I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there. Only Phineas never was afraid, only Phineas never hated anyone.
These words are among Gene’s final musings in the novel, as he reflects on the meaning of his experiences at Devon and then in the war. He suggests that every human being, at a certain point in his or her life, decides that the world is a fundamentally hostile place and subsequently finds enemies to fight with and kill. He believes that for most of his classmates, this moment came with fighting in World War II, with real enemies—but for himself, it came before the onset of military violence or the arrival of army-issued weapons; Gene fought his war while still at Devon. Gene does not detail who his “enemy” was, and we are left to decide for ourselves whether he refers to Finny or to his own inner demons. In either case, he goes on to say that what separated Finny from everyone else was his inability, or lack of desire, to understand these notions of war and enmity. For Finny, everyone was a friend; no one deserved fear and hatred. This innocence contributed to a moral superiority in Finny; but it also led to his destruction, the novel suggests, because it rendered him unable to anticipate, and cope with, the revelation of betrayal.