What is it about hitmen? (And apologies to all you feminist hitwomen out there, but "hitperson" lacks that je ne sais quoi, so I'm sticking to the masculine form.) They're all over the bloody place - and, pace Tom Cruise in Collateral, they're hardly ever villains. They're loveable and bumbling like Colin Farrell in In Bruges, loveable and inebriated like Ben Kingsley in You Kill Me, machinelike but principled like Timothy Olyphant in Hitman, or possessed of fabulous superpowers, like James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie in Wanted. How is it that characters who are, essentially, mercenary murderers are nowadays being offered up to us as heroes, whose killing skills we are expected to applaud and admire?
But far from being a romantic rule-breaker, ronin or rebel operating beyond the restraints of society, he is a mere tool of the system. The ultimate businessman, in fact. Isn't it about time we stopped treating him like one of the good guys?
"But the personality of the person who can do that work whether for good or for evil is the same,"
Not at all. They can be the same, but yours is too great an assumption to make. I lack the skill, but if the Army had chosen to make me a sniper, I would have done it. I would never consider killing anyone for money.
The rest of this got deleted somehow during the save. (it was better written the first time.)
I think all people who are in our military, whatever job they do are admirable. They all do hard jobs. So, I hope you didn't infer that I dislike what our military does.
However, if you believe that the United States, and United Nations don't have contracts out via military snipers, to get Bin-Laden, or Castro, and others, you are sadly mistaken. And I heard recently there may be one on Obama, if he gets elected, to cause a race war in America and put us under Marshall Law. Just a government rumor.
I liked some of the comments below talking about the gray areas.
Assassin books sell. The need to humanize the assassin in terms of making his targets people who are much worse and "need" killing to protect the world has a great deal to do with the fact that readers don't identify with evil men.
The reason such books sell so well (perhaps more to men than women) is that much entertainment reading satisfies the reader's wish to experience another life vicariously -- without endangering himself while engaging in very dangerous work. The payoff is a sense of satisfaction in himself ("that's the way I would handle it." Besides, the plot is bound to be exciting in that it involves action, violence, and extreme situations. It's the stuff of thrillers.
That kind of story also opens up the issue of morality, to ask not only if the character does what's right or what's wrong, but also to ask what is right and what is wrong? Taking the bad guy and making him good can show you how "good" and bad" are in many ways false terms.
Personally, I think comparing snipers to hitmen is valid. They're both paid to do what they're told, and that is to kill. The issue gets more complicated once you add the issue of motive into it, but to say that one is good and one is bad is to justify the killing of another human being.
And since we say that killing is wrong, then shouldn't it be wrong all the time? If you believe that life is an inalienable right (not saying everyone does believe this), then I don't see how you can justify killing even if it's in war.
And if you look at it from the "bad guy's" point of view, it gets more interesting. Taking a killer and getting in his head, staying with him to the point of actually rooting for him, is an attempt at empathy, rather than sympathy. To really understand something, there is no substitute for experience. So if we want to look at all the facets of life, I think limiting your protagonists to only good guys is failing to get at all sides of the issue. Surely in many cases, those who do wrong consider themselves to be doing right. How insightful to be able to understand that, at least to try to.
I don't think too many people would agree that killing is wrong all the time. Is anyone here really prepared to argue that it's wrong to kill someone who is about to kill, or seriously harm, you, a member of your family, or some other innocent? Regrettable that the circumstances required it, maybe, but hardly wrong.
Military corporations are a more slippery subject, as they work in an area deliberately made gray. What makes a difference to me is that they place themselves in this gray area to make a profit. Say what you want about the motives of military snipers, but ain't no one getting rich there.
Well, we don't all have to agree that killing is wrong all the time. But if everyone has that inalienable right, then yes, it is always wrong. If someone is trying to kill you, then you can try to subdue them; you don't have to aim to kill. Doesn't mean you're not going to kill; self-preservation is instinctual. But morally, yes it would still be wrong.
If you really wanted to get extreme, you could let the person kill you. If you're Buddhist, it's all an illusion anyway and you're still stuck in samsara anyway. If you're Christian you're going to Heaven, and you want that, right? If Heaven is really that great, why not welcome death as soon as possible? This argument doesn't hold up as well if you're not religious, but it's an extreme argument anyway.
As far as the sniper/hitman thing, like I said, motives comlicate the issue. They're not so equal situations then, but if you subscribe to the argument I made above, then the differences don't matter. Of course I know the majority won't subscribe to that argument, but there it is anyway.
True, there are no absolutes in moral questions, and one of the more interesting aspects is revealing a character's personality by his ethics -- especially where they don't fit the accepted social norms. The author may have to sell such deviance. And there may be a danger in this when readers base their own actions on those they've been taught to admire in fictional characters.
Some hitmen books are not so much about the action as about the psychology behind the action. A couple of Kevin Wignall's books have featured hitmen but they're not all about stuff blowing up and biff bang pow. WHO IS CONRAD HIRST? for example, is about a hitman who wants to get out of the business, but has a few loose ends to tie up first. It's not about the killings though - more about guilt, morality, identity - a look at the meaning and value of life to someone who is existing, rather than living. He's a wonderful writer.