What Does It Take To Kill?

Putin’s War Poses Uncomfortable Questions

by Todd Fulginiti

The news today shows another round of destroyed Ukrainian buildings, including a theater where civilians had been sheltering to avoid being killed by Russian shelling.  It didn’t work.  

Other headlines cite breadlines and humanitarian help centers coming under fire as well.  The death tolls are unknown.  But there is death.  And these people are not even combatants- they are everyday people like you and I, just trying to live life.

Yet the killing continues.  And it raises questions about what it takes to kill; not just in war but in many situations. 

I don’t know if these questions have solid answers, but they certainly merit our consideration.

How does one human justify killing another?  

Is it acceptable to kill a few in order to stop the killing of many?

Do we allow some people to be killed in order to prevent the possible death of many more?

Can a person do something so heinous that they should be put to death?

Should someone behaving recklessly and endangering people’s lives be stopped at any cost before their actions result in someone’s injury or death?

Do our answers change if things become more personal? 

What, if anything, would you kill for?  A cause?  A country? Ironically-love?

Could you kill an enemy soldier in a combat situation?  What if they were not posing an immediate threat?

Would you kill someone if they were an imminent and deadly threat to your family?  What if they were just threatening your friends instead?

Could you be the one to carry out the task in a capital punishment verdict?

If you eat meat, would you continue to do so if you needed to kill the animals yourself?

Have you ever had to euthanize your pet?

Killing is killing.  Or is it?  

The variations on these questions are endless.  I’m not sure thinking about them yields any great conclusions; yet not thinking about them seems unacceptable, especially in light of what’s happening now in Ukraine.

Follow Todd Fulginiti’s personal blog at www.fiveoclockshadow.life, Facebook or Twitter (FiveOClockShad2). For musician services, visit www.toddfulginiti.com

29 thoughts on “What Does It Take To Kill?

  1. I would be lying if I said I did not try to answer such questions before. But life is too damn complicated. Being a vegetarian, I have always wondered how people can eat other animals. And I never found any justifiable reason or answer. Killing humans is on a whole different level. I deeply respect soldiers on the borders who are trying to protect us, but at the same time I could never understand why they have to do that in first place. We do not need such huge armies for other species, nor have I seen other species build such massive forces to protect themselves. Just to protect us from our fellow humans, we keep on sacrificing lives. What makes their lives any less valuable from ours? Then again I guess, we all are way different then we can imagine. Self awareness and cognition has been a double edged sword for our species. We are creating wonders using our brains but are destroying them at the same rate.

  2. I have slaughtered for sustenance, I am prepared to use deadly force to defend myself. I have served in the military and understand better now how our recruits have to be prepared to follow orders to achieve the objective of politicians. There are many examples of the senselessness of killing. It is interesting to me that an entire segment of society can be influenced to see other’s lives as less than, therefore would have no problem with them being exterminated.

    1. Your last sentence is so true. I just don’t understand how people can be that way.

  3. A lot of difficult questions to digest here. I wrote a post raising similar questions a couple of weeks ago. I asked whether we must not fight for peace. I think killing in self defence is justified. It’s protected under the law for a reason. I do believe that peace is the way. That no wars are ever justified, but when war comes knocking down your door, when war comes to you… it’s a different matter. If you’re forced to choose between fighting or submitting…

    Your question about eating meat is a good one. I believe we should ask ourselves if we would be prepared to kill what we eat. In fact I think that maybe we should kill our own food. That would certainly foster far greater respect for the natural world.

    I don’t believe in capital punishment for the same reason I don’t believe in spanking my children. If a society deems that killing is wrong it makes no sense to sentence someone to death. If I spank my child for hitting another, what kind of message does that send? It’s ok if I do it but not if you do?

    At some point someone/society has to take the moral high ground. And not return hate for hate. To quote Martin Luther King, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

    1. I hope we can get to the point where taking the moral high ground is society’s default. I love the MLK quote!

  4. Really hard questions to answer, but good questions to consider. Watching the tragic carnage in Ukraine especially makes me wonder: as fervently as I believe in democracy, would I kill to save ours? I love corned beef, but could I eat it if I had to kill the animal? I’ve no answers for questions like these, but think we should continue to pose them. And in the meantime, be very, very kind. ALWAYS. To everyone, friend and stranger.

  5. We have slaughtered our own food, and it’s definitely unpleasant, however we’re not yet willing to become vegetarians. Though we do so in as humane a process as possible, we still dislike it.
    I don’t think the US should spend as much on defense as we historically have either. And any time you have extreme nationalism, you’re going to have trouble. That’s what led to WW2. As far as killing someone, I would try to turn the other cheek, hoping for a miracle. I’m not supposed to trust in horses or chariots. So I put my trust elsewhere.

  6. Todd, I have had two elderly, suffering pets euthanised, and I believe in physician-assisted death for terminal patients who have requested it in a living will. I hate war, but I admire the Ukrainians for defending themselves, and hope I would do the same in that situation. I oppose capital punishment. I am an avid environmentalist and support the protection of wildlife, but I grew up eating rabbits and deer my father hunted and fish he caught. I am not a vegetarian. I don’t think anyone really likes having an abortion, but I think abortion should be legal.

    You have posed a set of thought-provoking ethical questions. I think we should evaluate our positions and act according to our consciences.

  7. This question has been around.

    Probably in the most extreme form, how did the Nazis motivate ordinary people (secretaries, truck drivers, doctors, nurses) to kill? What does it take for a common soldier to hold a crying six-year-old up so that another can place a luger to its skull and pull the trigger?. Or for a soldier to shoot a mother through the head so that the bullet also kills the child she is holding? We have pictures documenting these events. Common everyday people committing atrocities.

    In the last century, most combat death was via artillery — indirect fire where the shooter never seen the victim. However sniper scopes, drones and sheer barbarian behavior bring murder back to a very personal level.

    You could ask, how can three “good ole boys” chase down and kill a black jogger? That’s just as barbaric and those are Americans committing the atrocity. Just as whites did to Native Americans, Confederate generals did to Black Union soldiers they captured, and plantation owners did to slaves.

    The truth is that anyone is capable of evil. Surprisingly few have the emotional maturity to control those impulses and stand up against evil. The vital question concerns the source of that strength and how we create that strength in others.

  8. If you are unwilling to go to war, to kill, you are entirely at the mercy of those who are.

    Some degree of violence will always be present because there will always be situations where violence appears to be to one’s advantage. There will always be psychopaths and sociopaths and narcissists and others who do not care about the damage they cause if they take the violent route. These also often have the socio-political skills to rise to the level of “influencer” and then “authority figure.”

    Because most humans instinctively subcontract their thinking out to authority figures, there are always lots of people willing to follow any particular line of madness with religious fervor, be it left, right, or purple.

    1. Great thoughts- thanks Fred. I love the phrase about people subcontracting their thinking out to others- it would be funny if it wasn’t sad and true.

  9. Lots of questions that raise more questions, Todd! Yes, I’ve had to have a wonderful cat put down, because she was in agony with spinal cancer. Not even a question, but a terrible mercy. I have a weird view on taking human life though, just based on a revelation I had when I gave birth to my son. I felt so protective, but realised that I had given Life, but also Death in that moment. You can’t have one without the other, so my best hope for him was that he should have a good life and an easy death. Having two souls on this Earth under my care has been a huge lesson in mindful responsibility, and makes me think in according to some of your questions, that I would indeed be capable of taking another human life, but definitely not lightly. I would carry that with me forever, and it’s not something I would seek out. To protect myself and my family, then absolutely.

    1. Putting down a pet in constant pain really is a terrible mercy to endure. Having kids changed some of my answers somewhat too. Like you said- life and death exist together.

  10. I embrace Gandhi non violent approach. Violence generates more violence and creates more problems than it solves. Moreover, it leaves hatred and reconciliation becomes almost impossible. On the other hand I euthanized one cat, because she was suffering too much. All these questions trouble my mind but I think it’s good questioning oneself. Thank you for that!

  11. Putting down a pet in constant pain really is a terrible mercy to endure. Having kids changed some of my answers somewhat too. Like you said- life and death exist together.

  12. I got into a situation (that I wrote about on my blog called “The night I saved our lives”) where a man broke into my house while I was asleep. I woke to find him standing over my son in my bedroom. What followed was a very traumatic list of events throughout that night. I ended up having to pull my firearm, loaded a round into the camber and had it pointed at the door because he was trying to get back into my house for a third time. In that moment while on the phone with 911, I had to make the decision that if he broke through the door… I would end his life. I’ve been a vegetarian all my life. I love living things and believe me when I say that I didn’t want to do it. Yet I would have done anything a mother could do to protect her son and in that moment… my mind was made up. It’s dangerous to think that you’ll never end up in such a situation like mine. It’s dangerous to think that it only happens to other people. For me personally, his life wasn’t more valuable than mine or my son’s once he made the decision to break the law and put us in danger. That’s what it took for me to make that decision. I wrote another post called “A little thing like me” that goes into even further details on this subject as well and it too ties in the problems in Ukraine. So if you feel like reading about what happened to me and how I handled everything… you can find those posts here:



    1. Wow! I read both the posts you mentioned. I’m sorry you had to go through that but glad you shared your story. A terrible experience but your writing is wonderful.

  13. Thank you for some insightful questions. I have always thought things are never black and white… Sometimes I think I would sooner die myself than going through the killing of someone else, but in a situation of that kind, I really have no idea how it would go. However, these questions stirred up some buried feelings within me. I am afraid of insects, in general. But I have an AVERSION for cockroaches. They cause me to freeze, panic, cry — they are my one true kryptonite because I feel a crippling fear towards them. I remember one time I was at my parents house, and I picked up a box, and there must have been a roach on a side of the box, that became startled with the sudden moving of the box, so the roach dropped onto my bare foot. At first, I was in shock for a moment, and it took me long enough to react that I saw the frightened critter fall on its back on my foot, bounce to the ground, get on its feet, and actually run to my foot in an effort to get under it and hide…. It happened so fast, but I remember I could see the poor thing trying to push itself under, to get out of sight. My instinct is usually to freeze and then run away; but that time, for some reason, my instinct after freezing, for once, was to stomp it. That memory haunts me still, as you can see… I still don’t quite understand why that one time my instinct was to kill.

    1. Thanks for the comment! As your cockroach story shows- when comes to killing- it’s complicated.

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