“I looked into his eyes and I saw the eyes of a killer.”

I’m sure you’ve heard some variation of this line in the past. What do “killer eyes” look like? Is there some indicator of soullessness? Is there some look on a man’s face or some mannerism that signals his thirst for blood?

Having known many killers from many walks of life (who are not soulless), from the most honorable Rangers I had the pleasure of serving next to, to the most despicable and twisted Taliban leadership, I can say with certainty: they don’t look any different from anyone else. They might have a rough face with a thousand yard stare — they might also have a round, unthreatening face with kind eyes and a gentle touch. They are regular people with regular faces.

If you’re looking into the eyes of a human being, you’re looking into the eyes of a killer. Everyone is capable of anything when pushed to the brink. Some people are willing to step up and defend those who are not so capable, and that sometimes means killing someone (think of a police officer rescuing a hostage). It’s disturbingly easy to take a human life, and if you starve someone and then threaten their children, they will likely not hesitate to end you. Everyone has their line.

Of course, throughout history there are die-hard pacifists who have seemed to purged this line completely — I would argue that they realize their inner potential for blood that we all share, and just keep it stifled to match their convictions — a conviction I disagree with, when evil people are hurting and exploiting the weak, but one I can respect.

Although, maybe this phrase excludes soldiers. Maybe it’s just talking about homicidal maniacs or serial killers. However, with any level of research on the subject, you will easily find that even those closest to the serial killer often had no idea he was guilty of such heinous crimes. If there was a certain look in the eyes, then Ted Bundy certainly didn’t have it.

This idea likely comes from two places. In hind sight, you can probably look into a serial killer’s eyes and see unmistakable evil there, but that is probably more the human mind endowing those qualities on a photo. That same “killer look” might be seen in the eyes of a soldier, if the beholder wants to see it there.

Second, it probably stems from an attempt to hide from a hard truth. We are all capable of the worst crimes on the planet, and that is a scary thought. Most of us go our whole lives following our moral compass, never considering going on a murderous rampage. But, when push comes to shove, we are all capable. That doesn’t mean we’re not in control of or responsible for our actions, but we are all capable.