The great Stephen Hunter, who knows more about this stuff than you, writes:
The three quick shots off the fantail of the USS Bainbridge that terminated the piracy incident in the Indian Ocean early Sunday night made a number of points for various pointy-headed political pundits to chew on, cudlike, for a few weeks. But one they’ll probably miss is the following: The three shots make clear to a wider public what has been clear to people who pay attention to such things — we are in the golden age of the sniper.
It should also be noted that snipers have not historically been the most popular soldiers on the battlefield. One of the reasons snipers practice escape so intensely is that there is no expectation of survival for a captured sniper. A quick execution is probably the best they can reasonably expect. The aura of faceless death and the intimate, brutal, selective violence of seeing a fellow felled by a precision shot inspires brutal, vicious fury among those whose fellows are felled and who have spent sometimes hours or days cowering in the terror of having their head vaporize suddenly.
Moreover, while it may be different in today’s professional military, snipers historically haven’t enjoyed the best fellowship with the average soldier on their own side. The average grunt can tell himself he’s killing in hot blood, in the terror and frenzy of battle. But that guy, he goes out and waits for a man to be exposed and vulnerable, does some math, sets a reticle on the guy’s forehead, stills his breathing, and then coaxes his trigger to unleash a 168-grain hollow-point boat-tail round which slams into that unlucky bastard’s head at 1,700 mph, taking it clean off. Then he sneaks away. So G.I.s in Vietnam, for example, frequently gave snipers nicknames like “Murder Incorporated” and sometimes shunned their company. Similar phenomena have taken place in other militaries—which have institutionally tended to disband sniper schools and neglect snipercraft between wars, only to have to recreate them when the next war comes.
The sniper is a very unusual soldier with very specialized skills (see Top Sniper on the Military Channel for a tiny glimpse at modern training and competition) who can create massively asymmetric results in warfare. He is incredibly valuable—and incredibly dangerous, as our boys in Iraq found when reasonably well-trained Iraqis with Soviet SVD rifles began targetting them. He undertakes challenges and suffers stresses alien to the rest of the military. As the “God bless our soldiers, especially the snipers” bumpersticker one occasionally sees expresses, we owe them a particular debt of gratitude.
Trivia: In the First and Second World Wars, the most natural snipers proved to be a group of men with extensive experience at shooting at moving man-sized targets at distance: Australian kangaroo hunters.
Don’t ask impertinent questions like that jackass Adept Lu.