Wolves, Sheep, and Sheepdogs” Speech”), got a lot of responses. And by a lot of responses, we mean approximately 1,300 comments. (An On V record!) Like any good comments section, most of the responses were insane. But we thought we’d debunk a few of the most common rebuttals to our article.

Today, we tackle the responses that attacked our research.

“Grossman didn’t invent the analogy!”

Unfortunately, this was the most popular response about our article, challenging the idea that Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman invented the analogy.

First, we had people pointing out any analogy with a wolf, a sheep or a sheepdog in it and claiming, “See! Someone else said it first!” Most of these analogies only had two of the three animals, which wouldn’t make it quite the same. In particular, a reader filed a correction with Slate, saying it came from The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth. So I found the analogy in the book, forwarded it to Slate, and we all agreed: the analogy in that book was actually the opposite of Grossman’s analogy. (That specific analogy claimed that every member of every military in the world was a wolf preying on the innocent.)

This also happened with Plato and few other analogies. In short, people have been crafting analogies about sheep for years (like the Bible); this analogy is very specific and different.

Closer to the point, a sociology professor pointed out that Grossman may have first used the actual analogy in On Killing. He also pointed out that another sociologist in the 1990s used the same analogy to criticize the media’s perception of police. Based on the follow-up research we’ve done, this seems accurate.

But it’s all besides the point.

Despite the headline “The Surprising History of American Sniper’s “Wolves, Sheep, and Sheepdogs” Speech”, we weren’t writing a history of the analogy. We were debunking it. Oh, and we even wrote in the article that Grossman said he heard it from an old vet.

Anyway, who first crafted the analogy doesn’t matter. Grossman popularized the analogy. Grossman did more than any other person to make this analogy a cornerstone of the conservative, gun rights movement, by writing articles and giving hundreds of talks around the country. Grossman may not have invented the analogy, but he made it famous.

“You’re taking these quotes out of context!”

A lot of people objected to how we used quotes from both Chris Kyle and Lt. Col. Grossman, saying we took the quotes out of context. You can probably say this about anyone quoting anything anytime. Since you can’t (and wouldn’t) quote entire texts, someone can always claim that the next sentence, paragraph or chapter clarifies a quote that makes someone look bad. (*cough* Clausewitz *cough*)

That’s not the case with the quotes we used.

On Chris Kyle, he’s an extremist. In his book American Sniper, he hates like few people have the power to hate. More importantly to the critics of what we wrote, I re-read the passage we quoted in the article. Nothing before or after it contradicts what he said.

Some people claim that Kyle only referred to the bad guys as “savages”, not all Iraqis just the people he was fighting. And yes, at one point in the book Kyle makes that distinction. Of course, in the first chapter alone, he uses “savages” without making that distinction. And here are some more quotes about Iraqis from American Sniper:

“I never once fought for the Iraqis. I couldn’t give a flying f*** about them.”

“I don’t shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.”

So yeah, our quotes stand.

Did we take Grossman out of context? Some people complained that Grossman didn’t view his groupings as definite. To be fair, Grossman does make that point [emphasis mine]:

“This business of being a sheep or a sheepdog is not a yes-no dichotomy. It is not an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. It is a matter of degrees, a continuum. On one end is an abject, head-in-the-grass sheep and on the other end is the ultimate warrior. Few people exist completely on one end or the other. Most of us live somewhere in between.”

And this point…

“In nature the sheep, real sheep, are born as sheep. Sheepdogs are born that way, and so are wolves. They didn’t have a choice. But you are not a critter. As a human being, you can be whatever you want to be. It is a conscious, moral decision.”

But then he contradicts himself later:

“If you are a warrior who is legally authorized to carry a weapon and you step outside without that weapon, then you become a sheep, pretending that the bad man will not come today. No one can be “on” 24/7 for a lifetime. Everyone needs down time. But if you are authorized to carry a weapon, and you walk outside without it, just take a deep breath, and say this to yourself... “Baa.”

Sounds like an all-or-nothing choice. And in his earlier work, On Killing, he classified the emphatic psychopath as the ultimate warrior, dividing humans into groups based on genetics. So yeah, it’s pretty much a dichotomy.

Of course, Grossman doesn’t write anything about wolves becoming sheep or sheepdogs, but we’ll discuss that in a future post.

three comments

Please continue hammering this. My feeling is that it’s not dying, but becoming more popular because I hear it and see it all over the place in the military community.


@ Don – Don’t worry, we have at least five or six more posts on this topic. Our worry is that we’ll overwhelm people if we focus on it too much, so it’s nice to get the feedback that people like it.

There’s so much wrong in this analogy. Weds. and Thurs. posts get into some meatier topic. It’s going to be good.


Odd note: we got some feedback that one of the paragraphs made it sound like Chris Kyle was still alive, which could sound insensitive, so I edited the post to reflect that.