Have you ever been asked whether you have ever killed someone?
If you are a military veteran, chances are you probably have — and it’s always been awkward. Because honestly, what are you really supposed to say? It’s not a question that most troops want to answer: If it’s a yes, it was likely in combat and just part of your job. If it’s a no, should you feel bad that you weren’t one of the cool kids on your block with a confirmed kill?
From a civilian perspective, most simply don’t know it’s an inappropriate question. In their eyes, troops are taking out bad guys all day long, and they are genuinely curious about how that goes. And for veterans who end up on the receiving end of this question, it’s important to remember this ignorance — and that you were once this clueless too.
So how do vets respond? There are a few ways, ranging from the super-serious to the sarcastic as hell.
1. The super-serious: “That’s not an appropriate question to ask.”
If you want to shut it down right here, you can answer back with this. Because really, it’s hardly ever appropriate to ask that question. No one runs up to World War II vets and asks whether they killed anyone. They are just thanked for their service and left alone, not burdened with potentially rough memories.
2. The serious: “Yes/No, but that’s not something I want to talk about.”
You’ve given the answer to that morbid question, but made it clear that’s all they are going to get. If pressed, you can always revert to explaining that it’s inappropriate.
3. The uncomfortably silent: “Yes/No [pause for dramatic effect]”
If you want to flip the uncomfortableness around on the person asking the question, respond with a simple yes or no and then just look straight back at them, with unblinking eye contact. Talk about awkward.
4. Answering the awkward question with a awkward question: “Have you ever slept with your sister?”
With this one, you can effectively turn the tables and demonstrate just how awkward the question made you. The questioner will likely recoil when asked — similarly to your reaction — and you can then add, “No, huh? Ok let’s talk about something else then.”
5. The True Lies answer: “Yeah, but they were all bad.”
Take a page out of Arnold’s playbook from the film “True Lies.” If you haven’t seen it (what?!), Schwarzenegger plays an international spy but his wife has no clue. When she finds out and starts asking him questions, she gets to the killing question. He tries to soften the blow of this shocking news. I think it went ok.
6. The funny: “You mean today, or in total?”
You could always give an unexpected answer dripping with sarcasm. Go with this one, dramatically saying “not yet,” or give a ridiculous number: Like 67.
“Well my official number if 67, but that’s only confirmed. Pretty sure I’ve gotten a lot more than that.”