My upcoming novel Behind Every Mountain is not a war story, not in the classic sense. Much like Patton, which also wasn't a classic war story, my novel is about a soldier and focuses on the process of becoming a soldier. The central conflict of the story will be “the first kill”. Only sociopaths lack an aversion to taking a human life. Most of us who enter combat need an overwhelming incentive to overcome that aversion.
Although I never killed anyone I could have. In my case, anger overcame the aversion and I went looking for an enemy to kill. The opportunity occurred one night when I was the officer in charge of a sector of our base camp perimeter. Ordinarily, the field of fire outside the camp's berm would have been lit by illumination rounds fired at regular intervals by Division Artillery. However, we had none that night. A cluster of barrels containing CS gas had been stored in our sector that night. Someone decided that there was a risk of gassing the base camp if a flare fell into their midst. Thus, we were left in the dark.
Most people have never truly experienced the dark, at least, not most Americans. Those who live in wilderness areas or have sailed far from shore, understand what I'm talking about. However, those who live in cities, suburbs, or even small towns, are rarely in the dark. I'm talking about the kind of dark when you have to lay down so that you can see objects silhouetted against the sky. Add a solid cloud cover to block moonlight and starlight, and even that trick won't help.
Our guards couldn't lie on the ground. They sat atop bunkers looking down on the open field surrounding the base camp and its rows of barbed wire and land mines. Without the light of illumination rounds, they had only their hearing to rely on. One of my guards heard something hit the wire near his bunker and called it in.
After contacting the other bunkers and ordering them to hold their fire unless authorized, I and a sergeant went looking for a body. After moving about a hundred meters beyond the berm, we separated and lay down on the ground. We soon saw the silhouette of a person stand, run a few meters, and drop to the ground. I whispered to the sergeant asking if he had seen it. He responded that he had.
The sergeant was carrying a grenade launcher and I ordered him to fire a round in the area of the sight we had seen. I never hesitated, nor did he.
We didn't find the body but the sound of the grenade exploding brought the division chief-of-staff to my sector wanting to find out what was going on. After I explained, my sector was lit up like a birthday cake. We had illumination rounds for the rest of the night, many illumination rounds. I suppose that the risk of a sapper tossing a satchel charge among the barrels of CS gas was greater than any possibility of an illumination round on a parachute drifting on top of them.
So, what else beside anger could help a soldier overcome a person's innate aversion to taking a human life? That is the question that I've been exploring.