If You’re Taking Flak

[July 9, 2020] Amazingly, several idioms from World War II are still with us 75 years after the end of that great conflict.1  If you’re taking flak, you’re over the target is an old, WWII Army Air Force phrase.  It means to take criticism (flak) from a position on a controversial topic (the target).  Leaders are first to be criticized for their views and are susceptible to disparagement and abuse for what they say or do.

Frankly, that is the very epitome of a leader.  It is a real leader who puts themselves in the “line of fire.”  Why would anyone put themselves in such a position, a position that would not seem to carry any advantage?  That question has been asked many times, and the answer partially explains why so many avoid such a situation.

We all find life much easier if we sit back and watch the fireworks when someone says something with which others disagree.  The more emotion involved, the greater the “flak” a person will take for taking an unpopular position.  We can see this today when someone takes a political position that is out of favor.  They are attacked on social media and sometimes in the press for what they have said.  Political conservatives often see themselves in this circumstance.

What I find particularly interesting is that the majority of people taking unpopular positions back down shortly after.  They apologize for “offending anyone who might have been hurt” by their comments (or actions) and is quick to say they will never do it again.  Such behavior is, of course, cowardice.  When we have studied our positions thoughtfully but fail to express them politely, we are self-censoring.  A good leader will openly ask for feedback, a valuable tool to improve their way of thinking.

On the other hand, some folks seem to revel in the attention they get from expressing disliked opinions.  They love it when others challenge them.  The best leaders know that only through vigorous back and forth debate, can a stable position be strengthened.  Through good communications, peacefully conducted, the field of ideas will expand, and everyone will gain.  When violence and attempts to banish people for their views occurs, there is the possibility of losing new, creative concepts, ideas, and useful inventions.

So, remember that the most influential leaders of our times are those that are taking a lot of flak for their opinions.  The question is, can we do the same?


  1. The one I use most often is “the whole nine yards,” which refers to the length of ammunition belts used in WWII American bombers. This is the most widely circulated explanation of the term’s origins.   https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/the-whole-nine-yards/
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

17 thoughts on “If You’re Taking Flak

  1. Xerxes I

    Good, spot-on blog post, Gen. Sattefield. Thanks. FYI, I’m taking the printed article to my boss at work tomorrow to see what he says about it.

    1. Fred Weber

      I’d be interested in you telling us his reaction. Thanks, Xerxes.

  2. Kenny Foster

    Gen. Satterfield, yes, many idioms from the past continue to percolate up from our past. Why? Got me. But they are useful, but note, the are also changing all the time so I would be careful using them here. IMHO…. ?

  3. Lynn Pitts

    Taking an unpopular position can be done without taking as much flak as we would predict if we set the expectations properly in advance. This means better communication and listening skills. We can all do better but these skills take time and energy that most of us do not have. But we can work on it. Just try!!!!

    1. Harry B. Donner

      Yes, good point Lynn. We must “see” the future and communicate our vision. Failure to do so (and thus set our expectations) will lead to grief, pain, and fear.

  4. AutisticTechie

    It’s the groveling by those who actually stood out front and acted like a leader but then back down when confronted by opposing opinions. My advice is — never apologize, not matter what. Stand your ground. Don’t let the social media affect you. If you boss fires you for taking up what is right, then good riddance to that job and that weak, scrawny-ass boss that deserves his own personal failures.

    1. Tracey Brockman

      … and the pandering too, so don’t forget that. How disgusting it is to see so many cowards in politics these days and now the CEOs and other senior leaders in business who are also pandering to the crazies of our times. Stand up you fools, you are next into the guillotine.

      1. Kenny Foster

        Ha Ha…. you got that right Tracey. THe whole thing about this antifa movement and BLM is that the target keeps moving and tomorrow they will set their sites on something else. Everybody is scrambling not to be their next target.

  5. Yusaf from Texas

    There is a real lack of bravery when confronted by the social justice warriors. The SJWs are the modern fascists and funny that they don’t even know it. Shows how ignorant our youth are these days.

    1. JT Patterson

      True and largely because they are taught all their lives that they, they as an individual, are morally superior to everyone else.

    2. Scotty Bush

      Today’s SJWs are the Hitler brownshirts of the 1930s.

      1. Bryan Lee

        Spot on comment, Scotty. Funny thing about this is that they are convinced that they are there to save America when in reality America needs to be saved from them. Just take a look at what they did in Seattle Washington when they set up their first “state.” First, they created a wall (yet they are opposed to us building walls at our borders). Second, they created a gang to extort protection money from businesses (yet they oppose taxes). Funny how all that works.

        1. Wilson Cox

          Ironic, isn’t it? I’m not shocked by it but apparently the mayor of Seattle agreed with them.

  6. Army Captain

    This is the whole point of leadership. Being where others don’t think you should be. That is why they have targets painted on their backs. Everyone is gunning for them because they are out front.


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