The Great Santini

After seeing the movie “Brats”, I re-read The Great Santini.  This story was written from the point of view of the oldest son of a Marine Corps officer, more specifically, a fighter pilot.  Fighter pilots in legend and lore, have been hard drinking, hard fighting, tough, unsentimental, fearless characters.  I think its mostly legend and lore, in that the days of any military acceptance of drinking or fighting are long gone.  However, some of the stories of fighter squadron parties in the early 1960s may have some truth to them.  However, was the Marine fighter pilot, or any fighter pilot for that matter a different breed of man than the rest?  I don’t think they inherently were different, although some professions attract certain personalities and some professions change the people who enter them.  Fighter pilots, along with soldiers, police and firefighters put their lives on the line at times or even daily in the performance of their duties.  This kind of  job may attract those who are addicted to adrenaline, those with a “devil may care” attitude, and those with a strong need to be heroes.  However, for those who just know they are good at what they do and who want to serve a cause they highly value, the job may still change them somewhat.  The extreme stress of these jobs may evoke a huge amount of emotion in a week, and people deal with that emotion in various ways.  Those who have trouble dealing with fear or sadness may numb it with alcohol, and although there have been problems of alcoholism in the ranks, its probably not greater than in society at large.  No, I think the ways of dealing with stress are as numerous as they are in any other profession.  A lot of people dealing with fear and sadness cover it with anger.  Anger is an emotion of power, and is therefore much easier to deal with than fear and sadness which leave a person feeling weak and out of control.  People feeling weak, out of control or insecure may alternatively act with a lot of bluster.  Again this is an emotion of power and is easier to deal with.  I think the “Great Santini” was such a person.  Because he probably always had problems with relationships, weakness, and feeling a loss of control, he had probably learned early on the tools of anger and bluster.  Because he was an angry, hard charging kind of guy, he probably found a place as a fighter pilot, where such characteristics were understood.  He could never have made it in careers where relationships and diplomacy were needed, or where control was vague.   We all have known people like the “Great Santini”.  They may have been bosses or family members, and they may not have all been male.  Women may also have these characteristics, but don’t have as many places to use them where they are as socially acceptable as the traditionally male roles of fighter pilot, soldier, police officer and firefighter.  A lot of women who use anger, control and bluster end up being labeled personality disordered or given a word not printable here.

So was the “Great Santini” unusual?  Not at all.  Was his personality over represented in the military?  Probably not.  He would have been a difficult, insensitive husband and father if he’d been in sales or management.   He had absolutely no relationships with his family of origin, his wife and kids feared him, and even his prayer life was impersonal.  Again, we’ve all known people like this, in all walks of life.

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