Thursday--October 10, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 393
The Mind Of A Surgical Sniper
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York
City, October 10--I sit back and listen to the profiles of those who
try to paint the personality of the sniper’s rampage. My gut churns
as I listen and remember. I understand the
Beast of Terror has awakened again, as it did on September 11. His
mission--to remind me how
easy it is to kill, to maim, to destroy life with indiscriminate
dispassion. His goal--to Intimidate, induce Fear, and drive
others into a state of Complacency, a sense of ultimate powerlessness.
His reward: those he lets live.
The headlines shout: He
Kills For Fun!
I know the Beast Within is laughing.
It is his sick way of reminding the world that Terrorism lurks around
every corner, that no one is safe, not even kids playing ball after
school, or a woman sitting on a bus bench, or someone loading their
groceries into their car, or man filling up his gas tank.
I know a little about snipers. About
why they kill. How they kill. I lived with them. I fought with
them. I even began to think like them.
They don’t kill for fun. They kill to
kill. Only someone who has killed consecutively--one after another
after another-- knows what I mean. Eventually, there is no passion in the kill. There is no joy or revelry,
no sadness, no remorse.
There is only death, issued by “god,” the shooter, who assumes the role of
Whenever someone asks me how many people I killed in Vietnam, I
pause and look them coldly in the eye and answer: “The better question is,
how many did I let live!”
A number of years ago I met my younger daughter at
a nail salon in Laguna Niguel, California.. The manicurists were
Vietnamese. My daughter told them before I arrived I had fought in
Vietnam. When I walked in, the girl working on my daughter's
nails looked up and said: "How many my people you kill?"
Her face was expressionless. So was
mine as I replied: "Only the bad ones." I lied.
I had no idea who was "good" or "bad." Neither does the sniper on
the loose in Maryland, shooting innocent people, women, men, children.
A sniper carefully "chooses" a target of opportunity--those whom he has decided
are "bad," even though they may be the best people in the world.
He never kills at random, despite what the media promotes.
He decides on who lives and dies. He is "god" in his mind.
He studies, measures, calculates, decides, then chooses who lives and
dies--just as a malevolent god would his errant subjects, or the high
priests of Mayan culture deciding who will be sacrificed to appease the
His reasoning isn't about the art, or act,
or horror of killing. Killing is not what he is about. His reasoning is all about life--about
whom he chooses not to kill.
He sights in on many before he chooses the
"bad" one, the "sacrificial lamb."
Each human he doesn’t shoot, in his mind, he reprieves his or her life. In
that twisted sense he is God, the Almighty arbitrator of life over death,
not death over life. To see the sniper as a mere "killer" is
Only he knows that life and death
by his standards is measured by a trigger
pull, a slight squeeze of pressure on the steel arc of a trigger--pressure so infinitesimal that
it becomes infinity in his mind.
A sniper sights down on many targets, slowly squeezing, deciding
whether that target will live or die, measuring the decision over life and
death as his cheek presses against the stock of the rifle and the
cross-hairs settle on the potential victim's killing zone.
He releases his
breath slowly and begins to squeeze the trigger, bringing it to that
fractional point where he either fires or, in his "act of holiness,"
releases the pressure, letting that target live. Then he swings the barrel
and in search of another he will choose to give life or death. He
notches his gun not with those he killed, but with those he allowed to
live--those he forgave, those he "blessed," those he set aside from
"sacrifice." Some snipers may have a 10:1 ratio, others a
100:1, depending on his ego, his desire to maximize his Almighty thinking.
Some might call it a game--choosing who will live or die--but to the
sniper it is far more than a game. It is all about letting the other
targets he doesn't shoot live. It is a twisted gesture that he
creates to balance in his mind that he is humane in his inhumanity, that
he is forgiving in his deliverance of horror and destruction.
I know the feeling
of not shooting well. I know what is like to have someone in my
sights, squeezing the trigger, and then releasing
the pressure, smiling, and whispering: “You owe, me, buddy. Today is
your lucky day.” It happens to those who have been in too much
combat, who tire of killing, who tire of being "a god of death," and
alternate between the taking of life to the preservation of it. To
the non-trained killer such thinking is absurd, perhaps twisted,
immoral--but it exists in those either trained to, or driven to kill with
precision. It is the precision of death, the art of it,
that makes the sniper most dangerous. He thrives on
"one-bullet-one-kill," his way of leaving his calling card that he is
The snipers I lived with, drank beer with, talked philosophy with,
were quiet, unassuming men. They were unlike the testosterone-riddled
grunts of the front line who charged the enemy in a screaming mass, ready
to “die for the Corps.” The snipers I knew were the Microsoft type,
quiet, intellectual men, totally in control of themselves, bookworms in a
sense. They lived in their minds. For days and
weeks they would be alone, hidden in a tree, or on a hill, or dug into some rocks, watching,
waiting, sighting, measuring who was to die, who was to live.
They didn’t talk or brag about their “kills” as most grunts did,
for they were surgical one-shot killers, who prided themselves on
measuring the length of life they would allow a target. Unlike the
grunts, they weren't into blasting with
automatic fire in hopes one out of a hundred bullets would contact a
target. Instead, the sniper makes each kill an ecumenical ceremony,
becoming "God’s messenger" of both life and death. He is the yin and
yang of Terrorism.
This sniper is the sum of all Beasts of
Terror, for there is no feeling at all within him, good or bad, right or
wrong. He isn’t immoral; he’s amoral. He serves no High
Authority except that which he has created in his mind--the Beast of
Terror, who cheers him on--who rah rah's him to continue his spree so that
more Fear, Intimidation and Complacency will wash upon the shores of
normal human decency.
All humanity has been sucked out of his marrow. His existence is
based not on the “squeezing of the trigger,” but on the “not squeezing the
trigger.” He gains power from his "non-killing," priding
himself on the tens or hundreds he let live who once were dead in his
sights, their hearts centered in the crosshairs. He doesn’t gloat
over those he kills, but does over those he lets live.
He is unassuming.
His is like the rock star who walks through the mass of humanity in
regular clothing, average, not
being recognized. Instead of being angry the people don’t know who he is,
his pulse races excitedly because he is anonymous. He always goes
back to the scene to look at the faces of those he
chose not to kill. Quietly, he studies them, knowing they do not know
they owe him their life--that he is their "defacto savior."
Terrorism feeds on his omnipotent
quest to prove to the world he is Almighty. The more he kills,
the more ecclesiastical elevation he assumes. He finds people
praying not for God to save them from his bullet, but for him not to shoot
them. People's fear of him become an embrace, a form of supplication
before his altar of death, where those most frightened beg for their
safety, beg for their being excluded from his "death list."
The more Fear,
Intimidation and Complacency grows, the higher his head sticks up into the
clouds--the bigger of a "god" he becomes. And, the more
surgical becomes his killing. He justifies his "right to kill"
by limiting the "collateral deaths." One shot one death is his
calling card. He is god's lightening bolt, god's brick falling
off a twenty-story building on random person's head, god's crack in the
sidewalk someone slips on, falls, hits their head and dies from a brain
hemorrhage. He is a surgical killer.
Part of his madness is
justified by modern warfare's thirst to sell war as a matter of "surgical
killing." Surgical warfare alleges to target only the “bad” and not the “good.” Its
proponents claim righteousness over who "wasn’t killed" as justification for
those it did kill. “Look how many women and children we didn’t kill that
we could have, “ boast the surgical warriors. “See, we’re not bad, we
control who we kill.”
One of the great clamors about the
impending Iraqi-U.S. war is collateral
damage. The United States is scrambling to convince the
American public we will “surgically kill” the enemy, and be proud that we don’t
kill randomly, as we did in Vietnam with the "free-fire zones." Non-body count will be our moral measure of righteousness.
It will be those
innocents our technology will salvage from the savages of war our war
machines will promote as the battles rage.
And that’s what the sniper in Maryland is all about--surgical
But there is a
perverse madness in the idea of "surgical killing." It makes one
think they can decide the moral nature of those they kill as "bad," and
those they don't as "good." It provides a moral wall between
being a "killer" and being a "savior." The more surgical, the more
moral the act of killing becomes--the more "godly," the more "righteous.".
As this kind of thinking
consumes the sniper, it also fuels his thirst to kill more, for each time he kills, he sights
in on more and more of those he chooses not to kill, allowing them to “live.”
His power becomes insatiable.
The same, unfortunately, is true of
America. The world shudders to think that
America might become a “surgical sniper.” Once it sets into motion
the right to “surgically kill,” and the world starts to applaud all those who
weren’t killed in the process, the thirst for more “surgical killing” grows. The Beast of Terror now becomes an
expert marksman, honored for his skill at killing only the “bad.” He
is the elite, compared with the kindergarten Terrorist who smashes a plane
into a building, blindly killing anyone and everything, leaving nothing
but ashes. A true Terrorist knows it is the induction of Fear,
Intimidation and Complacency into a society that keeps Terrorism alive,
not the mass destruction of people. The sniper revels in his
ability to create such Fear with limited resources--"one bullet, one
Sadly, this sniper is selecting those
the label of “bad” amidst a sea of "good." He picks them from the crowd as the “most unworthy,”
and takes them out. But not after he first studies all his potential
victims, as a malevolent god might, deciding who best deserves sacrifice
over the others.
What is most sick about the sniper's
thinking is his decision as to what constitutes "bad." and, conversely,
"good." He could decide the "bad" person is the one who isn't
dressed properly, or has a wart, or isn't smiling. He may look
for his own defects of character in those he kills, essentially killing
himself, or symbolically killing his worst qualities to purify himself, to
make himself more worthy of his "godliness."
He is not an executioner, for he is not carrying out anyone’s
orders. He is a cold blooded killer with a God complex who truly
believes in his own righteousness, and that he has the right and the duty
to cleanse the world of the “bad” so that it will become “more good.”
The Terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center, the
Pentagon, and sought to attack the White House, believed in their Godly
mission. So does President Bush in his belief that Saddam Hussein is the
source of “evil” that must be erased. So are most leaders of nations
who rattle the swords of war.
But a "surgical sniper"
has only one mission--to make people kneel at his alter. To force
them into states of Fear over his anonymous, omnipotent power.
While there can be no question the sniper is a horrible evil, he
is also a symbol of the living Terrorism that lurks within us all. It is
easy to condemn the sniper and yet rah-rah the invasion of Iraq.
However, there may be little difference between the two objectives.
The goal of “killing Hussein” for being “bad” is a matter of
assuming godliness on our part. We must all watch ourselves and check
our thoughts to make sure we aren’t supporting a sniper on a spree.
Vigilance asks us to muster Courage, Conviction and take the
Right Actions in the face of Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.
Is there Courage in killing?
Is there Conviction in killing?
Is there Right Actions in killing?
I once believed that to be true. I once believed that it right
and just to kill “anything that moved in a free fire zone.” Now, I know
that was just an excuse for Terror and a way to build body count.
Wars are won only when people stand up for what they believe.
Wars are lost when they don’t know what they believe, and turn their heads
to what is in their hearts. When people fall silent,
Complacent, the snipers of Terrorism take the high ground.
My take on war is not who is the bad or good guy, and who
is right and wrong, but rather what is right for our children, and their
children’s children’s children, and for the people we attack—what’s right for
their children, and their children’s children?
I don’t believe we can fairly
support a war against another nation, no matter how surgical
it might be, until we ask and answer these questions.
Only when we take the Pledge of Vigilance and live by it will
we know how to answer that question—and if we miss the opportunity
to do it in this impending war with Iraq, you can be assured
there is another "surgical sniper" brewing in the
belly of yet another Beast of Terror. When that
sniper appears, you will have a second chance at the
Pledge of Vigilance.
But why wait. Take
the Pledge today and live by it. Then decide if
war is the Right Action.
Go To Oct 8 Story: Can
The Left Be Patriotic?
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