Trust Your Gut: Lessons Learned from Haguenau and Macy Falls

by Marcus Brotherton on January 21, 2013 · 47 comments

in A Man's Life

I was hiking down a steep trail near Macy Falls when a cougar snarled and leapt toward my left ear.

I remember the date exactly. It was Saturday, May 14, 2011, and the beast lunged from behind me and above. I spun to glimpse yellow fur and fangs heading straight toward my face. The brute bounced off my shoulder and hightailed it into the forest.

That’s when the real problems began. Knocked off kilter, I scrambled to keep my balance on the narrow trail. To my right was a 75-foot drop onto rocks at the bottom of the falls. My feet slipped and I crashed to my side, hands flailing at weeds.

This was cougar country. One had been spotted only a week earlier. But now, having caught my balance again, I could see more clearly in the distance that the beast that had barreled into me wasn’t a cougar after all. It was just a big stupid dog. It was off-leash on an on-leash trail, and charging recklessly through the undergrowth.

The dog’s owner rounded a bend. A jogger, he offered a casual head nod my direction and whistled for Fido.

That’s when my mind snapped.

Instantly, I was caught in a blind fury—one of those ferocious road-rage-type of angers. The carelessness of the man! The arrogance! I scrambled to my feet, shouted the worst profanity that flashed through my mind, and charged up the trail. The irresponsible dog owner was already around the next bend, but all I could think was to catch up with him and exact revenge. I wanted to hit the man.

I literally planned to break the dog owner’s nose with my fist.

Hang onto that scene for a moment, will you? Hang onto it, and ask yourself if you’ve ever been in a similar predicament, where you’ve lost your cool.

It happens to the best of men. An emotion enters your body so strongly that it actually takes charge. You stop thinking logically and respond with a knee-jerk. You act from your gut, not your rational mind.

Often, we berate ourselves for losing our cool. That’s the only response we can think of, because it’s our default, the one we use most frequently on ourselves. We talk to ourselves with an inner voice of disapproval. We tell ourselves to snap out of it or to stop being such an idiot. We chide ourselves to get control, toughen up, or to not let ourselves get so bent out of shape.

But, really, there are two better questions that a self-aware man needs to ask himself in these times. The first is how to act appropriately during those times of intensity. The second is the trickier question, yet in many ways the more needful one, and the question we examine in this article.

It’s why.

See, your intense response is only a symptom of a deeper stressor within you. By asking why you are acting so intensely, you dig to the cause. And then you can address the real reason for the intense behavior, and solve the deeper issue.

Getting to the cause is key. There’s an explanation why your gut has provoked you to take this type of action. There’s wisdom within your gut’s response. And your wise gut—however irrational, out of character, or strange a behavior it’s provoked—needs to be listened to.

In other words, trust your gut.

Let me explain this idea further, this idea of trusting your intuition even if it provokes you to extreme action, and let me do so by using a war story.


In early February 1945, the men of E Company, 506th PIR, 101st A/B, (the elite company of paratroopers commonly known as the Band of Brothers), came off the line in the frozen forests near Bastogne and were sent to hold the line at Haguenau, a 20,000-resident-city that sat astride the Moder River.

Usually the city sat within French borders. But Germany had seized it a few years earlier and had clutched it throughout WWII. Allied troops retook it in early 1945. They camped in the town on one side of the river, while enemy troops camped on the other.

Sporadic shells flew across the Moder River, but other than that, not much action was seen in Haguenau during that time. Both sides knew that the war was winding down, and the biggest thought of the Allied veterans, at least the ones I’ve interviewed, was cautious hope. Maybe they were actually going to make it through the war alive. Nobody wanted to do anything stupid.

In mid-February, 1945, Colonel Robert Sink, the respected and capable commander of the 506th PIR, ordered his men to conduct a small combat patrol across the river to capture enemy prisoners for interrogation.

It was no easy task. It meant about 20 men needed to silently paddle boats across the river at night, advance upon a well-defended position with established fields of fire, capture enemy troops alive, then bring the prisoners back to headquarters for questioning.


Private Eugene Jackson

The patrol worked. Under the cover of darkness, the men slipped across the frosty river, blasted into the enemy fortifications, snatched two Nazis, and came back triumphant. But the price for the allied troops was costly: Private Eugene Jackson, age 19, took grenade fragments to his face and head.

His friends rushed him back across the river. Jackson was bleeding heavily, crazed with pain from a piece of burning hot metal lodged in his skull, and screaming, “Kill me! Somebody kill me! Oh Christ, I can’t stand the pain!” He twitched for 20 or 30 feet but died before reaching the aid station.

There was another complicating factor that the vets I’ve interviewed all point to. Overall, the mission was pretty much useless. What sort of important, war-changing secrets were two random German soldiers going to disclose under interrogation? That they’d had cold coffee and stale bread for breakfast? That’s why the next day, when orders came from upper brass that an identical patrol was planned for that night, the men were downright furious.

A second patrol? Why?!

Compounding problems was that an icy snow had fallen overnight along the river. The enemy would be able to hear the allied troops coming a long way off. It was a suicide mission with no strong benefit. But orders were orders.


Captain Dick Winters

Acting on Colonel Sink’s command, Captain Dick Winters was in charge of organizing the second patrol, just like he had the first. Winters told the men to be ready at the assigned hour.

The men all ten-hupped when Winters met them in a dank basement of an abandoned house to go over details. The captain returned their salute, took off his helmet, and rubbed his forehead with his hands.

“Here’s what I want you to do,” Captain Winters said in a husky whisper. “Get some sleep. In the morning you will report to me that you made it across the river but were unable to secure any live prisoners. Understand?”

A few eyebrows lifted. A few grins twitched. “Yes sir,” someone finally said.

The second patrol never happened. Captain Dick Winters had his reasons. Good, logical, well-thought out reasons. But the move also contained traces of wild irrationality. Of going against sound character. Winters, one of the finest fighting men of WWII, was directly disobeying an order. He wrote out a bogus report and presented it to Colonel Sink.

You need to realize how serious this was.

Not only that, but if Winters’ men were grumbling about going on another mission, you wouldn’t expect a wartime captain to respond with compassion. You’d expect the captain to tell his men to toughen up—that’s what normally happened in the military. An officer would berate his men for grousing in the face of duty. He would talk to them with a voice of disapproval and tell them to snap out of it and get on with their work.

But Winters did none of that. He was able to step back and see the bigger picture. He saw that there was deeper and wiser reasoning that needed to be heeded.

Winters’ actions can be summed up by one phrase …

He trusted his gut.

Okay, let’s return to the first story, my severe fury on the trail to Macy Falls. Here’s how it played out.

There I was, running after a dog owner, getting ready to hit him. My strong knee-jerk reaction, uncharacteristic of me, was a pointer to some deeper truth within me. I was overly angry, and there must have been a reason. That’s what my gut was trying to tell me. And that deeper reason is what I needed to dig to if I was ever going to move forward.

Deep down, this is what was truly happening in my life:

The date is key. I remember the date exactly because a week earlier, on Sunday, May 8, 2011, my sweet wife had miscarried. The date of the miscarriage acted as a double whammy. It proved to be the most horrible day a miscarriage could happen to any woman.

Mother’s Day.

And the name of the place I was hiking to—Macy Falls—that also was key. It’s a name that can’t be found on any map.

See, these falls had become a special place for me. Weeks earlier, when my wife was still pregnant, I had hiked to this place of beauty to think through naming our daughter. And “Macy” was one of our top choices.

When Macy’s birth was no more, I had named the falls in her honor. I had named them only to myself. And I was hiking to the falls—this sacred place of remembrance—to grieve.

That’s why the dog barreling into me was such a jarring interruption. That’s why I snapped with such fury—because I was operating on backlash. And that’s why the dog owner, while surely needing to take responsibility for his dog, absolutely felt a disproportionate amount of my wrath.

That’s what my gut was trying to tell me.

That I was deeply shaken.

Instead of berating myself, I needed to have compassion on myself, listen to what was going on inside me, and respond accordingly. Maybe that would be fury. Just so long as I didn’t break the other guy’s jaw.

Instead of telling myself to “toughen up,” I needed to call off the second patrol.

Fortunately, there are two happy endings to the Macy Falls story.

The first is that when I caught up to the dog owner on the trail, we were able to have a good, sound discussion, not a fist fight. I asked him to keep tighter control over his animal, which he agreed to, and I apologized for unleashing a string of profanity, because that’s not how I want to treat any man. We were neighbors, after all, neighbors in the same journey of humanity.

The second is that my wife and I, although greatly saddened, weren’t destroyed by those difficult experiences with the miscarriage. We continued on. But I’ll save that story for another article.

The bigger question is how will you respond the next time you find yourself acting out of character.

Maybe you find yourself swerving around another driver on the freeway while flipping him the bird. That’s not like you, normally. So, do you scold yourself later for being such an idiot, or do you ask yourself what’s truly going on? Why are you so on edge that someone can push you to act so dangerously?

Maybe you find yourself lashing out at your wife or best friend. You love this person, but still you’re harsh. Do you call yourself names and go get drunk in an act of self-destruction? Or do you probe deeper and ask why?

Maybe you normally safeguard your life online. But in a moment of illogic, you make a split second decision and click on a site filled with garbage. Afterward, you may be filled with self-loathing. But will you also go beyond that to peel back the layers to discover the real motivations for this uncharacteristic behavior?

That’s what your gut tells you. It points to what’s truly happening in your life.

Listen to its voice.

Your gut is wiser than you think.

Do you typically trust your gut or ignore it? When was the last time you acted out of character, and how did you respond to yourself afterward? Upon reflection, what was the real reason you were acting so intensely? 


Marcus Brotherton is a regular contributor to Art of Manliness. Read his blog, Men Who Lead Well, at:

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Drip January 21, 2013 at 2:27 pm

That was an amazing story, of the military man and yourself. A wonderful story of meditation of philosophy. Intuition is a very powerful thought that can greatly affect our thinking and actions. What you wrote was incredibly informative and it’s something I can certainly think about later. When it comes to how I act, I like to set myself morals and rules which I can generally abide by, but I allow myself to take into consideration the consequences and the reasons to why things are the way they are. When it comes to recent incidences of acting out of character, I’m only 17 and I usually follow my code so I can’t add an event or story to my comment, sorry. But in your circumstance, I think you reacted in the best of ways, and better than most good men would do so. I’d shake your hand, you should fell proud and I am truly jealous of your humanity and intelligence in your situation. Nice one :)

2 jerry January 21, 2013 at 3:03 pm

I have been in a fist fight or two in my 65 years and I have never felt good about my loss of self control ever. I have, although, had to do some things in Vietnam that I would never do anywhere else and I still feel uncomfortable about having to do them. I have learned to be more thoughtful before I jump though…maybe because I can’t jump like I once could.

3 Alex Mitchell January 21, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Excellent article, I’ve always been a proponent of listening to your gut. I feel like I’m a pretty decent judge of character and generally it’s because I listen to my gut. This is a rather new facet of listening to your gut cause things like that don’t often happen to me, or at least not at an extreme enough degree for me to really take note of, but I will certainly be doing some meditation on the idea.

4 Peter January 21, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I’m afraid that I find this artcle contradictory.

As anyone who has sufered from severe depression would know, your “gut” is not wise. In fact, it is often incredibly harmful, delivering a stream of messages to the effect that you are hopeless, helpless and worthless.

Marcus is correct that we need to identify the reasons why our intuition is telling us certain things, but we need to be aware that our intuition is just as mistake-prone as our rational mind, if not more so. Intuition is not magic…. it feeds off our thoughts. The only difference is that that it picks up thoughts that are “below the radar” of our conscious mind. As Marcus shows from his own experience, it can act as a powerful alarm signal telling us that there are things that we have missed. However it is no more intelligent than a fire-alarm that cannot discern the difference between smoke and too much air-freshener.

I have to point out that Haguenau anecdote does not support the premise of this article. There is no evidence that Winter acted according to intuition or gut-feeling. To the contrary, there is every reason to believe that a very experienced officer carefully considered the consequences of his actions and made a fully rational decision….. This includes the knowledge that the purpose for which the second patrol was ordered had already been fulfilled by the first patrol. It is far from the first time that an intelligent officer has acted on his own initiative to render a planned action unnecessary.

5 Ryan e January 21, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Great article Marcus.

6 Rob January 21, 2013 at 5:00 pm

I would somewhat disagree that gut feelings are related to angry outbursts, but I very much disagree with Peter’s bizarre conflation of depression and gut feelings.

To me gut feelings are fleeting things that tell you in certain moments something you should do, or a danger you might be in, or a decision you need to make in the moment. Depression, on the other hand, is an ongoing, morning to night, week after week, mental state. The two things couldn’t be more different. And to me it’s a real shame to conflate them.

It’s also clear that Peter’s never been in the military. Disobeying orders is hugely seriously, and making that choice has to come in part from a gut feeling. There’s huge psychological resistance you’ll feel to it, and yeah, you can use your rational mind, but you’re going to have to have a powerful gut feeling it’s the right thing to do to overcome that resistance. There’s no way Winters wasn’t following his gut there.

Finally, gut feelings aren’t dumb. I remember I read something awhile back that they get more accurate with more training. I know that was the case for me. After a few tours in Iraq, my gut feelings of impending danger were much sharper than they were on my first tour. Every soldier learns to pay attention to those gut feelings, because your life can depend on it.

7 Dale Melchin January 21, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Good stuff. I’d like to know what happened to Captain Winters after the war and if anything was done about his contravention of orders.

To the comment about the article being contradictory. Intuition and gut only serve us if we are in a proper state of mind or if we are not, ask ourselves the right questions. Instead of asking whats wrong with me? Ask, what’s missing? Or what is leading to this rage? Or whatever. It all lies in the questions we ask our subconscious.

8 David January 21, 2013 at 6:19 pm

It’s been the custom for ages, in many traditions, for men to be trained to ignore their feelings. Emotions = weakness, so goes the refrain. Rational thought is superior, emotion is regressive, it’s a familiar refrain. Then emotionally stunted men go to women for emotional release, and women suffer from the exchange.

Part of being a fully realized human being is to embrace the fact that emotions are natural and normal, and that they are no more inferior than the nose on your face. Or your ear.

9 David Wainwright January 21, 2013 at 6:44 pm

I think you offer some very sound advice in this article, but I’m not sure I’m sold on what that has to do with my gut. I get the whole bigger picture and asking why thing, but I think my gut is what gets overruled when I act rashly out of character, and my job is to ask what my gut was really saying. Or is it that my gut is what caused me to act out of character? I guess I’m not sure either way. I suppose that could very well be what you meant in your article, and if that’s the case then I just didn’t pick up on that very well.

The one thing I know about my gut is that it says “yes” when it often shouldn’t, but it never says “no” unless it should, and that’s the most important time to listen to it.

10 Beck January 21, 2013 at 8:00 pm

I really enjoyed reading the article. It gives good insight that should definitely be heeded. Really, all of this could be summed up to ‘Take a step back and think for a second,’ which is something we all need to hear.

11 Caleb Ward January 21, 2013 at 11:16 pm

You should listen to your gut but, like all opinions, you should consider if it is in the right.

12 Ante January 22, 2013 at 12:56 am


You should watch Band of Brothers. :D

13 Cline January 22, 2013 at 5:35 am

Excellent. I think this could be the definition of restraint, self control,and valor.

14 Mark January 22, 2013 at 7:49 am

Great article, sounds like we’ve been reading the same book – that out-take was chronicled in Ambrose’s Band of Brothers and also in Shifty’s War – about Shifty Powers

15 Steve January 22, 2013 at 9:11 am

Good article – thanks for writing. Just wanted to point out that the caption under the picture of Winters is incorrect. He’s a major in the picture not a captain.


16 Nicholas January 22, 2013 at 9:22 am

Marcus, thanks for the article and for sharing your experiences. I get what you are saying.
Two days ago my Grandma passed away, which was hard because we were so close to her. And yesterday a random situation happened that was upsetting, but nothing too major: I lost a hand of poker. But I blew up and exploded at my wife, which is completely out of character for me.
What I understand is that this was a reaction from my gut. What you recommend is instead of saying, that was silly for me to overreact like that, I should question why I blew up like that in the first place. It’s not because of the game. The real, underlying cause is the grief surrounding the recent death, and my gut reaction should be a sign to me that I need to pay more attention to myself and what is going on and give myself time to grieve instead of sweeping the emotions under the rug, only to have them cause an explosion at a later time again.
That’s at least what I got out from the article, which came at an excellent time for me. And love anything BoB (my wife got me the box set for Christmas!)
Keep up the great posts, and wishing you all the best to your family.

17 Nicholas January 22, 2013 at 9:28 am

And about the confusion mentioned in previous posts, I wouldn’t say the author wants us to follow our gut reaction blindly, but rather to understand that our gut reaction is telling us something about our visceral reality that we need to listen to. “Trust your gut” meaning that when you get a gut reaction, some deeper truth is at play that you need to pay attention to. Don’t leave them unexamined.
He’s not saying “Go punch the guy!” but rather figure out why you wanted to clock the guy so bad in the first place. No contradiction there.

18 Pastor Joshua January 22, 2013 at 9:39 am

I experienced this with my nine year old daughter. We were praying before bed and I told my children about my step-mother’s struggles with cancer and her inevitable death, my daughter asked whether she knew Jesus or not. I told her, “No.” My daughter’s immediate response (and gut reaction) was to leave this minute and give grandma the gospel. I began a long string of excuses about work and not being able to travel from Detroit to Wisconsin on a whim. My daughter looked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language and, slapping her hand on her bed, demanded that she be allowed to return to witness to her dying grandmother. I left the room and told my wife of my daughter’s rebuke. The next morning she and my children were on their way to visit their grandma. On her death bed, my daughter held her hands and, through the tear-filled eyes, she accepted the peace only the Lord can give. She died a few short days later. My daughter had the right gut reaction. It was a humbling experience for me.

19 David Y January 22, 2013 at 9:49 am

Like many people, I have had those(fortunately rare) moments when I’ve had those burst of anger. Luckily, I have not done anything that caused me or someone else real harm.

And like most, I have regretted them and wondered how I could lose control like that. Looking back, it does seem that there was usually some other stress involved. If it happens again, I will try to look at the bigger picture of what may be causing it.


20 James January 22, 2013 at 9:51 am

Very good post! It’s always important for a man to learn how to rein in anger and responses like that. Most of our “emotional” responses all stem from other root causes.

21 Marcus Brotherton January 22, 2013 at 9:58 am

@ Mark, sometimes it’s difficult to make the connection between authors and books, but in case you’re wondering … I wrote “Shifty’s War.” :)

22 LacksFocus January 22, 2013 at 10:20 am

It can be very difficult to temper emotion. I’ve always found it to be true that cooler heads prevail. It definitely takes practice though. Great article.


23 Marcus Brotherton January 22, 2013 at 10:41 am

I just received an e-mail from an ex-paratrooper who, while being very gracious in his note, underscored from a military perspective the severity of Dick Winters disobeying a direct command.

And I think this is tremendously important for us to catch as readers, so I greatly appreciate this other perspective.

The ex-paratrooper wrote, in part:

“…I’m second to none in my appreciation of Dick Winters, but he was a man — a flawed man, like the rest of us. And his actions on the night you described may be understandable, but they are not praiseworthy or something to emulate. You’ll have to take my, and many other combat paratroopers’ word on this.

“I truly appreciate how you appreciate military service, Marcus, but you’re a little out of your depth on this one.”

Okay, I’m not trying to defend my position here, only to explain where I get these stories from.

My interaction with the Band of Brothers is direct. I’ve interviewed the veterans of Easy Company over the past 6 years or so and written several books about them.

So–this is the important distinction–any stories I get are the men’s perspective, not the overall military perspective. The men I’ve interviewed have told me they all greatly appreciated Winters’ decision that night.

But, it’s true, I haven’t been in the military myself–so I can appreciate how someone who has been in the military approaches this topic from the perspective that every order must be followed. That’s certainly the norm.

24 M January 22, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Beck and Cline both attributed the use of one’s gut to restraint or holding back. I understand this article to be the opposite of that. Not restraint but unleashing, perhaps before the rational mind kicks in. Or in spite of it? Ultimately, what Capt. Winters did was disobey orders. It was an objectively irrational action, the key word being action, therefore, not restraint.

25 Steve January 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm

In my medical training, I remember being told to trust your gut, or as this professor put it “your inner voice”. Remembering that has been important. It hasn’t been often, but it has not failed me when instinctively I knew something strange was up with a patient. I’ve missed things in my career, but listening to my gut has helped me find problems that wouldn’t have been found without heeding the gut.

26 Brubeck January 22, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Nice article. Thanks for sharing.

To add further to the thread here about emotions. I think part of the process of self-restraint is to make a larger acknowledgement that emotions are part of us and influence our decisions whether we want them to or not. As much as we’d like to suppress and/or ignore emotions in favor of logic, there they are.

If we acknowledge our emotions, that is the first step into making sure we don’t let them overtake us at times when we don’t want them to.

27 Rob Dyson January 22, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Interesting perspective. Initially, I would think we should deny our base reactions as immature and rash. However, you bring up a valid connection to underlying causes that drive behavior. It seems hard to believe that every single person who demonstrates road rage has underlying issues to blame. I’ve always assumed that behavior was due to the fact that there’s safety to act foolishly when driving because the other person can’t do anything about it. You may yell, cuss and flip off someone that cuts you off driving, but you’re not likely to have the same response to someone who cuts in line at the grocery. The person is too immediate.

I’m dealing with a son (and if I’m honest, myself) who has anger issues. They blow up way out of proportion to whatever incident triggered the outburst. I’m doing my best to model the right kind of behavior and talk through solutions rather than get in a verbal or physical confrontation. I’d really like to look at underlying causes. In the past, my son has had trouble verbalizing those, as many of us would as well. I think it’s also, at least partly, due to my poor modeling over the years.

28 Andrew S. January 22, 2013 at 2:26 pm

While I definitely agree that a little introspection goes a long way I, like some others, take issue with the conclusion. I would argue that your “knee-jerk” response was caused by your minds recognition that you could have been killed by the dog or, more correctly, the owners ignorance and carelessness. You mentioned that there was a 75 foot drop that you almost went over. I would’ve been furious too. I myself, like a lot of people these days, find myself more prone to road rage all the time. I’m not an overly aggressive driver and I do feel bad when I “lose it” but the times I do, when I go back and ask why I lost it, I find that it was because the actions of another literally could have killed me or someone else on the road. Two wrongs don’t make a right, as the saying goes, and thus I feel bad about my reaction but when its caused by someone’s arrogance, ignorance, impatience, or just blind stupidity and it could have brought me to my untimely end I feel somewhat justified. Maybe you were just mad cause you almost died and it sounds like you’ve got a lot to live for.

29 novembertwentyeleven January 22, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Thank you for this article – it came at the right time.

I emailed a co-worker that I could not attend a committee meeting because I was attending a departmental meeting; that co-worker emailed my boss without cc’ing me asking if it was a departmental meeting we are having; my boss replied to the co-worker and cc’ed me that yes, we are having that meeting.

I felt uncomfortable about it and told another colleague about it; she said that the co-worker is known for being suspicious and going behind people’s backs to their bosses. Also that she likes to demand that her work is prioritized over other work even for people not working in her department.

I learned something new when I read your article: usually I try to rationalize and ignore my instincts; at least now I realize that there was something to my instincts about this co-worker’s unclassy act.

30 Ken January 22, 2013 at 9:40 pm

I can’t stop crying now. I wish this had been posted September 15, when I lost my daughter Hope. Maybe this would have changed things after that.

31 josh January 22, 2013 at 10:29 pm

I needed to read this.

32 Peter January 22, 2013 at 11:38 pm


As a sufferer from long-term depression and as someone who is currently in regular discussion with a qualified psychologist on the subject, I can say that the connection between the subconscious and depression is well-established. Why you would call it “bizarre”, I don’t know, unless you are confused as to the relationship between the two.

I do NOT argue that subconscious mental processes are the same thing as depression. What IS well established is that such subconscious processes are A major CAUSE of depression when they reinforce our negative beliefs.

When you are talking to someone who has had to deal with years of “gut feelings” that he is not nice (those who know him say otherwise), not competent (those who test him have found him highly intelligent and able to be trusted in dangerous situations) and not worth loving (yet his family and friends love him)….. When you are talking to someone like that, you have to produce more than your own “gut feeling” that “gut feelings” are OK, before he will be convinced.

As for lecturing me on the military culture of obedience, I am both a student of military history, and hold officer’s rank in a large emergency service. The military is held together by obedience and discipline, yet there IS a place for initiative. As great an authority as the Duke of Wellington himself laid it down as an axiom of military law that simply obeying orders was not an adequarte excuse in all circumstances. He specifically stated that an officer who abeyed an order in the knowledge that by so doing, he would negate the purpose for which the order was given, would be deemed to have disobeyed the order. Note that I did not argue that the purpose for which the order was given should be ignored. A classic example occurred during WW1. Faced with orders to conduct an attack on a certain day , using tactics that had previously proved costly and fallible, the commander ordered his troops to occupy the objective the previous evening, using more appropriate tactics. On the morning of the planned assault, he presented his superiors with the “fait accomplit”. What he did not do was to lie to his superiors, which is what I could not praise in Winter’s action.
BUT, and here is what I don’t see you understanding, the ONLY justification for such action is a reasoned course of action. Gut feeling is no defence, but rather an accusation of moral cowardice. Are you sure that you wish to accuse Capt. Winters of this?

33 limehill60 January 23, 2013 at 5:09 am

Just a short note. The Insignia on Dick Winter’s Garrison Cap and Epaulettes appear to be for a Major rather than a Captain.

34 Brandon January 23, 2013 at 7:49 am

Dick Winters was a captain when this incident happened. But he’s a major in the picture.

Read his memoirs. What Marcus is too polite to say is that Colonel Sink had a real drinking problem, which Winters knew about. That’s why Sink’s order was suspect.

35 Nate January 23, 2013 at 8:56 am

Reading this reminded me of a process we use at work to solve certain problems called the ’5-why’ method. When something bad goes down, you ask ‘why did this happen?’ The answer is B. Then you ask ‘why did B happen?’, you get C, and so on. The theory goes that by the time you ask ‘why?’ five times, you’ve arrived at the root cause of the problem and can start fixing it instead of just patching the symptoms.

Great article.

36 Jared K. January 23, 2013 at 10:30 am

@Nate Someone works at Toyota. :-)

37 Marcus Brotherton January 23, 2013 at 11:09 am

@ Ken … thanks so much. Comments such as yours are why I write. My best to you and your family during this difficult time.

38 Christina January 23, 2013 at 12:44 pm

I was told once that anger is a masking emotion for fear, pain or guilt. This post is then saying, “when you feel anger, trust that there is something under that and figure out what it is and respond to that.” Whether it is fear about falling off a cliff, pain over the loss of a loved one, or guilt for turning the wrong way in traffic, once you find that source trigger you can respond accordingly.

This is a good thing for us to remember, for other knee-jerk emotions. “Trust your gut” is code for “trust your emotions to be pointing to an underlying truth that needs to be dealt with.” Yes, the emotion might be irrational, but I’ve not till this point found them to be completely divorced from reality. Even women, who at certain times might start sobbing at some silly thing, are responding to an actual trigger, the emotion is just quicker and more powerful than is typical.

I see how the military story fits; Rivers probably felt anger over the new trip and he analyzed it and saw that it was because of the fear for the lives of his men over a useless mission. But I’m not sure his actions would be acceptable, for lying is never a good solution to a problem. To disobey an unjust order is one thing, it in itself not to be taken lightly because how would you know that it was actually unjust. Do you have all the information or know what the actual plan is? But it seems so much worse to disobey then lie about it to cover it up.

39 Brad Norcross January 23, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Great, great post.

40 Ben January 24, 2013 at 1:07 am

Yes it is definately very valuable learning our ‘triggers’ and realizing alot of what happening isn’t that situation but something from our past.

Thanks for the article.

41 Mike January 24, 2013 at 10:47 am

That was a great article, Marcus, and it spoke to me. There are days that I have to stop myself from being short-fused when my 2-year-old daughter tests her boundaries and my patience, and this is going to make me take a deeper look at why some days I am shorter on patience than others.
I would also like to say this to “Drip,” who posted a comment: You are very well spoken for a young man of 17 years. At a time when many of your peers are hard-pressed to string together a dozen properly spelled words into a coherent sentence, you seem to understand how to make language work for you and express the power of the written word. You will find many gems on the AoM site, and I am gld to see a young man taking the time to examine his forming character. Kudos to you.

42 CB January 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Thank you for this article. It’s well-written, thoughtful, and heartening. I was moved by both stories, as well as the way you wove them together. As a man who is struggling to come to grips with the painful issues beneath my gut, this speaks to me right where I am and gives me a different way to think about my life.

43 JSH January 24, 2013 at 11:42 pm

“If you’ve ever been in a similar predicament, where you’ve lost your cool.”…. Did you really mean “ever” ??? I lose it almost 2 times every day while going to office and coming back, 2 times each way. No dearth of idiot drivers on Indian roads, and a whole lot of inconsiderate people trying to push you to wits end, including the bike owners and the tuk-tuk (3 wheelers) buzzing around with utmost disrespect for the law or any kind of self-imposed discipline. Traffic police and law, you must be joking.

44 Cody D. January 25, 2013 at 11:16 am

For anyone that enjoys contributions from Marcus Brotherton, I would highly suggest that you hop onto YouTube and watch some of his video presentations. These articles gain a lot more significance / impact when you can imagine the words presented with his tone, emphasis and mindful cadence.

45 Abel January 25, 2013 at 1:42 pm

On the tail end of what has been a nearly life long depression and struggle with anxiety. Good call on pointing the finger at the inner critic.

46 Luke|and|etc January 27, 2013 at 8:12 am

Great topic.
I do agree with the summery: examine what your gut is really revealing to you.
I’ll say that, in myself, I’ve found my sharpest reactions are usually linked to some guilt or shame, and usually is something that I think is just normal.
There’s a lot of freedom when you can actually point at what the real issues are, acknowledge them, grieve rightly, and move on.

Sometimes though, I’ll say as well, if you’re working through stuff, being reasonable, and your gut is still going crazy, 1). you need some input from others; 2). you may need to stop self-obsessing and get over yourself.

47 Joseph Graber January 28, 2013 at 7:20 pm

It’s okay to “Trust your gut” if you’ve trained it and submitted it to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit uses surrendered ‘guts’ :)

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