Do you think you could ever get over killing someone?

Inspired by this thread:

In this thread relating to the recent drag-racing incident in Maryland where eight spectators were struck and killed by another car coming down the road, several posters opined that any moderate legal judgment handed out by the criminal justice system against the driver for a suspended license or other minor transgression of the traffic laws would pale in comparison to living with the guilt of having been behind the wheel of a vehicle that killed eight people.

I’m not so sure.

Somehow the ego soldiers on. Rationalization and self serving bias serves to further the inordinately popular view people hold of themselves as, on the whole, being on the sweet side of the virtue bell-curve. Even in situations where a person is overwhelmingly responsible for a death (murderers, drunk drivers, etc.), these people don’t seem particularly incapacitated by guilt. Perhaps that’s why they are capable of murdering or driving drunk in the first place, but I’m curious how translatable to people that accidentally kill others through little or no negligence of their own.

For myself, if I was confident that my own actions were reasonably responsible and that I hadn’t done anything to put other people at extraordinary risk, I’m not sure I’d have much difficulty getting over such an event. I do my best to drive in a safe and sensible manner by following traffic laws, following at a reasonable distance, avoiding driving under any impairment, and slowing down as road conditions or the presence of blind corners, pedestrians, or cyclists dictate. If it were still true that it wasn’t a mistake on my part or deviating from what is generally regarded as safe and prudent behavior when I was somehow responsible for someone’s death, I think I could put everything behind me in fairly short order. I can imagine quickly abandoning remorse for anger at the people that I might view (correctly or incorrectly) at bearing more culpability for the accident even for simply involving and inconveniencing me with the whole mess. I guess it might be uncouth to say that I could get over having killed someone, but in all honesty I think I could do it. Perhaps unfortunately, even in situations where I bore more responsibility, I suspect that I would be able to rationalize my way around it in a matter of months.

Do you believe this is true for you as well?

Have any anecdotes or data on the situation to share?

If I were to kill in defence of self or others, then I think I’d get over it quickly. If it were as a result of an accident, particularly a child, I think I’d need significant help, no matter how blameless I was.

For me, i’d say it really depends on the situation. I believe I would feel quite guilty and regret it for a long time if someone died as a result of me doing something overly stupid. Drag racing qualifies well as being overly stupid. And, depending on the jurisdiction (around here for example), racing can be a criminal offense and the prosecutors could go after the drivers for manslaughter.

However, on the other hand if I was completely justified in killing someone, say they broke into my home or were trying to mug my girlfriend or whatever, then I’m certain I wouldn’t feel any remorse at all, and in fact, might even feel pleased with myself about it. Might sound a little perverse now that I think about it, but it’s true.


It would depend upon the circumstances, I think.

Related interesting thread.

I think for anyone with a conscience, you could never get over killing another person; or ever get over the impact of the loss of that person… how their loss impacts the people around them or any future actions they would have made which would have affected another’s life.


On the other hand the idea of killing someone by accident would be horrible. I doubt I could get over that.

Could you please elaborate?

For me, I think I’d spend much more time considering if the person I killed intentionally really needed killing than my culpability in a true accident.

So, why?

it’s all about situations.

In war most men are not going to agonize over the needfulness of the killing of the enemy if that’s their job. Most people’s empathy engines are fairly situational and tend not to get overly revved up by people they consider strangers.

If it’s a life or death scenario and I had to kill a rapist, burglar etc I wouldn’t hesitate and I wouldn’t lose a minute of sleep over it.

Re an accident scenario if I hit 8 people standing in the middle of a highway at night and killed them, I’d feel terrible for a long time for them and their families, but I wouldn’t feel responsible.

If someone died due to my negligence I’d be a lot more affected, and if someone died due to some a deliberate and morally unjustifiable action on my part I’d find it difficult to live with myself.,

I like to imagine I could ‘get over’ it, but then again I know there are other, seemingly less traumatic experiences I’ve gone through that have left an indelible mark on my psyche, so who knows what my actual response would be. I’m fairly sure in my conscious/logical mind I’d be over it. The part of my mind I don’t have as much direct control over, I don’t know.

Many soldiers can not get over it even with societies approval . You don’t know until you actually do it.

Like others have said - it depends on the situation. If I was protecting myself, a loved one, or innocent bystander - I feel confident I’d get over it.

I had a highschool friend who, a few years after graduation, hit a young child playing in the street and killed him. Didnt see him pop out from the curb, wasnt even aware she had hit anyone/anything right away. The boy she killed was the brother of my best friend in junior high - it was devastating all the way around. The girl who hit him still has nightmares, though not as often, and she still cries when the topic comes up (or when she’s lost in thought about it).

If I was in her shoes, I dont think I’d get over it anytime soon.

I could probably kill under the right circumstances.

But I would never get over it.

Killing someone when you have a good reason is one thing. I had a good reason, I did what I did, no problem. It is not my fault so to speak.

But killing someone by inattention or dumb luck? That would creep me out all to heck.

Like has been said in this thread : you don’t know this till it happens to you.
I used to like to think I could easily kill somebody without any qualms.
Then I saw a traffic accident happen in which I wasn’t even involved and the images kept with me for weeks.
Now I am not sure I could, or even if I could, if I could live with myself afterwards.
The human psyche is a strange and fragile thing.

Nope. Never.

Hell, as a member of the Armed Forces I am indirectly complicit in the deaths of thousands, and my conscience occasionally punishes me for that fact alone.

If I am ever put into the position of having to kill somebody to save myself, my family, or my fellow service members, I will do it without any hesitation, but I will pay a psychological price for it. Of that there is no question in my mind.

Agree with Airman Doors, USAF

If I had to defend wife and family, I’d hope I could do whatever it took.

But I know if would have nightmares for many, many years afterwards.

I think I’d be the opposite, in those situations: if a person died due to my negligence I’d have a hard time living with myself, whereas if someone died due to deliberate, immoral action on my part I wouldn’t have much angst at all.

Because, as I (the non-murdering me) see it, if I were capable of doing something deliberate, it would imply a distinct lack of conscience.

So, unless I had a major awakening (religious, coming back to sanity, whatever), I doubt the deliberate action would bug me at all.

Other scenarios:

  • unforseeable accident: hard to live with, too many what-ifs (e.g. car spins out on ice, hits someone, ‘why did I have to run that errand then, what if I’d been 5 minutes later / earelier…’)
  • Burglar/self-defense/defense of child: Little qualm though I’d probably never get over it.

Indeed, I find it surprising so many people seem to think they would have no issue with killing an enemy combatant in a war.

I think it relatively fortunate that in my two decades in the U.S. Army the United States was relatively “at peace.” I served in both Operation Just Cause and Operation Desert Storm, during which some enemy combatants died directly due to my actions. That is to say, I killed them.

What I did was entirely legal and proper, these were soldiers who like me, must have had some idea as to what this business is all about. While I can only speculate as to what would motivate an Iraqi or a Panamanian to fight for their country (or their leader) I cannot help but think it must have been at least somewhat similar to my own motivations. While Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega have been vilified (and most rightly so), the individual soldier does not get to choose their leader. While the Iraqi military definitely committed heinous, illegal actions under Saddam Hussein, I can’t comfortably view them all as criminals. It might ease my mind if that were the case, but intellectually I can’t look at it that way. It’s my opinion a great many of them were simply men, like me, who were doing what they thought was right.

Furthermore, these men did not choose to be where they were when they were. While they may have volunteered for military service, that does not mean they had a death wish by any means. Anyone who takes a life in combat has to realize that the person you killed cannot be entirely dissimilar from yourself. Furthermore you have to recognize the simple fact that this wasn’t a random string of unfortunate events that lead to this–in a car accident there are a million ways you can equivocate and disassociate yourself from direct responsibility for the act. When you pull a trigger, and see the person fall, when you realize you and only you have intentionally taken this living person and made them into nothing more than an inanimate object–I think that must weigh heavily on the minds of most men.

I know it does on mine, more than a decade removed from the act. To a degree you do eventually “get over it” but to say it does not stay with you til the end of your days is also not true. I tried to google a survey that was taken about Gulf war Veterans, but was unable to find it. In any case, it showed that the number one cause of psychological distress amongst veterans of the Gulf war was seeing the injuries/fatalities that they had inflicted on the enemy (this ranked above seeing their comrades die or get injured.)

To a degree one unsettling aspect of it for me, is the fact that I’ll never know these men’s stories. They most likely had some living family, that to this day misses them. Did they have children, who had to grow up without a father? Wives that became widows? That, I will never know. I will also never know what these men might have become, maybe they were bad men who would have made the world a worse place. But I can’t just assume that, because I don’t know. When you kill someone you are doing more than just destroying what they are, you are destroying everything they will ever be.

I don’t think I would be able to get over it (I can hardly get over even totally stupid, inconsequential things I did in the past, myself), but it’s probably fine for some people.

Given the correct circumstances, my ethical code has no moral repercussions to the taking of another’s life. If necessary, I will kill, with only the remorse that I was forced to take that measure.