"You could not even guess at the things that I have done. Awful, evil, obscene. The telling of them alone could make you puke...They nag at me from time to time, but I tell myself I had good reasons. The years pass, the unimaginable becomes everyday, the hideous becomes tedious, the unbearable becomes routine. I push it all into the dark corners of my mind. And it's incredible; the room back there. Amazing. What one can live with."
Murder, mayhem, and destruction are not things that the average person would readily consider, but if you listen to the average fallen hero, jaded soldier or brutal knight, he'll tell you that it gets easier with time. After that first act of destruction, it becomes easier to stand doing it again, and eventually it becomes second nature. Heck, you may even forget why you braced yourself to do it in the first place.
This trope is often used to segue a character from your average guy to a cold blooded killer; the more he's had to kill, the less he cares each time he's done it. It's also usually part of the backstory for an Hitman with a Heart.
Most stories about The Mafia have this plot line in it, mostly for the main character, who starts out unwilling to kill people, and eventually having no problem killing people when necessary.
This works in Real Life, folks. At least the boot camp has to take a whole year to prepare you to the possibility of killing someone. And they've gotten better at doing it as well, though it must be noted that there are always some people who, despite training, have a mental block that keeps them from pulling the trigger.
Anime and Manga
- Heavily lampshaded in The Familiar of Zero by Prof. Colbert.
- Code Geass:
- Lelouch fits this to a T. He discovers the results of his actions, goes crazy for a bit, does even worse things, and, eventually, has to bluff through his own emotional pain to do the worst/best thing possible.
- Suzaku protested about using violence and other extreme measures at first. Not any more.
- Specifically referenced by Andrew Waltfeld in Mobile Suit Gundam Seed, and implied to be the case with Mu La Flaga as well, in a deliberate aversion of It Never Gets Any Easier. Waltfeld tells Kira that the first time he had to kill in battle, it made him sick, but after a while he got used to it just as he'd been told he would. And the reason he brought it up was to suggest that WMDs are the same way.
- Subverted in Battle Royale, where one of Mitsuko's flunkies forced into prostitutions tearfully laments that it never gets easier, and it always hurts, even with her boyfriend, the only person she ever knew to care about her.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, you see this happen with Bradley in his flashback Cry for the Devil moment. As a young man, he accidentally stabs a friend during fencing practice and is horrified, but is congratulated by his superiors for killing his friend. By the time of the series and following his transformation into a homunculus you have a man who kills without a shred of remorse.
- In the 2003 anime version, Ed is upset over having to kill Greed, although he does mention that he accidentally killed minor villain Majahal much earlier in the series. He has no problem with using lethal force against homunculi from this point on, even (or maybe especially) against Sloth, who was created when he tried to bring back his mother, and assumes her likeness.
- In Death Note, Light is horrified after realizing that he actually killed his first two victims (which is emphasized more in the manga than the anime), but finds killing everyone else easier after resolving to change the world even if it is extremely painful for him. Eventually, he doesn't care if he has to kill all the people around him as long as it doesn't hinder his goals.
- In Simoun, the Sibyllae are originally very clear that they are priestesses, not soldiers. They are not "fighting," they are "inscribing Ri Maajon." They are not engaged in a "sortie," they are "offering prayers to Tempus Spatium." However, by the time we get halfway through the series, when their country has been at war on multiple fronts for several episodes, they are "on patrol" and "in battle." The newest Sibyllae are fine with that, since they only joined after the war had begun, but for the original members, it is something of a shock once it is pointed out how much things have changed since the beginning.
- Fortis of Huckebein from Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force tells this to Tohma when he was trying to convince him to join their group of criminals since, as fellow infected, they are his best chance to survive. Touma disagrees.
Fortis: You may resist with the mindset that murder is a crime. However, you'll get used to it. We did too.
- This is one of the many reasons Batman doesn't kill. If he resorts to the one first kill (he says is often all too easy to fall into it), he may become jaded to humanity and not be able to stop.
- The Batman example is also an in-universe tactic. In Knightfall, Robin points out that Batman scares the crooks, but doesn't actually hurt them—Batman is quick to point out that he uses it as a psychological weapon, in that the crook thinks he's not worth the effort. Whenever he needs that extra "oomf", Batman always lets drop that there are a lot of unsolved murders in Gotham, so who's to say he doesn't kill...
- From Bruce Wayne: Fugitive:
Checkmate Operative: We have no evidence of Batman ever having killed.
- Superman has - very rarely - strayed from a Thou Shall Not Kill policy, but for the same reason, he tries hard not to. With near-godlike power, it would be far too easy for him to defy laws and impose his own, as many Elseworld scenarios tend to show, and he knows that if he crosses the line too often, it would be very difficult to avoid doing so again.
- In Identity Crisis, a JLA comic, Jean Loring, the Atom's ex-wife, attempts to put the Enlongated Man's wife, Sue Dibny, into fake danger so that all heroes, including her ex-husband, would come closer to their loved ones. After she accidentally kills her, she goes completely nuts and has no problem with putting others in mortal danger. Through this, she indirectly causes two more deaths, and even more indirectly causes the death of Firestorm. (Alternately, Jean is lying about it being an accident; she clearly meant from the beginning to kill Sue (no one "just happens" to be carrying a flamethrower) and one or two other people to cover her tracks. Mind, Jean's still clearly nuts, and her first kill visibly shook her more than the ones she arranged later.)
- In Y: The Last Man, 355 gets more and more trigger-happy as the series progresses. And she hates herself for it.
- Much of Wanted concerns itself with exactly this trope. It loops around to death being quite bloody horrible once again.
- The Invisibles has King Mob, quipping about how after the fifth time, it doesn't feel like murder anymore.
- Watchmen: Rorschach is depicted as a Batman-like character who frightens villains rather than killing them, until he crosses the line by slaughtering a child-killer, after which Rorschach routinely kills bad guys justifying as referring to them as "dogs that need to be put down". The film version of the comic also implies this with regards to Silk Spectre II and Nite Owl who are shown slaughtering a group of attackers without blinking an eye.
- Shows up in a lot of Warren Ellis's work.
- In Seven Little Killers, Canada becomes a killer. He says that it's like smoking. You hate it at first, but grow to enjoy it. It amounts to him asking America if he can just kill everyone, instead of all of their complicated plans
- The opening of the second film version of Casino Royale almost spells out this trope:
- In True Romance, Virgil the enforcer takes a breather from beating on Alabama to explain his experience with this trope, ending with, "Now I kill 'em just to watch their expressions change." Virgil unforgettably played by James Gandolfini before his big promotion.
- This trope is pretty much the source of a lot of internal conflict for the main character in Knockaround Guys.
- The last line of the horror film The Strangers is Pin-Up Girl telling Dollface, "It'll be easier next time."
- In the Star Wars prequels, Anakin kills dozens of Sand People out of anger, and is consumed by guilt afterward. A few years later, he's hesitant to kill Count Dooku, and eventually does so with reluctance at Palpatine's insistence. Later in the film, he kills Mace Windu in a situation of extreme duress, but shrugs it off rather quickly. From there he moves on to watching Palpatine order the deaths of Jedi all over the Galaxy as he himself marches to the Jedi temple to kill everyone inside, including the children. About seventeen years later, Anakin, now badass Sith Lord Darth Vader, has no problem with Grand Moff Tarkin blowing up a planet containing billions of innocent people and is murdering his own subordinates via Force Choke with alarming frequency. A literal case of The Dark Side Will Make You Forget.
- Implicity, thanks to his job as top enforcer and commander-in-chief of a galaxy-spanning totalitarian empire, Vader has tons of Offstage Villainy amounting to innumerable atrocities, especially because of this trope and the ease at which he is commiting evil in the movies. The Star Wars Expanded Universe confirmed this, for example having a lethal and highly-contagious biological weapon developed on the Falleen homeworld; and when it escaped and started infecting people in the capital city, the entire area was sealed-off and "sterilsed", ie. annihilated via ion cannon lasers from Star Destroyers from above, killing millions of people.
- Dark Blue (TV series) has a poignant moment after Bobby kills his first suspect. His partner, Eldon, recounts his first kill, and how much it affected him. He says that, even though killing is a normal part of his job now, he still thinks about that first one.
- Incorporated to disturbing effect in the Steven Spielberg film Munich. It takes its toll on the characters, however.
- In the film adaptation of The Crucible, the first hanging has the girls who had falsely accused them flinching and wincing while the rest of the villagers are cheering. But after the second and third and fourth hangings, they are cheering just as happily as the villagers.
- Pick any Baen Books Military Science Fiction novel. Notably, The Disunited States of America by Harry Turtledove, where a kid fakes being a soldier but ends up doing the job for real.
- Mr. Pin in The Truth spells this out when his sanity starts getting away from him because he's realized that the people he's killed are closer than he thinks, and are just itching to get their revenge. Killing one person, that's a Moral Event Horizon; killing twenty is just, well, more of the same.
- In CS Lewis' Till We Have Faces, when Orual is about fight in single combat, the captain of the guard makes her kill a pig to get her first time over with that way.
- In John Grisham's first novel A Time to Kill, the guy who kills the two guys who raped his kid daughter thinks that it was harder to kill the first Viet Cong fighter.
- This is strongly implied to be the case for the murderer in the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Unnatural Death.
- Acheron Hades, in The Eyre Affair, describes murder as "like eating a packet of shortbread"—once you start, there's no reason to stop, since the worst they can do is execute you once.
- In Tanya Huff's Valor's Choice, Lieutenant Jarret is shaken by having killed someone for the first time, and asks Torin if it ever gets easier. Her response is along the lines of, "yes, sir. I'm sorry to say that it does."
- Similar to the Batman example, Hercule Poirot gives this as a justification for bringing killers to justice (after they killed once, they will kill again to avoid being discovered, and each kill will be easier than the previous one). This is an important plot point in his final case.
- In Life of Pi, the main character is introduced as devoutly religious, intelligent and a vegetarian. But when he has to survive, he abandons all morals. Killing becomes easier, and soon he is doing things like sucking fluid from fish eyeballs and eating faeces and human flesh. He explicitly states that he goes from crying over a flying fish that flopped into the lifeboat to exulting in the fact that he managed to hook and kill a dorado - and later on, he grabs and slaughters two meerkats without hesitation, so he can rub his feet in their viscera to cool them after he steps on the acidic surface of the island.
- In the X Wing Series, rookie pilot Gavin Darklighter helps out during the Krytos Plague pandemic on Coruscant, trying to find victims to get them treated before it's too late, and call for cleanup teams when it is. In the end stages, the Krytos plague, which was engineered by Imperials, basically liquefies those who contract it. Finding a particularly bad one, someone who'd barricaded himself up when he knew how sick he was getting, makes him vomit, but he pulls himself together, does his job, and confesses to his love interest that a year ago he would have run screaming. He's changing, and it scares him.
Asyr: "It's called maturing, Gavin, and not everyone likes it."
- Repeatedly referenced in Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy. Logen Ninefingers is basically the living embodiment of this trope, which at least still disturbs him.
- Enforced in the Sword of Truth series, with the titular weapon. The Sword of Truth inflicts guilt on its wielder every time they kill a person. However, the first time a person kills, the sword inflicts significantly more, to acclimate itself to its new wielder. Not that this ever comes up after the first book, of course...
- Ian Fleming inverted the trope regularly in his James Bond novels. Despite the statement made in the 2006 version of Casino Royale, quoted at top, in the original novels and short stories Bond is often depicted as actively avoiding having to kill more than is necessary, leading to some dangerous scenarios for 007, such as in the short story "From A View to a Kill" in which Bond is nearly killed by a man who he shows mercy to.
- The Last Guardian by Jeff Grubb has this line used by Medivh after he attacks Khadgar and Garona.
- In H. Beam Piper's Space Viking, Lucas Trask tells the scholarly King of Marduk, "We're professional murderers and robbers, as one of my fellow tradesmen says. The worst of it is that robbery and murder become just that: a trade, like servicing robots or selling groceries."
- Fred Saberhagen's Empire of the East trilogy has a pivotal scene when one of the characters is told that to advance in the evil title organization, he has to learn to be very unlike his present nature:
Live Action TV
- Reversed the first time Sam Beckett killed a man on Quantum Leap. The man in question is a former French Resistance fighter who is said to have killed his own mother during the Second World War. After a scuffle, Sam backs away holding a bloodied knife as the man smiles up at him knowingly, whispers "The next time, it will be easier" and dies.
- Alas, poor John Crichton (of Farscape) learned to kill in order to survive the Uncharted Territories. He also went pretty crazy, though whether it was the killing, the utter weirdness, the many, many aliens who decided to stick things in his brain and swirl it around a bit, or some combination thereof is anyone's guess.
- In the episode "The Hard Part", Hiro describes his future self in terms of this trope:
"Future Hiro killed so much, he forgot it should be hard."
- Sylar goes down that road. After he kills for the first time, he tries to commit suicide (but is stopped by Elle and Noah). We all know how this story continues.
- Jokingly referenced in Stargate SG-1:
- In the Doctor Who story The End of Time, we get this exchange.
Wilf: The Master is going to kill you.
- In a second-season episode of Fringe, after Peter is forced to kill someone for the first time, Olivia recalls her first kill and how it took time for her to get over it. But judging by the rather high body count she's amassed, "It Gets Easier" clearly applies.
- The concept is referenced several times in the 2010 version of Nikita, with the title character, a Hitman with a Heart, driven to take down the organization called Division in part because they made her a cold-blooded killer. Like Chuck, below, Division recruits are also required to complete a cold-blooded kill before being promoted to field agent status.
- The trope forms part of the rationale behind the "red test" seen in Chuck in which an operative must perform his or her first kill before being promoted to agent. Disturbingly, the kills are of the cold-blooded variety: assassinations and murders, rather than kills in the heat of battle. Sarah and Casey's high body count attest to the clear implication that it gets easier.
- NCIS has also established that in the service's earlier days as "NIS", agents underwent a similar "red test" scenario, carrying out assassinations as a rite of passage. Jenny Shepherd failed her initial assigned kill, though she goes on to commit numerous kills (both hot- and cold-blooded) before the one kill she did not complete years earlier results in her death.
- In Bones, Brennan is greatly disturbed when she kills for the first time, yet later asks to be given a gun during another case because she's killed before, and in "The Wannabe in the Weeds" she is comfortable enough with killing to shoot a woman in the throat with no remorse evident. (The woman in question HAD just shot Brennan's partner—aiming for Brennan—so hyper-rational Brennan may not have felt it necessary to express or even acknowledge any feelings of remorse).
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy is Genre Savvy enough that a substantial part of her later character arc is about trying to avert this trope.
I can beat up the demons until the cows come home. And then I can beat up the cows. But I'm not sure I like what it's doing to me. (...) To slay, to kill. It means being hard on the inside.
- Invoked, of all places, in an episode of Cheers. Woody, upset that he has told a lie, worries about the consequences.
I've never told a lie before! Wait, that's a lie. It's getting easier! What's next, murder?
- The Morality systems in The World of Darkness games are based on the notion that doing bad things to others gradually grows easier (although the specifics are different for each gameline).
- GURPS suggests, as an optional rule for "realism", representing this by starting the characters out with the Reluctant Killer disadvantage and then letting them buy it off..
- The title character of Macbeth, as indicated by the page quote. Though in that case it's not so much killing as cold-blooded murder (he starts the play as a soldier).
- Parodied in The Mikado. The "Lord High Executioner", Ko-Ko, charmed his way into the position, and since no one's been sentenced to death so far, he's essentially just a figurehead. However, when the time comes for him to make his first kill, Ko-Ko protests, "Why, I never even killed a blue-bottle!"
...I'm not ready yet. I don't know how it's done. I'm going to take lessons. I mean to begin with a guinea pig, and work my way through the animal kingdom till I come to a Second Trombone.
- Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven uses this plotline extensively.
- As does Max Payne.
- Metal Gear:
- Snake gives this speech to Meryl in the first Metal Gear Solid.
- Snake's brother Liquid gives a more vitriolic version to Snake in the same game, accusing him of enjoying it. Inverted in Guns of the Patriots; if the player kills an exorbitant amount of enemy soldiers during any one chapter, Snake will have a flashback to the scene with Liquid, and he throws up. For Old Snake, killing gets harder, sort of; more precisely, he gets sick when he realises how easy it's gotten.
- One of the major plot points in "Guns of the Patriots" is the PMC's trying to invoke this trope by using the Sons of the Patriots system to regulate soldiers' emotions. Everything is manipulated so that war literally feels like a video game to them. But when SOP is hijacked, reality comes crashing down, and battle fatigue sets in. What's worse, SOP didn't actually get rid of the emotions: it bottled them up so that when the system was interfered with, they all came rushing to the surface at once. Watching the formerly calm soldiers writhe on the ground, bawling hysterically, is a very disturbing scene to watch.
- Inverted in Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines when Jack says, "It's never as sweet as the first time," referring to drinking blood. This is probably a dual reference to drug addiction and the fact that vampires are natural killers. It's also played straight, and used as a gameplay mechanic: killing innocent people causes the player character to lose Humanity points, which makes them more likely to Frenzy and gives them increasingly nasty dialogue options. Jack urges the player to avoid killing innocents whenever possible to avoid sinking too far into their monstrous nature.
- In the indie game Vacant Sky, the main character Auria struggles to cope with the knowledge that she's just killed a human being after panicking and killing the husband of their hostess. Though she shows remorse afterward, the subsequent journal entry combined with the fact that the event song is called "A Farewell to Innocence" implies that it only goes downhill from here.
- Iji: The titular character cries things like "I'm sorry!" and "No..." the first few times she kills someone. After you've become an instrument of alien genocide, her quotes change to things like "Hah...YOU DIE!" and "AAAARGH!"
- In the second chapter of The Spirit Engine, one of your team members stops just short of Heroic BSOD when you have to kill a team of thoroughly Jerkass bounty hunters. In the third chapter, s/he's not too happy about having to kill a Complete Monster assassin. In the last one, they're casually slaughtering dozens of soldiers without so much as a sigh. It's similar in the sequel, although not as pronounced.
- Jak mentions something to this effect to Mizo at the end of Jak X.
- In Shadow Complex, protagonist Jason Fleming was trained from a young age by his father to have an easier time when he enlists in the Army...except, much to his father's chagrin, he never enlists, saying that he doesn't want to kill anyone. During the game, he puts the skills his father taught him to good use, as terrorists kidnapping his girlfriend have given him a good reason to kill. Early into the game, he comments that a giant spider-mech is something he can "shoot without feeling guilty," although the driver pops out of the hatch soon after and becomes Jason's next kill. Shortly after that, Jason comments, "Killing's getting easier, not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing... it's a good thing."
- Surprisingly, Carter Blake from Heavy Rain pulls this trope to comfort Jayden if the player made him shoot Nathaniel.
- Mega Man X was supposed to come across this trope after X5, and had it not been the Executive Meddling causing the Continuity Snarl, he would have become a Knight Templar villain in Mega Man Zero.
- In Drowtales, Ariel's first kill is forced upon her, but her second is not. She is horrified by how easy it was and develops PTSD from the remorse.
- In CRFH, when Roger kills a number of Damascus's henchmen, and when Margaret kills Mrs. Pepitone, they're completely dumbstruck, and may or may not have had ill-advised sex. This is the only time any of the henchmen are given a second thought, even by their own side.
- In this strip of In Wily's Defense, Megaman refutes this after killing Skull Man.
- Military experience causes this for many. Though it has been noted that some have no initial difficulty whatsoever while not exhibiting any behaviors indicative of mental illness.
- US Police departments seem to think the opposite, or at least encourage it. Lethal force is without question an absolute last resort and should an officer be forced into that option they are taken off duty for a brief period and recieve counseling afterwards (almost) without exception. Most police forces agree that an officer should be able to quickly and efficiently deal with a violent criminal who refuses to be taken in, but that doesn't mean it should be something that's easily brushed off.
- Despite the growing quality of simulated-dissection software, medical and nursing students are still expected to engage in human or animal dissections as part of their professional education. This isn't just for hands-on skill development; growing accustomed to grisly experiences and the reality of death is as much a part of these exercises as is building anatomical knowledge. Not a killing variant, but same concept: repeated exposure to death makes dealing with it easier in the future.
- Serious training scenarios for emergency responders (military or civilian) will sometimes use professional makeup artists so the "victims" will have very realistic looking injuries. It's one thing to practice moving someone and pretend they have a broken leg; it's quite another when you see a realistic-looking bone sticking out of what looks like ripped-open flesh from a compound fracture and the victim making an ear-piercing scream if you accidentally touch the wound, combined with litres of realistic blood all over the place.
- Ernie Pyle was a famous World War 2 war correspondent known for going right to the frontlines and writing about Soldiers doing the actual fighting. He landed with the US Army in North Africa where it first saw combat with an Infantry platoon and after a few weeks with them he left to cover other aspects of the war. Pyle returned to them and wrote this about then in his wartime column, Brave Men, Brave Men:
The most vivid change is the casual and workshop manner in which they now talk about killing. They have made the psychological transition from the normal belief that taking human life is sinful, over to a new professional outlook where killing is a craft. To them now there is nothing morally wrong about killing. In fact it is an admirable thing.
- In a more calm sense, life in general. It seems like a lot of tragedies hit people in their teen years, like breakups, disappointments (not getting into your preferred college for example) and they tend to always be a crisis. In general, later in life, people mellow and develop a sense of "I've been through this once, I can do it again."
- Although the TV series Chuck features operatives of the CIA, which exists in real life, the "red test" requirement for becoming a full agent as featured in that series (committing a cold-blooded murder under orders) is unlikely to exist for real CIA agents. (At least, as far as the public knows). The same goes for the real-life Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which in NCIS the TV series evolved from an earlier organization that used a red test-like scenario.)
- Note that this is the modern-day interpretation of the Dark Knight. In the early years of the character -- the late 1930s -- Batman often killed people and even carried a gun.