If there is one thing that I have always had an issue with in the fantasy/science fiction genre, it is the way that many writers seem to gloss over the devastating psychological affects of killing. Characters in fantasy stories often seem to make the transition from the simple, every-day farmboy who couldn’t harm a fly to the Supreme General of the Resistance who has killed hundreds of thousands of men without any readily apparent affects on their psyche. While the fantasy genre is not at all the most realistic of genres, this is a gross problem and one that must be rectified immediately.

So let me say it bluntly: killing is a lot harder than most people think. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t talk from experience, but this is a well-documented fact. Take a look at statistics throughout the years. In World War II, only fifteen to twenty percent of American soldiers ever fired a shot at an enemy in front of them. Boiling it down, that means that one in five Americans actually shot at a Nazi when they saw one. Or consider the fact that in the Civil War the numbers were often times much smaller, between ten to fifteen percent of Civil War soldiers shot at a Yankee or a Confederate when they saw one.

It seems strange, doesn’t it? I mean, Americans in World War II had been conditioned since boot camp to believe that the Nazi soldiers were the epitome of evil that stood against truth, justice, and the American way. Why didn’t they fire? The reason is simple: in the animal kingdom, most animals will not kill another member of their species except in VERY rare circumstances, and humans are no exception.

“But wait!” I hear you say. “What about the fighter bomber who can indiscriminately bomb thousands of civilians without any great affects upon his emotional and psychological state?”

Here we come to the crux of the psychology of killing, the truth that so few fantasy writers seem to grasp: distance matters. A fighter bomber is able to kill thousands of people without any lasting affects because he cannot see their despair, cannot hear their screams, cannot smell their blood as it is shed. To the pilot of a fighter bomber the people that are being bombed are, for the most part, abstracts, concepts.

However, if we take a look at what a soldier on a field goes through, the situation changes dramatically. Now, not only is the enemy soldier visible, but you can see that he is just like you. You can see that he is sweating and shaking with fear, just like you. You can look into his eyes and see his agony and terror. You realize that he has a family, has hopes, has dreams, has a life just like you do. Now you tell me how hard it is to pull the trigger that will send him to eternity and take away all of that.

It must be said that there are ways around that. In World War II the problems that many soldiers faced was the fact that they had trained to kill paper targets, but met a flesh-and-blood human being on the field. This was rectified in the Vietnam War and all wars thereafter, the training targets were and are now more realistic, so that the act of killing on the battlefield becomes an instinct. Oftentimes a soldier in a modern-day war will pull the trigger before he can rationalize what he is doing. Of course, this can sometimes have a greater psychological affect on him: he did it despite his desire not to, despite the fact that all of his morals screamed to him, “No don’t do it!”

There are other methods to overcoming the desire not to kill, as well. Cultural indoctrination works wonders: Nazi soldiers were bred believing that Jews and blacks were subhuman animals that had to be exterminated, and because of this had an easier time on the battlefield. Idealogical morals also can overcome the fight or flight instinct, this is why Catholic soldiers in the Crusades and Muslim extremists today can kill the infidels who stand against their God.

So we can all clearly see that killing is a much more complex and devastating thing than most writers (especially those in Hollywood) make it out to be. The reality of this is a sharp contrast to the characters of writers such as Christopher Paolini and (setting all bias aside) even Tolkien. Perhaps this is because both authors wished to minimalize the faults in their characters; fear and self-doubt being things that would detract from the image of a nearly all-powerful mega-warrior. However, our generation is moving away from the trend of perfect characters. Gone are the Luke Skywalkers and the Frodo Bagginses, and quickly moving in are nittier, dirtier, darker characters who demand that they be taken seriously.

While I understand that fantasy as a whole is a genre in which writers can explore the depths of their creativity and create things that could not be in the real world, human nature cannot be ignored. War – whether it be on a battlefield in the Middle East or in the pages of a novel – is not about armies, guns, or battles; it is about people, and writing of any genre should reflect this.

Your thoughts are much appreciated, as is your time in reading this lengthy article.

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  1. Snow White Queen on 20 December 2008, 17:01 said:

    Hmm, you make very good points, Lionus. Even as a Tolkien fan, I can see that characters like Aragorn are not much affected by killing thousands of Orcs. Although I suppose you can argue that Men and Elves see the Orcs as ‘subhuman’ as well, lessening the psychological impact.

    But Frodo Baggins is far from a perfect protagonist. He is physically weak, too trusting and gullible, and eventually succumbs to the lure of the Ring.

    But I agree- fantasy glosses over this important aspect of killing much too often.

  2. Scary_Viking on 20 December 2008, 17:52 said:

    Agreed, although…

    I really must wonder how exactly Frodo is a ‘minimized fault’ protagonist. I mean really. He’s weak, succumbs to everything, and in the end, he FAILS, on a personal level, to do what he set out to do.

    And the ease with which the characters kill orcs is understandable. There is obvious lower-being-ness going on here. Additionally, the ‘good’ guys have been driven into a corner. I don’t know personally, but historically it seems like people driven into a corner have an easier time killing people.

  3. Gildor on 20 December 2008, 17:55 said:

    It is also the way in which someone kills.

    Say, Medical-killing (Euthanizing) is completly different from killing someone in self-defence or war. Although it isn’t easy, it’s still less of an impact on your mind.

    And (Perhaps a bit off-topic but still) the weapon is also a factor. Impaling someone with a 7.62×51mm M40 slug is something other than stabbing one with a knife. You can acctually feel the knife slipping inside flesh.

    I’ve once cut someone (By accident and non-lethal) and it’s an icky feeling.

    I’m not saying I’m an expert on this, but I thought I’d share my thoughts, someone correct me if I’m wrong.

  4. Lionus on 20 December 2008, 18:00 said:

    Thank you all for the feedback. However, I must disagree with the depiction of Frodo as a less-than-perfect character. Yes, he is weak. Yes, he succumbs to the Ring. But what happens in the end? Gollum takes care of it all. There are no consequences for Frodo. At the end of it, despite his mistakes, he is still viewed by all as the kindliest character in the book. He is the wise and compassionate leader of the Hobbit rebellion at the end of Return of the King. He is the one who had compassion on Gollum and “turned him good” for a time. Every good character loves him (with the exception of Boromir, and even he had a change of heart before he died), and all that do not love him are on the side of evil. I don’t deny that LOTR is a fantastic series of books (better than anything these hands will ever produce), but the fact remains that Frodo’s faults are very much idealized.

  5. Snow White Queen on 20 December 2008, 18:05 said:

    Frodo? Yes, I suppose there are minimal consequences for him, but his experiences left him emotionally scarred for the rest of his life.

    Also, he had little to nothing to do with the Hobbit Rebellion, which was basically Merry and Pippin, with help from Sam. All Frodo did was go around and make sure that the Hobbits didn’t get too out of control. Merry, Pippin, and Sam were the ones who were famous and renowned in the Shire, much more than Frodo.

    And he never actually kills anyone, for that matter…although I can’t disagree with your point that most of the good characters love him.

    In fact, I’ve always been of the opinion that Sam was the true hero of LotR.

  6. Lionus on 20 December 2008, 18:10 said:

    Excellent points, Snow White Queen. And thank you, Gildor, for those additions, those are all things I forgot to mention.

    Criticism is appreciated for this article (it’s my first) and it’s VERY much appreciated for the first chapter of my novel We Will All Go Down Together.

  7. Addie on 20 December 2008, 19:32 said:

    Whoa, hang on a second.

    “There are no consequences for Frodo” … “minimal consequences for him.” What? Wait a minute. The consequences are huge. He’s had a normal peaceful Shire life completely interrupted by the advent of a most dangerous and seductive Ring of Power. He’s forced into exile from his homeland, pursued by supernatural agents of many times his own physical and mystical power, attacked and barraged many times over (both physically and emotionally) before he even reaches the temporary safe haven of Rivendell – and then, he’s plunged right into the middle of the dangerous politics of a dangerous time for the whole of Middle-earth, and sent on the most grueling, dangerous task of the grueling, dangerous war. Seriously, he has the worst job of all the allies. The Ring inflicts severe mental, emotional, and physical torture on its bearer, especially as it gets closer to Mordor – and Mordor is exactly where Frodo is forced to go. And on top of that, he has to deal with Gollum, and witness his own growing horrible kinship with Gollum – the way they’re both enslaved to the Ring – something that has to be very very scary. That, really, is the most shattering thing – the surface of their common frailties, their unity in guilt and weakness of will. For Frodo, it’s a loss-of-innocence sequence, the ultimate destruction of the person he was before – and, also, his catalyst to mercy. Anyway, it’s torture he has no chance of recovery from. And once he’s back in the Shire, he realizes that there is no cure for him, and he’s lost the world he fought to save. “Emotionally scarred for life”? You think? He’s given his life up .

    As for succumbing to the Ring, there isn’t a being in the whole of Middle-earth that wouldn’t have done the same (except for Bombadil, who hardly counts in this contest, because doesn’t feel the lure of it). Gandalf and Elrond and all the rest of the Council are too afraid of what it would do to them to take it – they know they wouldn’t be able to resist. Boromir is almost destroyed by the lure of the Ring. Galadriel struggles just not to take it, let alone what she would do if she actually had it. Saruman is led astray by desire for it. Denethor would be consumed by it. Faramir fears even to see it. Gollum killed for it on first sight. Bilbo is almost demented by it, while he still has it. Seriously, it’s a huge accomplishment for Frodo to keep it hidden and not use it while he’s on his journey. And once he’s on Mount Doom – as Tolkien once explained, the Ring exerted all its power then, and Frodo was exhausted and starved, and had been under its torture for months, and he was only a very ill hobbit facing the lure of a Ring made an age and more ago by Sauron the Maia, for heaven’s sake. It was impossible for him not to succumb.

    “Too trusting and gullible.” On the contrary. There’s a section in the book on this – they’re at the Black Gate, debating whether to follow Gollum to Cirith Ungol or not. Gollum and Sam have both “confused kindness and blindness,” but actually, Frodo is very much aware of Gollum’s desire and state of mind. He just chooses to follow him anyway.

    “Most of the good characters love him.” Say rather that he has no quarrel with any of them but Boromir and Gollum, and that’s over the Ring, not Frodo’s personality at all. He goes through the story and makes friends with some of the characters, like Gandalf and Aragorn and Faramir, and doesn’t make enemies of the rest of them, except the Black Riders etc. You could say much the same of the rest of the Fellowship. Really, there just isn’t enough evidence here for a Stu accusation.

    Sorry to be off topic killing-wise, Lionus, but I had to post this. Some of those statements up there were just wildly off …

  8. Snow White Queen on 20 December 2008, 19:50 said:

    Addie was exactly on…

    Although I didn’t mean to indicate that Frodo suffered ‘minimal consequences’…just came out wrong.


  9. trexmaster on 20 December 2008, 21:22 said:

    Very profound thoughts there. I had never really thought about that before.

  10. Addie on 20 December 2008, 21:30 said:

    Thank you, SWQ. :)

    And now – just so I’ll no longer be guilty of being off topic on Lionus’s page – I’ll refer back to the actual article. :) (I was called away to another task before and hadn’t the time.)

    Lionus, good article; most well thought out. I have just a few questions.

    Where does manslaughter fit in to this? I mean, what if a person is in a brawl, or something, and kills another out of anger – perhaps meaning to, perhaps not? What are the effects?

    I thought your comments on “sub-human” indoctrination seemed reasonable. Denying that another person is human, saying and thinking that they are something alien and don’t count, makes it easier by far to be cruel and hurt them. Such enabled the Nazis to do what they did. (Which is why one preliminary to a better world is stressing that everyone’s human.)

    I would love to see you analyze the Heavenly Creatures murder, though. (That’s the Parker-Hulme murder in real life.) What on earth happened there?

    These sentences – “Perhaps this is because both authors wished to minimalize the faults in their characters; fear and self-doubt being things that would detract from the image of a nearly all-powerful mega-warrior. However, our generation is moving away from the trend of perfect characters. Gone are the Luke Skywalkers and the Frodo Bagginses, and quickly moving in are nittier, dirtier, darker characters who demand that they be taken seriously.” – These sentences bother me immensely, but it would take waaaay to much space to give you the proper diatribe, so I’ll just say that both characters are essentially dealing with human (/hobbit) guilt and frailty. They’re far from perfect mega-warriors (* wince *).

    Here’s an interesting note, by the way: Tolkien was a WWI veteran, and three of his closest friends were killed in action.

    Trexmaster: thought about what?

  11. Lionus on 20 December 2008, 22:08 said:


    These are all really good questions, and you make a very eloquent, persuasive, and (may I say) passionate point. Concerning your being off-topic I can only say that it was the most interesting and logical off-topic diatribe I have ever read, and must admit it when I’m wrong about a character (in this case Frodo). :)

    As far as manslaughter goes – and remembering, please, that I am by no means an expert on the subject but can only offer my observation and those of medical experts I have read – I would venture to say that manslaughter would fit somewhat into the category of those modern-day soldiers who kill on instinct. People who unintentionally kill do so out of primal fight-or-flight instinct, and very often suffer the same post traumatic stress as those who kill with logical and rational intention.

    I reviewed the Parker-Hulme case that you mentioned, and its very interesting (though at the same time incredibly horrifying). Here would be my humble analysis. Both of the girls had physical ailments (Parker suffering from osteomyelitis and Hulme suffering from tuberculosis), and as such were deprived of playmates. This led to their being forced to create a fantasy world together, in which one was dependent upon the other to uphold this. However, due to their parents’ concerns that they were developing homosexual tendencies, the two were forced to split up. This was, undoubtedly, highly traumatic (both being the only known friend of the other) because their fantasy world was now destroyed; the world they had chosen to live in was gone. With the likely probability that they already had fragile psyches because of their isolation and the disapproval of their parents, this final blow sent them over the edge, allowing them to commit a heinous act.

    Insanity (particularly sociopathy) is an issue that can affect a person’s ability or even wiligness to kill. I did not mention it here because the majority of fantasy or science fiction works I have read are not about sociopathic characters (with the possible exception of Eragon). However, it is an excellent point, and I admit that there very well may be several works of fantasy concerning insane characters.

    Addie, you seem to be a very astute reader. Would you mind very much critiquing the first chapter of my Project We Will All Go Down Together? (It’s one of the recent additions so it should show up on home, otherwise it’s in the critique section).

  12. Mr. Wednesday on 20 December 2008, 22:47 said:

    That was a well-written article. But like the others, I wouldn’t really consider Frodo as a good example of a perfect character.

  13. SubStandardDeviation on 20 December 2008, 23:21 said:

    The word is “effect”.

    Good article, though I notice you use a lot of examples, which can get you into trouble, as the above LotR debate (which I have absolutely no interest in) attests to.

    Since you mention fantasy and sci-fi in your lead, I would have liked you to expand more on those particular aspects. What makes unrealistic depictions of killing in fantasy and sci-fi more noticeable, or worse, than in other genres? Is killing a goblin/alien more like murdering a person or squishing a bug? (An issue I have with virtually every RPG video game in existence, especially the sort featuring teenagers who’ve never picked up a weapon before.) Is using a fireball spell any different from using a gun? Does anything change if a divine authority physically manifests and tells you it’s okay?

    There’s another article on the site that I’m reminded of:
    Have you read it? What do you think of it?

  14. Torak on 21 December 2008, 00:01 said:

    A fascinating article, and giving some thoughtful points of view on a subject that gets far too little consideration in fiction as a whole.

    I’m ex-military of sorts (air cadets, then military service in Sweden) and so the whole killing thing is something I’ve given a lot of thought over the years. Personally, I believe that I would be able to kill if I had to, and do so efficiently. But I don’t know how I’d handle it afterwards, nor do I ever want to need to find out.

    I jotted down some thoughts on the matter a week or two ago, in fact; here’s an extract:

    “I won’t say I’d never be able to kill anyone; in fact, I think that anyone who says they’d never be able to kill is wrong, one way or another. I think in a worst-case scenario, with no other option, I may well have to try. But I don’t think reaching that point would be a desirable thing.

    “In the military, we were trained to shoot guns. We spent hours on the range, firing at cardboard targets 300 metres out; we ran around in the woods firing off blank rounds at each other in simulated battle. And it’s great fun, until you sit down and think about it. Individually they’re fun activities, firing live ammunition at card and firing blank ammunition at people, but ultimately the aim is to combine the two, to make soldiers able to efficiently kill other humans. Sooner or later during military training you have to confront that knowledge, and it’s quite interesting to see how different people react. Some got more gung-ho, though I don’t know whether they were genuinely looking forward to the idea of having lawful justification for shooting someone or they were just trying to push out any qualms about it. Some got more thoughtful; I, for instance, tried to remember every time I fired my rifle what the ultimate aim was, and I worked on accuracy and firing drills to ensure that if I ever had to shoot at anyone, they wouldn’t have to suffer any more than they had to. For much the same reason I read up on the rules of war and military regulations. I made sure I knew exactly what rights I had to refuse unlawful orders, I learned how to differentiate between combatants, non-combatants (not as obvious as you might think) and “bandits”. I learned that if you come across a wounded enemy, you treat his wounds just like you would a friend’s, but more on that later.

    “There’s something strangely… strange about warfare. I’ve never experienced it myself, thankfully, but even in training you find the beginnings of things you hear about in accounts of real combat. You dehumanise the enemy, making yourself see them as something less than human, at the same time as you personalise it. Humans are hard-wired to answer aggression with aggression; if someone attacks us, we hit back. Anger, visceral and personal, is perhaps the main trigger that lets us deploy violence. But in a war where no one you know is being harmed, you and your country aren’t under threat, and your only reason for going somewhere and shooting the locals is that the politicians tell you… I imagine it could be difficult to summon up the will to be violent. So we personalise it; find anything personal, however minor, to blame “the bad guys” for and then absorb that to fuel the anger.”

    I’m not quite sure what my point is there, but who knows… maybe someone will find it interesting.

  15. Addie on 21 December 2008, 00:11 said:


    Sure, I’d be glad to look at We Will All Go Down Together. (I glanced at it already and it looks very interesting indeed.) I’ll head right over. :)

    “ … and (may I say) passionate point.” Yes, you’re right; I suppose it was a bit. The Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite books; I can only hope that it hasn’t clouded my judgement on the matter. If I seemed too heated in my defense of Frodo Baggins, then I cry your pardon; it’s all too easy to get caught up in defending a favorite character. All I can hope is that it hasn’t touched my logic. :)

    Yes, the Parker-Hulme case is indeed horrifying; I remained shaken for days after I first read about it. However, under your diagnosis, their behavior does become much more intelligible. Their physical illnesses, mutual dependence, fragile psyches due to sickness and loneliness, obsessive fantasies, and (finally) traumatic separation (or, at least, the threat thereof) – yes, I think you’re right; I can see how that might drive them to murder. Thank you for taking the time to make that analysis. (It’s one of the oddest, most brutal murder cases I’ve ever heard of, so I was curious what you’d think.)

    Sociopathy, I am not sure about. Lord Voldemort comes immediately to mind – he certainly had no trouble killing; however, I do not know if that is realistic or not (as sociopathy), never having studied it.

  16. Corsair on 21 December 2008, 03:49 said:

    I wouldn’t even call Luke Skywalker a case of the ‘Perfect Hero’. He kind of screws everything up. His only real success is when he rescues Han from Jabba, every other time, someone else pulls his ass out of the fire. I wouldn’t really call his defeat of Vader a great victory, either, considering he neither finished the job nor destroyed the Emperor, they had to kill each other.

    Also, he doesn’t kill very many humans, and the ones he does kill tend to be pretty well dehumanized already. Good old Stormtroopers. The aliens he kills on Jabba’s Barge are, well, not human.

  17. Addie on 21 December 2008, 04:20 said:

    Yeah, I could post another diatribe on Luke … but I guess I won’t. :)

  18. Rand on 21 December 2008, 18:33 said:

    In Star Wars, there’s a lot of dehumanizing killing going on.
    Not to mention, now I understand Batman more.

  19. Snow White Queen on 21 December 2008, 19:48 said:

    You mean his reluctance to stoop to Joker’s level and kill him?

    But wouldn’t that save a lot of time, money, and innocent lives?

  20. Corsair on 21 December 2008, 20:50 said:

    Eyeroll Yes, it would. But that’s part of Batman’s thing. He won’t kill people. He’ll break every other rule, but that’s the one thing he always sticks to, to keep him separate from those he hunts.

  21. Snow White Queen on 21 December 2008, 21:28 said:

    Yes, I see what you mean…

  22. Zahano on 22 December 2008, 00:24 said:


    Aside from that, it is fine. Just give us sources for your statistics and perhaps add more of them.

  23. SallyB on 22 December 2008, 14:37 said:

    I agree with Zahano on being curious about your sources. I have never encountered that particular statistic (about what proportion of soldiers actually fired on a face-to-face enemy), and would very much like to know where you found it. How do they collect things like that?

  24. Jeni on 22 December 2008, 19:25 said:

    Good article, but I’d like to actually (shock!horror) jump a little bit to CP’s defence and say that he did try to balance out the typical fantasy kill! mindset with Roran. From what I remember Roran first killing was made out to be a pretty big thing.

    Of course, I think CP fails to really do it well, but, he TRIED.

  25. Rudyard on 23 December 2008, 04:01 said:

    Now I don’t mean to be offensive (or jauntus or bitter) in what I’m going to say. The this article gave a very legitimate grievance in poorly written fiction.

    But I think that you, you all, have missed a key point. You’re coming from the Noble Save point of view. That man at his base is good and pleasant. Now that’s great and all. Glad you think that way. In fact all of civilization is built upon that noble sentiment that noble… lie. Cause people deep down aren’t all that good and aren’t all that pleasant.

    You speak of murder like it’s a foreign thing; an external desire. But things like that, the desire to enslave and to steal, to rape and to murder; those are all internal forces, those are all parts of human nature. A nature that is exposed once civilization wanes.

    Look at places where law and order, civilization, has broken down. I think you know the kinds of places I mean; I don’t have to mention them by name. Now these people are just the same, exactly the same, as you and me, ‘cause human nature doesn’t change folks; it just doesn’t. The only thing different is we are living in a just and civil society. A civil society tames human nature and curbs these impulses.* So the question is not how can man kill his kin according to his nature, but rather how can man kill his kin according to his society if that society is a civil one.

    *Now you may have not agreed with what I just said, I repeat that I do not mean to offend. And I hope you’re offended, I do. For not too many people should see the world like this. And if you’re offended, you will stay that way because Rousseau shall never reconcile with Hobbs. But if I do offend note that it is the writer’s job, no duty, to be offended.

    You think I dislike people. On the contrary I think they’re wonderful, yes very. Cause in spite of all the base nature I described people are mostly good.* But what is more, least to this article, is that their well behaved. Most people are docile sheep. They would never intentionally harm another being unless under extreme provocation. And even if they did kill ‘justly’ they would still feel the utmost guilt and dread. So most people, most people in a civil society are unfit for killing. But there are some people, let’s say two percent of the population, who are very, very capable of violence. What of them?

    *How they act is mostly good, not their nature, note I make a distinction. Because people’s nature, I maintain is base and dark. However despite this they want to be good, they long to be good. It is only out of such a longing that civilization could arise and through that civilization that they are made good.

    What I’m leading up to is the metaphor of the Sheep, The Sheepdogs, and the Wolves. Perhaps you’ve heard it before. In any case it isn’t mine. Perhaps it isn’t his either, doesn’t matter. His name is Dave Grossman and the below link is one of the most insightful, beautiful even, works about the subject. Please, if you’ve read this far check out this article at http://mwkworks.com/onsheepwolvesandsheepdogs.html

  26. LucyWannabe on 23 December 2008, 10:20 said:

    Rudyard: I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you. Though you should keep in mind, the point you’re trying to argue is a philosophical one that has been argued for ages upon ages. I won’t argue it here, because people that have had much more time (and are much better spoken) have done so before.

    Though I will add, I don’t think human beings are “noble”, but nor do I think they’re evil little monsters. My own opinion on the subject is that people, at the baseline, start off neutral and are influenced into either direction (bad or good) by OUTISDE stimulus.

  27. Rocky on 23 December 2008, 10:44 said:

    Those are excellent points, Rudyard, but there’s another aspect to take into consideration: desensitization.

    These places were law and order has broken down will also prove to be prime examples of places where the people are desensitized to certain horrors of life. It comes with the territory of living around these things for most, if not all of one’s life.

    There’s always going to be an initial twinge of conscience that precedes a killing, especially if it’s a person’s first one. That sensation, that nagging and gnawing of the conscience at the soul, is something that never goes away. Over time, it just becomes harder to hear and easier to ignore or even refute.

    That’s the essence of human nature in conflict, not just the physical battle to the death, but also the struggle between our innate natures to take what we want and remove anyone in our way or to deal with the situation in a more noble fashion. Obviously, not every struggle can be attributed only those two aspects, but I think you get the idea.

    It’s been a while, but I don’t feel I’m incorrect in placing an area like Carvahall outside the realm of daily horrific occurrences. Yes, Eragon has seen death before while hunting in the Spine, but watching a deer suck in it’s last breath doesn’t stack up to watching a person with a unique mind and soul slip the from the world, to hear, not even screams and shrieks, but dying gasps as the person labors to stay alive.

    A farmboy such as Eragon may indeed have a lingering darkness and a penchant for violence when pushed, but I don’t recall any display of such mental or ethical struggles, and an idyllic farmstead isn’t a place where his conscience and refrain to take a life would be desensitized to such a degree.

  28. Lionus on 24 December 2008, 01:15 said:


    Actually, truth be told, I agree with you, that at the base of things mankind is depraved and that our evil outweighs are good (I have seen this struggle in myself). However, the fact remains that though on the whole all evil is equal, we in our humanity do not believe this. Deep down we equate varying degrees of evil with certain actions, and murder is one that we have hardwired ourselves to think is more heinous than other actions. You make very legitimate points as to desensitization and its effects on people, but the fact still remains that somewhere deep inside the majority of us are ingrained with a “Don’t Do It Ever” mentality when it comes to killing. As warfare is dealing with large numbers of (most of the time, with some exceptions) “average” people, I tried to let that show through in the article. But your criticism is very valid, and I thank you (all of you) for posting it.


  29. Tim on 26 March 2012, 01:45 said:

    In World War II, only fifteen to twenty percent of American soldiers ever fired a shot at an enemy in front of them. Boiling it down, that means that one in five Americans actually shot at a Nazi when they saw one.

    That’s not what it means at all. I’m fairly sure you’re misquoting that figure; nothing I’ve ever read on WW2 indicates an 80% rate of refusals to fire in combat.

    What I’m fairly sure it’s actually talking about is only 20% of soldiers ever engaged the enemy. This isn’t particularly surprising; a clerk who files papers for a general, a cook, a mechanic who works in a motor pool – these are all soldiers, but they’re very unlikely to have ever had occasion to fire their weapons at anyone. I believe the majority of frontline medics didn’t even carry a personal weapon and would have sacrificed their protection under the Geneva Convention if they’d fired, so they probably didn’t use one either.

    “In front of them” also rules out artillery, mortars, quite a few crew-served weapons and possibly tanks.

    Or consider the fact that in the Civil War the numbers were often times much smaller, between ten to fifteen percent of Civil War soldiers shot at a Yankee or a Confederate when they saw one.

    This is because the troops in the civil war were often barely trained and were firing on their own countrymen. People tend to ignore the war was Americans shooting other Americans when they talk about the refusal to fire rate.

    Why didn’t they fire? The reason is simple: in the animal kingdom, most animals will not kill another member of their species except in VERY rare circumstances, and humans are no exception.

    This is simply wrong. Animals don’t kill one another because the loser backs down before he dies, not because the winner refuses to kill him. When you put two territorial animals in a confined space where neither can back down, they’ll fight until one dies (this is why bloodsports like cockfighting and dog fighting work, and why you have to be careful introducing animals to confined spaces like aquariums and zoos). Even when you don’t, competing animals won’t care if they lethally injure their opponent. Animals don’t have a reflex against killing, they have a reflex against being killed; the winner doesn’t chase his opponent down and finish the kill because there’s no point wasting energy killing something you have no intention of eating.

    That’s not even mentioning all the animals which will gladly eat young members of their species; female cats chase off toms because they’re prone to eating even their own kittens, a lion who ousts the male of a pride will eat all the cubs so he can mate with the females, etc.

    In addition, animals will gladly kill members of their own species they consider abhorrent; if you put an albino crow among other crows, they’ll typically attack it until it dies.

    “But wait!” I hear you say. “What about the fighter bomber who can indiscriminately bomb thousands of civilians without any great affects upon his emotional and psychological state?”

    It does. You think watching a city burn has no effect on the bombadier of a heavy bomber? Just because they weren’t breaking down in droves doesn’t mean it didn’t affect them; the conquerors who sacked and pillaged cities face-to-face in the old days didn’t break down in droves either.

    Idealogical morals also can overcome the fight or flight instinct, this is why Catholic soldiers in the Crusades and Muslim extremists today can kill the infidels who stand against their God.

    One could also argue that in those days they didn’t have the same attitude towards death that we do. In modern society you’re unlucky if you’ve actually seen a real person die, and the dead are hidden away. In medieval society you would likely have seen many people close to you die (probably including siblings) and death was a part of life; parents saw no problems with taking children to watch a criminal be hanged, decapitated or burned, and there’s no real record that anyone found this particularly traumatic. The Romans loved their brutal Circus Maximus, after all.

    The real issue here is you’re arguing from a modern perspective about something we only have a modern perspective on; we have no idea whether our modern reactions to killing are fundamental human behaviour or just societal conditioning. In modern Western society you would think that desiring privacy while you go to the toilet is a fundamental human reflex as well, yet the Romans had no problems using communal toilets and there are no records of anyone being embarassed at the idea.

    None of this excuses Eragon, mind you.

  30. Tim on 28 May 2014, 08:13 said:

    In World War II, only fifteen to twenty percent of American soldiers ever fired a shot at an enemy in front of them.

    I’ve since found out where this figure comes from: it was the work of SLA Marshall, who claimed to have interviewed troops and derived this statistic. The problem is that the number has long been regarded as utterly discredited (the troops he interviewed later said he never asked them how often they fired their weapons, and most of his data was fabricated) and unsupported by even simple analysis of empirical data such as how much ammunition was consumed per unit.

    Grossman’s book is a far-right anti-free-speech screed made of cherry-picked facts, wishful thinking and when all else fails outright bullshit.

  31. Far Voyager on 29 May 2014, 07:58 said:

    Interesting article. Just to point one thing: even soldiers who control drones, being much farther away than the pilot of a bomber of the destruction they cause suffer those effects (short of things such as PTSD due to fear of being downed by enemy AA defenses or fighters in the case of bomber pilots). No soldier is 100% safe in a full-scale war, especially in this epoch.

  32. swenson on 29 May 2014, 08:20 said:

    Yep. Lots and lots of drone operators end up with PTSD. It’s sparked by somewhat different things—they’re not physically present at the traumatic event and they themselves are in no danger—but it’s pretty common. It’s more than just physical danger, there’s moral and emotional factors as well.