Liam O’Flaherty explores the theme of the impersonality of war in his celebrated short story "The Sniper." The story is written from the third-person limited perspective and chronicles an eventful, violent evening during the Irish Civil War from the vantage point of a Republican sniper. Liam begins to examine the impersonality of war by leaving the young Republican sniper unnamed. The Republican sniper must avoid the enemy Free-Stater sniper stationed on the opposite rooftop. The Republican sniper also shoots an enemy Free-Stater, who is manning a turret, and proceeds to kill an old woman acting as an informant.
Unfortunately, his shots gain the attention of the sniper stationed on the opposite rooftop, and he is forced to create a ruse to defeat his enemy. The Republican sniper ends up shooting his enemy and leaves the rooftop to look into the man's face. When the Republican sniper looks into the dead man's eyes, he discovers that he has killed his brother.
By leaving the characters nameless, Liam illustrates the impersonality of war, where everyone is reduced to either an ally or enemy. The Republican sniper is shooting at "enemies," not people, which psychologically allows him to continue fighting and hardens his heart. Despite feeling remorse and regret for his actions, the Republican sniper convinces himself that he is simply carrying out orders by killing anonymous enemies. It is only when the Republican sniper stares into the eyes of his enemy that he views him as a person. Ironically, he discovers that he has killed his brother, and the impersonal war becomes personal.
Liam is suggesting that war desensitizes individuals to the point that people are reduced to anonymous enemies while hardening the hearts of those engaged in conflicts. He also illustrates the absurdity and futility of fighting against individual human beings at the end of the story.