The Sniper Questions and Answers
by Liam O’Flaherty

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What is the meaning of the quote, "Only the dead have seen the end of the war?"

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In very simple terms the quotation alludes to the depressing fact that war is a permanent condition for humankind. So long as there are human beings on this earth, so the argument runs, there will always be war. The only people who can ever be free of this blight on humanity are therefore those who have passed on.

The quotation is believed by many scholars to have originated in Plato, the famous Ancient Greek philosophers. And one would have to say that his expression remains disturbingly relevant to this day.

Though the quotation isn't mentioned in "The Sniper", the action of the story illustrates something of its truth. For the story takes place during the Irish Civil War, a particularly bitter conflict in which Irishmen killed each other over rival interpretations of what a free Ireland would look like. This savage, bloody conflict took many lives on both sides and literally set brother against brother as we can see in the story.

If war can incite brothers to hate and kill each other, then that would seem to indicate something deep in the human psyche that makes us particularly amenable to armed conflict. It's as if war is hardwired into man's DNA, to the extent that, as in "The Sniper" he can physically annihilate those he's supposed to love.

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