"What's up Killer?"

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

I hear this phrase almost on a daily basis. Am I a killer ? No. I am a Marine, and

“killer” is one way we Marines call each other. When I tell people about my life in the

U.S Marine Corps, many of them, especially people of my age, get a close to terrified

look on their face and then say something along the lines of “Aren’t you afraid to go to

war ? What if you get killed ? Aren’t you afraid of that ?” Everyone has their personal

approach to the inevitability of death. Some like the religious beliefs of an afterlife,

others prefer the realism of the unknown, but since it is more or less a personal choice, I

won’t get into that here. Instead, I would like to discuss something not as inevitable, but

equally as important for someone like me. People ask me about my personal fear of

death, but what many of them want to but do not dare ask is the following question :

“Are you ready to kill ?” This is a rather taboo subject in our society, and we are very

lucky that it is so. Taking a life is something most of us never think about because we

do not need to. That is not the case everywhere. Many people in countries and cultures

around the world have to contemplate the prospect of killing someone because war and

death are a part of their life. As a Marine, I have had to think about it because, when I

joined, it became more likely that I might have to do it. So exactly how do I deal with the

possibility of having to take a human life ? What methods do I use to prepare, both

emotionally and psychologically ? The short answer is : I train. The training actually

begins when one joins the Corps, and I will not get into the specifics of that training

since that would no longer implicate myself alone but the Marine Corps as a whole. I

can say, however, that it is long, precise and complex.

The act of killing being a possibility in a war situation and the heavy repercussions on the individual being serious, the boot camp instructors pay close attention to the psychological development of the recruits, and the ones who seem too fragile may be dropped from the platoon. For me, one crucial moment was when the instructors started to talk to us about the

difference between killing and murdering. Murder is defined as the unlawful

premeditated killing of one human being by another. Killing, however, is different. It is

defined as “the act of causing death”. To put it simply, all murder is killing, but not all

killing is murder. In a war situation, killing an enemy soldier is not the same as

assassinating an innocent person. That is why the judicial system recognises different

degrees of killing, ranging from justifiable homicide to first degree murder. Another good

example is self-defense. I do not think it fair to say that a person killing another in

self-defense is the same as person commiting voluntary manslaughter. I see murder as

a heinous, horrendous crime that should be punished with extreme severity, but killing is

something else and thus cannot be judged the same way. In a recent interview, I was

asked whether I talk about this subject with people, military or civilian. The truth is, I


As I mentioned earlier, it is a rather taboo subject in our society, so I would not

feel comfortable talking about it with civilians. Well, I would, but they probably would not.

As for talking about it with other Marines, it sometimes helps to get things out but most

often we prefer to respect each others privacy when it comes to such a personal topic.

The great thing about being in the Corps is that there is a sort of unofficial rule about

this subject. No one will talk about it, but everyone CAN talk about it. Essentially, I will

never ask someone about it, but everyone knows that if they feel the need to talk about

it they can and their brothers will listen. Although we train for it, are we truly ready to

commit such an act ? Well, the truth is I don’t know if anyone ever is 100% ready for it. I

had a self-defense instructor with whom I talked about killing in a self-defense scenario.

We were practicing disarming an opponent’s gun, then pointing it at them to get them on

the ground. He taught us the basics of how guns work in case we had to fire, and I

asked him if we should. He said “Look, as far as I’m concerned, if you want to know

whether or not you should do it, go talk to your priest. My job is to make sure you know

how to do it in case you need to.”

I quite like that philosophy. Am I ready for it ? Maybe, maybe not. To me, it does not matter that much, as I won’t know if I am ready until I am in the moment. All I know is i was trained for it, and should it happen, I’ll have people to help me go through whatever happens as a result of that decision.

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