For those who've read my previous questions, you might begin to see a "subtle" recurring theme.


You can skip this part if you're just interested in the problem.

In a near-future post-WW3 world, a little less than 1 out of 1000 people is a mutant. Not (necessarily) the gross-green mutant type, rather the human with super-ability type. Geopolitics worldwide can be basically explained by a generalized cold war, with no peace treaty signed, but enough powerful mutants on each side to keep some semblance of status-quo. Less powerful mutants live a "normal" life. The rest are basically super-heroes against super-villains.


Let's set the scene. 50 people are in a urban non-descript location (a bank, a street, an opera), when Bad Guys A, B, and C come in, guns blazing. They want to rob/murder/take people hostage.

What you see in a Hollywood movie is, usually, people fleeing in every direction, screaming, panicking, with no organization and little to no care for others.

In reality, things seems to be a bit different. I looked into some papers to get a basic idea, so I've only got second-hand knowledge (thus, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). But, apparently, a lot of people just stay there, stunned by what's happening. There are a few heroes helping others (diffusion of responsibility), a few quick ones who react and run away (probably a better capacity to deal with stressful situations, by my own interpretation), but most people just stay frozen during the first shock.

The question is: what would happen if out of these 50 people, more than 40 of them had basic military training? A mandatory national service exists, so apart from children and people too old when the measure was passed, everybody has been through at least conscription period. Would we observe a difference in reaction? Would the proportions change? More heroes, more runners, less frozen people?

They know help is on its way. People trained and equipped to react will be coming to deal adequately with the situation. Would they (statistically) be inclined to try to take matters into their own hands, or react in a disciplined manner and fall back until backup is there?

TLDR: Statistically, would we observe a significant difference in the way people react to a crisis situation when most of them have received military training, and if so, what kind of difference?

I'd prefer answers backed up by facts and/or studies, but I admit I failed to find any on this particular scenario. I'm not qualified in behavioral studies, so information in this question is to be taken with care, as I may have misunderstood some things.

EDIT 1 : The first answers focused a bit on the duration of the training. While it's my mistake and the answers are helpful on their own, keep in mind the question was more about trained vs untrained rather than duration of training (difference that has been treated in many answers, though in different arguments). I've revised the duration and put a more generic term to allow answers not to focus on the amount of time of the conscription.

The training is the same for everyone, and will likely include at least a few exercises about attack in civilian places. In this setting, the goal is not to have an army made of conscripts (and thus all of its roles), but to reinforce national identity and have everybody to be trained more quickly and efficiently than without conscription.

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    $\begingroup$ Do these 40 'trained' people (scare quotes because as noted below, brief training doesn't help much) know each other, or not? If they're strangers, they won't know each other are trained or even are good guys, there'll be no clear command chain, they won't work as a team. If you've got 39 recruits from the same batch plus a sergeant they know, that'd likely be very different. $\endgroup$ – Dan W Feb 4 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ @DanW, no, just random people in a random place. It was a very general question about tendencies. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai Feb 4 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ Could you look at how similar events are handled in Israel? Military service is mandatory there (and according to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscription_in_Israel about 1/4 is exempted), so any random crisis should have majority of bystanders military-trained. $\endgroup$ – Tomáš Kafka Feb 4 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ @TomášKafka Tangurena mentionned that in his answer. I'll do some research about it, and add any results to the question, for the sake of completeness. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai Feb 4 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ "But, apparently, a lot of people just stay there, stunned by what's happening." Yes. I've heard it said that the "fight or flight" instinct should really be called "fight, flight, or freeze." $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Feb 4 at 16:11

13 Answers 13


In a general emergency situation, individual reactions vary widely as you have noted. Training for a particular situation can help, as does a well-established chain of responsibility. However, military training alone does not guarantee a better reaction.

Military training is offset by PTSD experienced by veterans of actual combat. In extreme cases, all it takes to reduce a former soldier to jelly is a loud "bang",

At the recent Florida school shooting, we saw unarmed former military (football coach) and off duty active police (parent volunteer) try to step in, while the armed and specifically trained person who was supposed to take charge, and his first line of backup ran away.


This is pretty simple: assuming the 50 people are unarmed, there isn't much they can do. There is really no place to hide, but people will try anyways. The big difference is that there is a larger probability that somebody will try to take down an attacker while he is reloading - if he/she can. With 3 attackers, that's not likely.

I suggest you read up on the 2009 Ft Hood shooting by MAJ Nidal Hasan. 13 dead and more than 30 injured. 3 actually tried attacking Hasan - two died and the third was wounded.

Furthermore, what exactly does "react in a disciplined manner and fall back" mean? For the scenario you've described, this would only apply to a few who were lucky enough to be located near rear doors, and they would need to slip out quietly in the confusion. Which is exactly what happened at Ft Hood.

"Military training" is not magic, and it basically lets you do what you have been trained to do - no more, no less. Unless that training specifically addresses being confined to a killing field with no weapons, it's hard to see how it can help.

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    $\begingroup$ I may have got my translation wrong but "react in a disciplined manner and fall back" is the terminology in use in my country for "shit is hitting the fan, can't do anything, we're out of this". I have a total time of a month (indeed a laughable amount) but about 1 year of cumulated time as reservist MP. I know training is not magic, but it would at least help you assess the situation better than someone whoe has never dealt with firearms. Even if the approriate reaction is to lay down and cooperate for the time being cause you're too far to escape. Thanks for the article. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai Feb 5 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Nyakouai The term is correct, but it's meaningless in context. A disciplined fall back involves defensive positions, weaponry to use to slow the advance, etc. You hold at one line while some disengage, then they cover your disengagement etc. All of that is impossible for unarmed civilians in an open lobby. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 5 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ Edit: a month of training. Forgot a few words. The way I worded it, I didn't expect them to do miracles. Merely a few to slip out when they get the chance and give the alert. It was more to make a contrast in the phrase regarding those who try to play hero (which is suicidal in the given premise) $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai Feb 5 at 9:09

Gary Klein did a number of studies with military and fire departments, studying how people made decisions in very high stress situations. He has written several books detailing this research and Sources of Power is the easiest to read. He calls his model of decision making Recognition Primed Decision-making. While this isn't exactly the scenario you were looking for, Klein's studies were about how real-world experts can/did make decisions in very high stress environments.

a lot of people just stay there, stunned by what's happening

That is exactly the purpose of sudden violence. SWAT teams depend upon it to surprise, stun and overwhelm their targets. A majority of civilians would first respond with "this can't be happening" followed by a long pause to try to determine what is happening: trying to orient and decide what to do (in the terms of OODA).

You may wish to ponder the sort of response to such an armed robbery that would happen in Switzerland and Israel. Both countries have mandatory military service.

In your post-WW3 world, you may want to have your future Hollywood prepare civilians by showing exactly how they should behave. Not the freezing of current Hollywood movies, but instead the sort of responses you want your public to have. I think people significantly underestimate the power and influence of storytelling that movies have on the public.


Depends upon the "military training." Six months is paltry: That means a couple weeks of orientation, but most training on-the-job. Little combat training for many before the six months expires.

So a former aircraft mechanic's assistant or single-cruise submariner is likely to know very little about close quarters combat or active shooter situations. Under stress, many folks do indeed tend to freeze...until somebody reminds them to focus upon what they have been trained upon.

Conscription-based (or National Service) militaries tend to use a small career cadre to provide training and leadership...to do that reminding. This type of organization tends to be hierarchical (of course), and much of the orientation for conscripts revolves around obeying orders and NOT exercising initiative. This is very different from the professional forces that do encourage initiative in, say, many (not all) NATO countries.

This is a longwinded way of saying that six-month conscript response is unlikely to be much better than non-conscripts, except around the edges - rallying around the police, initial first aid, etc.

There's an assumption here that the six-month conscription does not include some kind of Active Shooter or Emergency Response or Close Quarters Combat or First Aid training. If your society DOES include several days (preferably a week) of that training, including (expensive) multiple exercises and scenarios, then your citizenry's response will be much better.

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    $\begingroup$ Further depending on the military training - a GRUNT (infantry/front-line) with combat experience is going to react with different tactics than say a Military Police officer with combat experience - because we have different focuses and goals. Just look at their mission statements: "close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver and/ or repel enemy assault by fire and close combat" vs "Conduct law and order operations in order to enhance the security environment and promote the rule of law" - lot of crossover but way different training/focus $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Feb 3 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, having read the answers so far, you all agree 6 months is too short. I'm no expert and have pulled this number almost randomly, or at least without much thought about a proper program. Let's assume here that all the person conscripted will go through the same generalized training, which is more about making them "combat-training" ready, to shorten further training if the need arises. The conscription would most likely revolve around dealing with attacks, given the geopolitical situation. So according to you answer, should we still expect even a slight improvement? $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai Feb 4 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Nyakouai in that case, why conscript at all? Do society-wide reaction training as part of secondary school (high school) or a similar institution. In the USA, many schools already do Active Shooter and other forms of emergency drills. You will find local training through schools to be much cheaper and you have a more flexible calendar. Be careful using the term 'geopolitics' - down that road is state-sponsored terrorism and war, but your question seems much more about generic criminality or homegrown-terrorism. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Feb 4 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ For this story, it's kind of both. They have inner and outer sourced troubles, and it would increase survival in case of incident if they were prepared for both. I fail to see the difference between state-sponsored terrorism and homegrown terrorism, in the end result. Thanks for your input, though. The conscription had been suggested to me in another question, and I was pondering how that would impact my world. With your solution, I retain the benefits and get rid of something I can't figure out clearly. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai Feb 5 at 9:00

Six months of millitary training is a laughable amount and wouldn't change a single thing.

Mandatory millitary training is mostly utilized to "shape" young men into responsible and strong people and maybe give one or two of them a perspective for the future. The training itself consists of blindly following rules and orders, keeping your room and uniform in order, doing lots of physical excercises and some shooting, and being woken up in the middle of the night to be sent on some equivalent of adventure camping.

Only those who saw a perspective for themselves in the millitary and who enlist for a longer period of time are given additional training in a specialized field of their liking (like paramedics, paratroopers or engineers).

Most people I know hated basic millitary training, even though some of them actually enlisted for several years. Whoever didn't enlist was happy to forget what little they did learn. 6 month are much too little to develop the kind of muscle memory required to make a difference in a hostile situation. As soon as you are a common civilian again, you forget the training within a few months anyways.

  • $\begingroup$ Where is your experience from? Switzerland? Israel? $\endgroup$ – Martin Bonner Feb 4 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinBonner Germany, where basic millitary training was mandatory until a few years ago. $\endgroup$ – Elmy Feb 4 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Elmy comment deleted. $\endgroup$ – ErikE Feb 4 at 20:16

Basic military training does nothing in a situation of armed robbery, because that situation isn't covered by the training.

The more general effects of training are twofold. First, to make reactions automatic. I'm trained in martial arts, and when I was in full training, the specific blocking technique I learnt became so much second nature, that I'm confident I would've had a good chance to instinctively block an attack coming out of the blue. Secondly, training prepares you for the general situation intercepting the flight-or-fight response. I'm not afraid of fights anymore and would more or less calmly stand my ground against an unarmed attacker. In fact, I've done so. Without having experienced contact fights, I'd probably run or try some panicked stupid attack.

So, in your situation, the military trained people would benefit from not being totally shocked by the mere presence of guns. They are unlikely to run around screaming. But they wouldn't know how to react to the specific situation anyway. They'd be more calm than untrained people, but would probably not do anything specific, and still react as individuals.

Veterans, people who have actually experienced combat, are a different thing.

  • $\begingroup$ What I clam in my answer is "expert level training" is actually one of the first things my gun-toting veteran martial arts instructor taught me: always be ready to leave. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Feb 5 at 0:02
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    $\begingroup$ "Secondly, [martial arts] training prepares you for the general situation intercepting the flight-or-fight response." - Military training tells you how to operate a radio to call in air strikes... $\endgroup$ – Mazura Feb 5 at 0:10

From what I have seen, the effect of training to deal with emergencies (such as military training) has one primary effect. Such training permits the individuals to incorporate information about what is happening faster.

Tangurena mentions that many people often end up standing around, stunned. They can't incorporate the information about what happened fast enough. Non-emergency training might help you decide to run towards the nearest exit (if you knew where it was to begin with). Emergency training might permit:

  • Ducking for cover while looking for your next move. This would be most visible in posture. A person who intends to make a next move will keep their limbs in a position to act if given a chance. A person who intends to stay put may flatten their body as much as possible.
  • Identify who is attacking and how they are armed. Perhaps determining what kind of training they appear to have.
  • The ability to remain still when the opponent is trying to get them to move. Shock and Awe is a lot less effective against trained opponents. A trained individual retains the ability to stay still or move when they want, not when their opponent wants.

There is a considerable difference but...

It really depends on the type of situation at hand.

Like you, my knowledge of such situations is second hand - or 1.5 hand, as you're about to find out. I say this because a member of my family is what you would call a "field nurse". He has been trained as a first responder to several kinds of situations like broken bones, stabs, gunshots... you name it, including those with multiple victims (which is, I believe, what you're looking for), like a gas leak, an explosion or the collapse of a building due to a super someone being punched against it.

I saw him once trying to control a small backyard fire with an extinguisher and it really looked like a hard task for him. Since didn't get this particular kind of training, it's only natural that he wouldn't excel at putting out fires, even though he is an amazing nurse. While he might be very good at guiding people through the smoke to safety during a fire, the skills to ease the flames are not part of his toolkit.

Note however, that each "event" is unique. You can't say that all gunshot wounds or wild fires will be the same. There will always be unpredictable elements to responding to such situations - elements that might be too much even for a prepared person to deal with.

You don't need to look very hard to find videos or angry posts about trained professionals being shitty at the very thing they should master. Maybe that person was having a bad day. Maybe he didn't pay much attention to class. Maybe she confused technique A with technique B.

The truth is that, under extreme stress, there's no certain way to predict the outcome. And this was all said considering that the trained people were not killed in the event itself.

To answer your question, I do think that trained people will almost always do better under these kinds of stressful situations. The sheer fact that someone told you (and you listened, of course) what NOT to do is already a huge advantage in front of the guy standing still in awe at the huge building coming down on him.

I just don't think you can be prepared for anything in the strict sense of the word - specially in a world where people have super powers.


Well, taking into account that basic military training's purpose is to basically (pun somewhat intended) train conscripts/enlisted to obey orders, instantly and without question. So all it would do in your case would be to make quite a lot of people easier to manage... Maybe, depending on the type of that training, the quality of the drafted material etc.

I believe the answer is: what would be the typical reaction would depend on type, duration and methods of that compulsory training. I believe concept would work in an overall military-oriented society, where it is fashion/badge-of-honor/something-necessary-for-life-later to complete one (compare with Starship Troopers by R. Heinlein), but even then it cannot be basic. If you make it compulsory service (i.e. Israel), then it would work also, because your requirement needs actually military service, not merely training.

Why that is is somewhat complicated (but when it isn't?). First, there is a reason why military prefers volunteers over conscripts, and the most successful military organisations screens the volunteers based on a number of parameters, including IQ (don't blame me for raising it - US Armed Forces are banned from enrolling anyone with IQ below 81, and max 20% of the total force can have IQ between 81 and 93, and it's apparently a huge thing supported by decades of careful studies).

Based on statistical data from my home country on conscription (until abolished in mid-to-late 90'), what you really get from general population is a force that is very rigid in structure, with soldiers of very low quality (initiative, determination and combat readiness almost non-existent, but with high PTSD levels developed during training), yet with very high levels of aggression (which is actually a bad thing).

This comes from the fact that most of the training is done by other conscripts inducted earlier, so they do not see the purpose in the brutality of the basic training beyond basically a retribution on "fresh meat" for what was done to them in turn. Admittedly this may have been also in part an effect of eliminating from draft a good portion of the higher quality material (i.e. deferred or exempted from draft due to enrolling to a college or employment in industry critical to the "defensive effort".

It is in stark contrast to training done by career instructors, where there is brutality also, sometimes also bordering on sadistic (for which there is a very good reason), but is reined in by their own service experience.

There is a difference between a career non-com who may end up with recruits he trained under his own command some day and a non-com who is there for fixed period and will probably never see his trainees again in his lifetime...


The reactions would largely be the same. They're not prepared for it, not armed for it, so it is a surprising situation and the initial reaction is to probably just freeze all the same while assessing what to do.

There are countries with universal conscription and having gone through the required stint in the military, I don't think my reactions would be any different than if I had not gone through military training - and the Finnish national service is pretty much for the reasons you described.

Also curious what the correct way to handle such a situation would be? since unless they're psychos who start killing everyone right away, freezing and following orders does the trick pretty much, in the psychos case just panic run out. If your thinking that they would improvise some weaponry from the banks interior or overwhelm them by hurling themselves on the attackers, then no, no conscript would do that any more than an untrained civilian would. If they saw an exit opportunity they might take it slightly more likely but only slightly.

And if anything conscripts are more capable of(and mentally trained to) following orders than untrained civilians. That's what (conscript) military is all about. It's not a security guard school - it's about orders and waiting and 4% combat training.

  • $\begingroup$ it's about orders +1. "Set an example; let them follow you. So that when you give an order, they don't hesitate: eh, is it a good order?... ah, how far do I want to go with this? - The action is immediate. And in combat that is the difference between winning and losing. It's the guy who gets the first shot off. The guy who does it right. And the guy who has everybody thinking in the same way, immediately. That's the difference in battle right there, and it's obvious: get the first shot off, and make it a good one." – Richard D. Winters $\endgroup$ – Mazura Feb 7 at 3:13

Key point: one with training/certifications is held to a different level of accountability than one without.

Your example is rather extreme; here is a more common case:

Imagine an auto accident, where a person has sustained a neck injury. They have fractured a vertebrae in the neck, but no damage to the spinal cord. Two people--one with training, one without--perform the following action: Without sign of immediate danger (such as the car on fire), they drag the person from the car.

As they are dragged, the neck is wrenched, the fractured vertebrae severs the spinal cord, and the person is left paralyzed from the neck down.

  • A lay person (without training) This person would probably be forgiven for this action under some form of good Samaritan interpretation.

  • A trained person (with training) would probably be prosecuted--and rightfully so. Never ever EVER would I move someone in this situation. In our training the following is made crystal clear: unless there is an immediate threat to the injured, do not move them in this manner.

In sum, yes, there is a dramatic difference in response. Honestly, sometimes the best action is to simply call 911, and let those on call with the proper training and equipment handle things. A trained person will often be the one to call 911. Many are afraid to get involved, and won't even do that much.

If I see something really dangerous, I will stop to "help," which basically means adding sanity to the situation: get everyone to safety, keep onlookers away from danger, CALL 911, stop people from doing anything stupid, and get the scene organized for the first responders.

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    $\begingroup$ I have actually asked people (and have told people in some instances) to stop helping me in emergency situations because they were making the situation worse. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Feb 4 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ Even trained people with good intentions can panic. True story: a school bus was on fire. I pulled over to help with this one: I ordered everyone off the bus, 100 yards away, and called the fire department. The driver, kids, and me were all safe. Then, a volunteer firefighter--without gear, from his personal vehicle--threw caution to the wind, ran up to the burning bus, popped the hood, and sprayed it with an extinguisher. After I said, "Why did you do that? I'd evacuated everyone; the bus was empty. You just put your life in danger for an old school bus." He just kinda grinned and shrugged. $\endgroup$ – kmiklas Feb 4 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ I am a firefighter; that's not panic, that's Chronic Hero Syndrome. We're all susceptible to it. Question is, did it put the fire out? $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Feb 4 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ I think so, but I can't be sure. The flames were gone, but it was still smoking a lot. How effective can one small extinguisher be on a big school bus engine? Honestly, I didn't get close enough to find out; I was too busy watchdogging the kids, teacher, and driver--keeping them together under a tree. $\endgroup$ – kmiklas Feb 6 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ Very effective, if you've caught it early. I've used them multiple times on engine fires. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Feb 6 at 16:37

There's a few movies that get it right: a pickup truck full of guys with AKs show up and murder the entire village, and/or worse. It doesn't need to be post WWIII, mutants, or military training - to have the intelligence to not put yourself in a situation as part of a group of people susceptible to getting rolled-up on by a squad of AKs. If everyone's so poor that there would be no other way to survive, then I'm not sure what else the bad guys would be after except for, 'or worse' ...

Military training would have prevented 40 out of 50 of those people being there. The rest get shot. *

I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred and fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. – The Bourne Identity

– Said by a man with his back to the wall, facing the front door, sitting in the booth by the back door. Ready at a moment's notice to not be part of the situation, which is expert level training. However, knowing when it's safe enough to stop and have a cup of coffee is entry level. But it's WWIII with x-military mutants; it is no longer safe to stop and have cups of coffee.

(*) Depending on how much time there is to react, and how cohesive the group is. Get rolled-up on: and probably everyone dies. But, spend any amount of time together with mostly military backgrounds, and have seen the pickup truck coming in the distance, then maybe the 35 people still standing there can plan something after everyone calms down... which is probably finding that many more places to hide or run away to.


The obvious answer is to look at what happened in bank robberies or similar events in countries or times where everyone had had military training.

The most obvious example would be WWII. For a bank robbery in the 1950s, most adult males in there would have had active military service, and seen combat. By the 1960s, it'd be most adult males in their 40s-50s. And anywhere in mainland Europe, every child will have had some exposure to firefights as the Allies rolled up one side of the Axis occupation and the Soviets rolled up the other side.

I clearly wasn't there, but I don't believe bank robbers changed their methods, and I don't believe it was more or less successful. I don't have good data though.

There are many places round the world where national service is still a thing. Greece, Switzerland or Israel, for example. Most of these recruits will never come under fire though, so it isn't a clear comparison. (In the case of Israel, firefights are mostly one way there, so whilst they'll discharge weapons, they'll rarely get shot at themselves. Stones yes, bullets no.) As other answers have noted, training and active service are not the same thing, so the question might want to be clearer about that.

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    $\begingroup$ This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Feb 6 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Gryphon Do the first three paragraphs not provide an answer? We have enough evidence that bank robberies with violence did still take place, I just have to acknowledge that I personally cannot analyse play-by-play for 1950s bank robberies. $\endgroup$ – Graham Feb 7 at 0:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Gryphon If it'd make you happier, I can delete the part of my answer where I also compare and contrast with current places where the OP might look into finding evidence. For me that looks like pointing them towards where they'd find an answer themselves - not feeding it on a plate, but somewhere they can research to find primary evidence. YMMV, apparently. $\endgroup$ – Graham Feb 7 at 0:56
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    $\begingroup$ The problem with this answer is it suggests places one could find answers, but does not actually provide one. If you could follow up on one or more of your ideas, this would be a valid answer. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Feb 7 at 1:05

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