This is the final installment in the conversation with one of our main characters, Sam DiFranco. In this conversation the narrator uncovers his views of the world and the qualities that make Sam a good soldier.
N – So, control is important to you?
S – Yes, extremely important.
N – Do you remember when you first started learning how to control?
S – Yes, when I was small and had two younger brothers, it was my responsibility to watch out for them, to control the things that affected them or that could hurt them.
N – Do you blame your parents for making you be responsible for your brothers?
S – No, my parents had their own responsibilities. Pa had to put food on the table, and Ma had to keep the house. My job was my brothers. It’s that simple. I like things simple.
N – So you said. What kinds of things bother you?
S – People who talk too much with nothing to say.
N – What else?
S – Bullies.
N – Is it important for you to control these people?
S – Bullies, yes. They need to be stopped in their tracks.
N – Like Hitler?
S – That’s right.
N – Is that why you enlisted?
S – I thought it was the right thing to do.
N – Is it important for you to do the right thing? All the time?
S – I don’t know about all the time. Sometimes, doing the right thing might have unforeseeable negative consequences. I like to try to figure out those consequences.
N – And if you think the consequences might be negative?
S – I might think twice about doing what I think is the right thing.
N – It sounds a little like “the ends justify the means.” Do you think that’s accurate?
S – Sometimes, yes.
N – That’s a little more complicated than it is simple, don’t you think? Things aren’t always black and white. Not always simple. Not always the way you like things to be. Right?
S – That’s right, and I don’t like those types of situations.
N – Let me see if I get what you’re saying. If you can’t discern what the consequences of doing the right thing might be, you might shy away from doing what you think is right. Would you just avoid taking any action at all?
S – Probably.
N – Are you afraid of confrontations?
S – I don’t know if I would say “afraid.” I might avoid a confrontation if the situation were too complicated. If it’s simple and straightforward, I’m your guy. I’m not afraid to mix it up then.
N – Sounds a bit like a cunning animal. Avoid confrontation if the situation is murky, but go forward if the situation is simple and straightforward, like, for example, life and death.
S – I think that’s a fair statement.
N – Do you think people are like animals?
S – People are animals. Most of us just have a thin veneer of civilization covering our animal nature. The violence inside us is pretty close to the surface. Some people’s veneer is just thinner than others. Some have no veneer at all.
N – How about your own veneer of civilization?
S – I’m aware of it, how to keep it in place, and I have the ability to let it slide away when the situation calls for it.
N – So, you could kill if the situation warrants it?
S – Without batting an eyelash.
N – So, you could decide when killing is warranted, when someone deserved to be killed.
S – Yes.
N – Do you think you would be remorseful after killing someone whom you decided needed killing?
S – No, I wouldn’t give it another thought.
N – Some might say that’s cold and calculating.
S – Yes, sometimes cold and calculating is best.
N – Some might say that’s an antisocial attitude, even a sociopathic attitude.
S – They’d be wrong . . . and cowardly.
N – What do you mean?
S – Say you had a dog that you cared about, and the dog was so sick or injured that he couldn’t recover. Don’t you think you should be able to put that dog down . . . and do it yourself? Take the responsibility yourself? People take their pets to veterinarians to have it done for them. Don’t you think that’s just a little cowardly? Don’t you think you should be able to do that yourself?
N – You think that’s a valid analogy?
S – I do.
N – People in “civilized” society might think this attitude is a flaw in one’s character. Do you think this is your character flaw, your “dark side.”
S – Maybe some might think that. Maybe I think so too sometimes.
N – If it is a flaw that you’re aware of, what do you think is the best way to cope with, to handle it, to control it, if you will?
S – What do you mean?
N – I mean do you think it would be best to try to overcome it?
S – To overcome a character trait, you would have to be able to change the way you normally think and react. You’d have to exercise an enormous amount of will and self-control. Those are capabilities that I know I already have, so to overcome the flaw would be something I’d be capable of doing. Whether it’s the best thing to do . . . I’d have to consider that further.
N – Okay, that’s a well thought out answer. How about embracing the flaw? How do you feel about that?
S – So, when you say, “embrace the flaw,” you mean make it a part of who I am?
N – I think that would be a fair statement.
S – Okay then, my answer would be that I feel that would be the natural thing for me to do. I wouldn’t have to make any great changes, just be my natural self.
N – Finally, do you think a flaw like the one we’re discussing might be your “super power?”
S – You mean like Superman?
N – Yes, like Superman it would make you stronger, better than others who didn’t possess that flaw. It would set you apart.
S – Wow, wouldn’t that be fantastic! To turn something that most people—maybe all of society—sees as a flaw, a weakness, into something that makes you better than everyone, better and stronger than all of society.
N – Do you think you could handle that?
S – That would be the trick, wouldn’t it? If you knew you were better and stronger than anyone in all of society, it would be real easy to get proud and arrogant about it. And that could be your downfall. You know what it says in the Bible: “Pride goes before a fall.”
N – If you could harness this “super power,” do you think you might do something heroic, something spectacular?
S – Would it help to being this war to an end sooner?
N – It might.
S – Then yes, though I wouldn’t think of it as heroic I don’t think. It would be a means to an end.
N – Again, a calculated move. Ever the poker player, eh?
S – That’s right.
N – I think I have everything I need. Thanks very much for the candid conversation.
S – You’re welcome.
In the final analysis, the author decided that the narrator failed to uncover the “fatal or tragic flaw” of character that he was trying to discover, but he wasn’t disappointed. The author likes his heroes to be heroes, and though Sam may have some minor flaws–his temper, for instance–he doesn’t have the nagging issues of “self-doubt” that some might say give him more dimension as a character. He’s “steady Eddie.” He gets the job done that needs to be done without qualms or compunction. He knows what he wants, and in this story that is to survive and to do the right thing.
What do you think, dear reader? Agree? Disagree? I welcome your thoughts and comments.