Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On the Subject of Murder

When I was an undergraduate, over a decade ago, I once had a man sit down next to me and tell me his life story. This was nothing new. Over my time at college, I had been the walking confessional for a multitude of people. The accidental ménage à trois over the summer break? I heard about it. A woman whose mother stated that she aborted every child "just so I could love you and you alone"? Heard it twice.

But this time was a little different. I don't recall how the conversation started, but I remember vividly where it ended up. You see, he was an immigrant from Ireland, and he had just done a seven year stint for murdering his sister's rapist.

Yup. Situation normal for me.

If you are somehow shocked or surprised, don't worry, I wasn't. My attitude was to shrug. I'm relatively certain I would be interested in doing the same if I had been in his circumstances. My Irish compatriot elaborated, stating that he had felt nothing while he offed the son of a bitch in question, and casually mentioned that he cared about who he cared about, and wouldn't have felt much of anything if he had killed any other random person in the area -- though he was careful to point out other people to use as his example. He wasn't trying to intimidate me, merely trying to illustrate a point.

What I didn't know then, but know now, is that sociopaths come in several varying flavors. Though how much of that is "sociopath" and how much is "I scared the shrink" is a topic for another day. In America, the American Psychological Association has decided to make psychopathy and sociopathy lumped into "anti-Social personality disorder."

My general attitude is to say "Oh, screw off."

Let's be real for a moment, shall we? If someone comes into my home and I kill the little bastard, I may be affected by many things, but I will not, under any circumstances, feel guilty over murdering him, her, or it. Given how good I feel after a rousing class of Krav Maga, I may -- and I stress MAY, in large capital letters, as I have never done it -- even feel good about having killed the intruder, if only for no other reason than I survived the ordeal. This would probably have me labeled as a sociopath by most professional shrinks.

Should a someone in the military feel even a speck of guilt over having killed someone trying to kill them? They might, but are they obligated to? Nope. Sorry, but when people are shooting at you, shooting right back at them is the only reasonable course of action.

But if they don't feel guilty about it, congratulations, they get the label of sociopath. And, of course, baby killers, and monsters, and murderers and ...

Yeah, they should just shut the hell up. I call BS on the whole concept of a soldier being automatically "a killer," with all the negative connotations that usually comes with.

And of course, there are multiple flavors of sociopath. Secondary sociopaths are people who go cold and violent during major emergencies -- like a riot during a soccer match. There are high functioning sociopaths, who know that they're different from other people, understand how they're different, and can be relatively normal...ish. There are sociopaths who love people who are near and dear to them, and do not give a damn about anyone else, because anyone else don't really feel real to them (see: Under a Graveyard Sky).

Heck, should the team that killed Osama bin Laden feel remorse? I can't imagine why they should. He had it coming, and would you just like to imagine the scenario that would come after Osama had handcuffs slapped on him?

And the sad thing is, when the APA decided to retire the term sociopath, they lumped those people in with true sociopaths -- people who are a disease on society, like pederasts, serial killers, terrorists. Frankly, that is the dumbest idea the APA could have had.  Well, that and deciding to make decisions according to votes and group consensus rather than science. Frankly, let's call these people psychopaths, because they're freaking broken, and even if they're aware that they are, they don't care that they're broken. Or worse, they think they're the freaking ubermench.

Once upon a time, an article on Strong Female Characters insisted that James Bond was an interesting character because he was a psychopath. Except he's not really that interesting in the books, he's mostly just a thug. But the films have hot women, cool toys, cute banter, and mindless mayhem.

Part of my problem with Daniel Craig is that he's the perfect Bond, really faithful to the novels -- he's all thug, and all the charm of an ice block.

Sorry, but I suspect that most "sociopaths," for lack of a better term, are more interesting than that.

Now, obviously, in my novels, I have a few different flavors of sociopath. I have one who is the angry, violent, "I enjoy killing people" variety. Sean AP Ryan is mostly the "if someone tries to kill me, I'm going to kill them, step over their corpse, and take a nap" kind. And there's Matthew Kovach, who likes the thrill of killing someone before they kill him -- it makes for a nice adrenaline high.

But guess what? Not all people who kill and lack guilt are not serial killers. To pretend otherwise is slanderous.

And then there are the people who think that murder is a perfectly rational and reasonable choice. Heck, just look at half of the killers in Columbo, or in all of murder mystery fiction? Because there are sociopaths. There are people who are faster on the trigger and have nothing to feel bad about. And then, at the end of the day, there are people who are just simply evil. The APA, I'm sure, would like to call them malignant narcissists, because they can't have evil without it being a disease of some sort. But no, evil exists, and there are people who have no qualms about taking evil out with a Barrett 50-cal at a range of two klicks.

And if not feeling guilty about that is crazy, I'd rather not be sane.


  1. I regularly hear "If we do X we become JUST LIKE THEM!!!". That of course is the purest malarkey; Millions of men went to war in WW2; fought, killed, tortured where necessary, lived through hell, and came home to be good and decent husbands and fathers (And wives and mothers!) I grew up with the men of that generation. I don't know that any of them felt guilt. I know that all of them hated war, and wouldn't wish it on anyone, but they were all ready- even in advanced years- to do it again, to protect the things they held to be valuable.

    1. Say what you like about MacArthur, but I think he got it best in his West Point Speech:

      You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation's destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds. The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words - Duty - Honor - Country.

      This does not mean that you are war mongers. On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato that wisest of all philosophers, 'Only the dead have seen the end of war.'

  2. There's an episode of Mork & Mindy that has bugged me for decades on this topic. Mindy's dad fought in Korea I think... and one night when he was on sentry duty... a dude came up on him and he shot him. This lead to epic levels of guilt for the guy and he had to confess it to Mindy in the climax of the show. It was overwrought, sure... but mainly it just didn't ring true.


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