War is endlessly rehashed on the news, in books, films and video games – but only very few people really know what it is really like. Some of those veterans have shared their stories.
The Cut has interviewed veterans from several recent wars, from Vietnam to Afghanistan, asking them one simple question; “Have you ever killed anyone?”
The most chilling answer probably comes from Lance, a sniper in the 1998 Kosovo war.
He answers simply, with a question of his own:
Each veteran shares a different story of the time they’ve taken a life. Each man seems affected by the momentousness of the event, they tell their stories plainly and clearly, but there is a lot of staring into space.
It is powerful stuff and allows civilians to see a side of war that isn’t in the movies or computer games:
One of the most shocking and moving stories is from the youngest soldier in the video, Josh, who served as a sniper in Afghanistan.
We were in a couple of different villages in Surobi, near Charbaron. We gunned down these two guys holding a larger machine gun, a PKM, and another guy holding his ammo.
They were just running from point A to point B. We happened to just gun them down. And they were right next to a qalat. A qalat’s a house, like a little mud hut.
A lady came out.
You don’t shoot women or children on the battlefield. But we were just so into the moment. We watched her pick up the machine gun, and that was the cue, and we just lit her up.
[Josh mimes firing a machine gun]
There was three of us and we just opened up and it was just blood up against the wall and it was like; “Alright, we got her.”
Josh’s story really brings home how morally complicated war can be, especially in an urban environment with civilians around. You shouldn’t shoot women, but what if they have a machine gun?
What motivated that woman to grab that machine gun when it was almost certain death to do so? We will never know. Josh and his comrades will never know.
Lonnie, who served as infantry in the Vietnam War, has a clear message after his experiences of war:
In war neither side deserves to die, honestly.
You can watch the Cut’s whole series of interviews with veterans describing their experiences of war on their YouTube channel.