Polemics & Exchanges

On the Thrill of the Kill

In “The 99th’s Last Mission” (Correspondence, October 2002), Brian Kirkpatrick discusses his father’s attitude toward service in World War II.  I was born in 1920, a close contemporary of Dr. Kirkpatrick’s father.  I served in six major battles of World War II, from before the beginning until after the end, and while one man’s experience cannot be representative of a group, I must say that Dr. Kirkpatrick seems to be talking about a different war.  His father fought in Europe, whereas I served in the Pacific, and the 99th Division featured in the article was composed mainly of draftees, whereas my associates were U.S. Marines.  While I do not discount these memoirs, they should not be taken as a measure of the attitudes of American servicemen in World War II.

In various reunions, my friends have often addressed the question of why men fight, and they have reached the conclusion that men like to fight.  No one likes heat, cold, thirst, exhaustion, and pain, but when blows begin to be exchanged, the pervading emotion is one of exhilaration.  None of my comrades, however, noticed any feeling of guilt.

In war, you kill because it is your duty but also, undeniably, because of the visceral thrill.  I spent several days in a hospital bunk adjoining that of a very...

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