What sort of man was "The Sniper" at the start of the story?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of the story, the sniper is described as a young man, trained as a soldier. O'Flaherty provides a sharp contrast between the innocence and naivety of youth with the graphic violence and desensitization soldiers experience in war. The sniper had an innocent face, but one which had learned the gruesome reality of war: 

His face was the face of a student, thin and ascetic, but his eyes had the cold gleam of the fanatic. They were deep and thoughtful, the eyes of a man who is used to looking at death. 

Despite the sniper's youth and innocence, he had become a seasoned soldier. He had become used to being shot at, used to killing his enemies. He had become desensitized, like a machine, to the violence around him. This is significant because, later in the story, he experiences a moment (perhaps a second moment at the end) of remorse. This is a moment when he steps back and becomes more human. But at the beginning of the story, he looks young but is a machine-like soldier.