June 10, 2004 (Ira Pilgrim)

A License to Kill

It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.


When a bomber or fighter pilot has his plane shot down and he parachutes safely to the ground, whether he survives the experience depends on whose hands he falls into. If he falls into the hands of the enemy's military, it is a good bet that he will be imprisoned until the end of the war. If he falls into the hands of the civilian residents of the place that he has just bombed or strafed, it is a good bet that he will be killed. This shocks some people, who believe that the pilot was just doing his job and didn't deserve death. After all, he was just playing the game according to the rules and he had a license to kill.

To the civilians on the ground, the pilot has just killed someone dear to them and destroyed their home. They are angry --raging mad. To them this isn't just a game, it is a matter of life and death. The professional soldier is not likely to be angry, especially if that soldier has never had anyone dear to him killed.

Can someone kill impersonally with little or no emotional involvement? Of course they can. Slaughterers, veterinarians, executioners, hunters etc. do so all the time. Cops have license to kill, but the vast majority never shoot their gun except at a target. The same is true of most members of the military.

The incident at Columbine High School, where two students killed many of their classmates, some teachers, and then killed themselves, shows that some people can reduce the act of killing to a computer game. That is probably how the bomber or fighter pilot does it. At the moment that he is dropping his bombs, he is probably unaware of the consequences of his actions.

A person who kills in anger is in a very different mental state from someone who kills as a job. It strikes me that killing in anger is probably a more rational act than killing as a job. Of course, I have a peculiar way of looking at things, which is different from the way most of that the rest of the population looks at it.

The criminal world has its professional killers who do what a soldier or airman does, but they don't have the sanction of the government. Usually they only kill one person at a time, in contrast to the airman who, with the right bomb, can kill thousands with a conventional bomb and millions with a nuclear bomb.

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