ABOUT THE BOOK
War and peace with a difference
In the first half of the book Cocks tells of his time fighting in the Rhodesian war as a stick leader in the Police Anti-Terrorist Unit. The fighting is brutal and the young men are callous and hardened. Family life is at the bottom of their list of priorities. Tops are killing, drinking and spending time with their co-warriors. It is a time of violence and hatred for their enemy; the only people close to them are their colleagues.
While this is shocking enough, it is the longer war with himself that horrifies. Cocks plunges into failed businesses, drink and drugs in his desperate fight to forget the horror of his past life and settle into the new land called Zimbabwe, where his enemy is now his equal. His examination of himself, then and now, is one of the bravest stories of war, the cruelty men can inflict on each other, and how difficult it is to come to terms with peace. (Natal Mercury)
Just finished Survival Course by Chris Cocks. After reading Fireforce, which I thought was the best autobiography I had ever read, this sequel is something else. Absolutely the best autobiography I really have ever read, until the cheeky fellow writes a third one. For anyone who has been to war or suffers PTSD or knows what it’s like to live around people with it, it’s a must-read. I’s the only book about the aftermath of war on a man’s mind I can say is out there and I’m so glad Chris had the guts to share it with people. Please, please, please read it.
I finished reading Survival Course recently. I wanted to tell you that your honest, nothing-held-back account of that period of your life was a pretty courageous work. The experiences that you had in the RLI and PATU as a young man during wartime, and the dissolution of your society and country are mirrored in your history and narrative. The effect of warfare and stress on you is also an issue for our young soldiers today—our domestic problems, drug/substance abuse and suicides have increased tremendously in the US Army. Just like our Viet Nam era veterans—it is unfortunate that it took so long for the effects of your experiences to be recognized. I’m glad you’ve “come out the other side”. It seems that so many of your mates could not bear the same voyage. Nothing but tragic. To put your experiences on paper in such an un-watered down way is pure honesty and bravery. Thanks for your work.
Peter J. Benson, MD, FACEP, COL, MC, SFS, DMO
Command and Regimental Surgeon, US Army Special Forces Command (Airborne)
Author and publisher Chris Cocks is not your average book industry suit. The tattoos on his arms and the content of his books recall his time as a soldier in the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), a part of his life likely to still have repercussions far into the future.
“I went to do my national service in 1976, for one year,” says Cocks. “A few months in, the period was changed to 18 months, which messed up my varsity plans, so I signed up with the RLI for three years.” Survival Course picks up the story from 1979 onwards. Cocks remembers having doubts about what he did for a living, and quotes the oft-heard soldier’s line about staying in the army because of his bond with the men next to him on the battlefield. But he offers a new perspective, too. “You become part of a larger peer group. If you decide to jump ship, your family will suffer as a result of the stigma attached to that,” he says. So he stayed involved, and suffered many of the hardships that face many soldiers outside of a war zone. “The army breaks you down completely in order to build you back up the way they want you to be,” he says.
“When the war is over, there’s no ‘decompression’ period, so alcohol, drugs and abuse become problems because there is no other outlet for that aggression.” Cocks himself endured considerations of suicide as he tried to be ‘normal’. In the newly independent Zimbabwe, he had suddenly become a second-class citizen, unable to get a job and constantly yearning for times past. He survived, but his book includes the stories of those men he knew who weren’t as lucky—or resolute. “They were victims of war as well. They just weren’t recorded on the roll of honour,” he says.
Cocks, although he’s now on his third marriage, is confident that he won’t follow them down that road. “I’ve taken responsibility for myself,” he says. “I don’t blame lan Smith, the war or Mugabe. I need to keep working on myself for the sake of my own sanity.” He’s brutally honest about the process involved getting back on even keel. “To have a normal relationship, I’ve had to strip everything away—the arrogance, bitterness and hatred,” says Cocks. “I’ve adapted the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programme to my own situation.” It doesn’t matter what the addiction is: I needed to fix what they call ‘defects of character’. That involved total honesty with myself, and then a rebuilding process.” For Cocks, this process, though difficult, has obviously had its rewards, and it’s the same with his books: you can’t expect an easy ride, but you’ll have a thought-provoking, moving journey.
Bruce Dennill, The Citizen
One is struck with wonder that Rhodesia lasted as long as it did, considering the price that Ian Smith asked of her people to perpetuate white rule a bare handful of years. Cocks does not ask or answer if the sacrifice was worth it, at least not explicitly. It is clear however, that he does not think so … Survival Course stands as a cautionary tale. U.S. Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman was indeed right: War is hell. And sometimes, so is peace.
African Armed Forces Journal
A descent into depravity. Former Rhodesian soldier and police reservist Chris Cocks has written a follow-up to Fireforce, delivering a shocking account of his life after leaving the Rhodesian Light Infantry. Cocks has a lot to get off his chest, and admits in Survival Course that writing down the facts of his life served as a means of coming to terms with the painful truth of the horrors he had not only inflicted on others, but also on himself. This is not an easy read. It is a story that at times not only disgusted, but angered me as a former Zimbabwean. This part of Cocks’s life picks up with his move to the Lowveld of Zimbabwe with his first wife. His move to a normal life after his departure from the Light Infantry would see him working on government farms. But, he is quickly roped in as a reservist for the Police Anti-Terrorist Unit, and that is where it all came apart. He delves into the pain of adjusting to civilian life during which he essentially became a drifter after independence and finally managed to settle down.