The Sniper Questions and Answers
by Liam O’Flaherty

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In the short story, "The Sniper," was the sniper right to kill the enemy, or was he wrong because the enemy was his brother?

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Blake Douglas eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The tragedy of the story is that there is no single, correct way to answer this question. The perspective depends entirely upon the information available to us, and thus the story also provides us with a lesson that applies to modern life and media; that our perceptions of morality often depend upon our proximity to the subject.

I would argue that under most conditions, people would think that killing in self defense is acceptable, if not exactly "good", and simultaneously think that killing one's brother is bad. I also think the majority of people, if pressed, would prefer to kill their brother rather than be killed by him, even if they say otherwise; after all, the mercy and generosity you display by allowing your brother to kill you, dies with you, and your brother may go on to kill others, which would be objectively wrong. 

In the case of this story, I think the fact that the enemy sniper is the titular sniper's brother has little effect on the objective morality of the story, but that doesn't mean it loses its controversy or emotional impact. Had the sniper not been curious enough to see the identity of his enemy, he would never have known it was his brother, and would have lived his life more or less satisfied with his actions. Knowing it was his brother, then, should not diminish the contextual morality of what he did.

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