I struggled with trying to name the book about the Oregon Army National Guard Embedded Training Team. The team had 17 men on it. They fought alongside Danes, Brits and Afghan soldiers in the explosive Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
The Title for the Book
Trying to come up with an awesome book title is tough. There is a lot riding on the title of a book. It’s the readers’ first impression of your work.
You want the title to be eye catching, unique and a small description of the story. Some great titles of war adventures immediately come to mind: ‘Blackhawk Down’ or ‘Band of Brothers’ or ‘We Were Soldiers Once… and Young’. All of them capture what the story is about in a few words.
Hemingway would use passages from the Bible and Shakespeare: ‘The Torrents of Spring’ (1925); ‘The Sun Also Rises’ (1926); ‘A Farewell to Arms’ (1929); ‘To Have and Have Not’ (1937); ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ (1940) are some of his works.
Some titles use poetic language: ‘Gone with the Wind’; ‘Of Mice and Men’; ‘Grapes of Wrath’; ‘Snow Falling On Cedars’; ‘The Fault in Our Stars’.
Some use simple titles that become a few word series that become pop-culture phenomena: ‘Twilight’; ‘Game of Thrones’; ‘The Da Vinci Code’; come to mind.
Jane Jacobs, who is best known for her 1961 masterpiece ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities.’ It is a reflection on what she calls the “moral syndromes.” She talks about how “syndromes” drive societies.
It is out of these two primitive groups: traders (who espouse a commercial syndrome) and warriors (that espouse a guardian syndrome) that different patterns of behavior emerge.
Jacobs then argues that each set of occupations has developed its own cluster of moral principles or ethics she calls a “moral syndrome”. These syndromes operate around a number of values.
Two very different ways of dealing with our needs, we also have two fundamentally different systems of morals and values – both systems valid and necessary.
The first is Commercial Moral Syndrome. This syndrome is to support human activities around trade and the production of goods.
Guardian Moral Syndrome is the code for warriors, governments, and religions. This system arose primarily to satisfy the needs of organizing and managing territories.
Jacobs warns that society must have both of these sets of values or else they will be unhealthy. If you are a commercial entity and you develop guardian values you are operating under the wrong set of values. Similarly, a government who holds commercial values operates under the wrong set of values.
Soldiers fall into the Guardian Moral Syndrome.
The Guardian Moral Syndrome (GSM)
The GSM shuns trading and exert their prowess by being obedient and disciplined to their society. They adhere to tradition by being loyal to each other. They show fortitude and honor by treasuring honesty.
A few years ago a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and author Dave Grossman wrote a book called “On Killing.” Grossman is a former airborne ranger and infantry officer who says the human population can be divided into three groups: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.
Grossman says most people are sheep. He’s stating the fact that most human beings are kind, gentle, and peaceful.
Wolves are bad guys. Wolves are the sociopaths who commit violent crimes or ignore moral or ethical boundaries with impunity. Think Dexter without “Harry’s Code.”
Sheepdogs are society’s protectors. GSM of the population. They are a pastoral dog born for the purpose of protecting livestock from predators. As puppies they are placed within the flocks they will protect so they can “imprint” with the animals they will care for and safeguard.
Strongly bonded to them, the sheepdog will perceive other species as predators and protect those it knows from these potentially hostile outsiders. This is what “Guardians” do as firemen, police officers and soldiers.
Like actual sheepdogs, they live among the flock – one of them, and yet different and set apart. They protect the perimeter and vigilantly watch for evil “wolves.”
I settled on “Guardians of Helmand” for the book title. Their mere presence of the Coalition soldiers of Afghans, Brits, Danes and Americans kept the Taliban from turning on innocent law-abiding citizens.
When they did attack, the “Guardians” acted as human sheepdogs alert and ready to be aggressive. They were prepared to make a stand against those who would do others harm, but outside of times of crisis, they were gentle and trustworthy.
Grossman describes human sheepdogs as individuals who have a capacity for violence but also a moral compass and a “deep love for [their] fellow citizens.” No better description can be given to those brave soldiers’ decision to respond to the Taliban’s challenge.