'I want everyone watching – whether you're on the Capitol or the rebel side – to stop for just a moment and think about what this war could mean. For human beings. We almost went extinct fighting one another before. Now our numbers are even fewer. Our conditions more tenuous. Is this really what we want to do? Kill ourselves off completely? In the hopes that – what? Some decent species will inherit the smoking remains of the earth?' (2.56)
In this speech, Peeta asks for the fighting to stop. Other context in this chapter reveals that these aren't Peeta's ideas, but President Snow's – Peeta is being forced to speak for the Capitol. If the fighting stopped, the rebels would be destroyed. However, Katniss seems to realize that Peeta might mean the opposite of what he's saying here, that the rebels should fight, and that she should step forward to lead them.
"So, it'd be easy for you? Using that on people?" I ask.
"I didn't say that." Gale drops the bow to his side. "But if I'd had a weapon that could've stopped what I saw happen in Twelve... if I'd had a weapon that could have kept you out of the arena... I'd have used it." (5.58-59)
Here, the text seems to be asking whether it's <em>ever</em> OK to kill other people or to use such "a weapon" on someone else. Gale tries to explain that, in some situations, any weapon ought to be allowed, to protect the ones he loves from a terrifying alternative, like going to the arena.
"It's not that simple," he [Boggs] shoots back. "We were in no position to launch a counterattack until recently. We could barely stay alive. After we'd overthrown and executed the Capitol's people, only a handful of us even knew how to pilot. We could've nuked them with missiles, yes. But there's always the larger question: If we engage in that type of war with the Capitol, would there be any human life left?" (6.63)
Is there ever any right answer in a war? Boggs is explaining to Katniss how, even though his side had the means to take down the Capitol, doing so would come at too high a price. Are people willing to destroy so many innocent lives in order to effect real change? Even so, it's hard for Katniss to accept that, in the meantime, atrocities like the Hunger Games have been allowed to continue.
This is what they've been doing. Taking the fundamental ideas behind Gale's traps and adapting them into weapons against humans. Bombs mostly. It's less about the mechanics of the traps than the psychology behind them. […] Gale and Beetee left the wilderness behind and focused on more human impulses. Like compassion. A bomb explodes. Time is allowed for people to rush to the aid of the wounded. Then a second, more powerful bomb kills them as well.
"That seems to be crossing some kind of line," I say. (13.41-42)
Katniss recognizes here that, in some regards, what her side is doing is no different from what the other side in the war is doing. Both are losing sight of compassion and morality in their attempts to win the war. Katniss is shocked to witness such deliberate cruelty and planning, and to realize it comes from people she loves and respects.
Someone joins me, his body tense. Finnick, of course. Because only a victor would see what I see so immediately. The arena. Laced with pods controlled by Gamemakers. Finnick's fingers caress a steady red glow over a doorway. "Ladies and gentlemen..."
His voice is quiet, but mine rings through the room. "Let the Seventy-sixth Hunger Games begin!" (18.15-16)
They might be in a middle of war, but that's what Katniss and Finnick have already been subjected to, over and over. Only being in the prior Games could have prepared them to see this war for what it is: another "arena." The Gamemakers they feared so much in the previous sets of Games have reappeared. They are, in some senses, right back where they started.
"Who cares? He's dead, isn't he?" Tears begin to run down Peeta's face. "I didn't know. I've never seen myself like that before. Katniss is right. I'm the monster. I'm the mutt. I'm the one Snow has turned into a weapon!" (21.5)
Imagine what it's like to not even be able to trust yourself; to think you're fighting for one side when you've already been "turned into a weapon" by another. That's the situation Peeta's been placed in. It's hard for him to even know who he is any more, and it's terrible to realize that he's endangered other people on the rebels' side – he's no longer just a person but also a walking weapon.
However, the true atrocities, the most frightening, incorporate a perverse psychological twist designed to terrify the victim. […] The smell of Snow's roses mixed with the victims' blood. Carried across the sewer. Cutting through even this foulness. Making my heart run wild, my skin turn to ice, my lungs unable to suck air. It's as if Snow's breathing right in my face, telling me it's time to die. (22.46)
What kind of war are Katniss and the others fighting, when their opponents are so cruel and inhumane? The kinds of "atrocities" they face are stunning. In their context, it's a little more understandable how someone like Gale could be pushed into devising inhumane traps himself.
A hovercraft marked with the Capitol's seal materializes directly over the barricaded children. Scores of silver parachutes rain down on them. Even in this chaos, the children know what silver parachutes contain. Food. Medicine. Gifts. They eagerly scoop them up, frozen fingers struggling with the strings. The hovercraft vanishes, five seconds pass, and then about twenty parachutes simultaneously explode. (24.74)
Help and aid turn into injury and death. This is one of the cruelest twists of fate presented throughout the war as more innocent people die yet again. This time, the children are tricked into accepting aid that turns out to be lethal. The incident seems to suggest that, no matter what, no one is ever safe.
The little girl who was watching me kneels beside a motionless woman, screeching and trying to rouse her. Another wave of bullets slices across the chest of her yellow coat, staining it with red, knocking the girl onto her back. For a moment, looking at her tiny crumpled form, I lose my ability to form words. (24.51)
This is a taste of the awfulness of the battle that's about to come. Innocent people are dying. Children are dying. And Katniss can't do anything to stop it. To make matters worse, there's no one side of the fight that's good and one side that's evil. Both sides are acting without compassion and are using inhumane tactics in their attempts to win the war.
But what he's said makes no sense. When <em>they</em> released the parachutes? "Well, you really didn't think I gave the order, did you? Forget the obvious fact that if I'd had a working hovercraft at my disposal, I'd have been using it to make an escape. […]" (25.37)
Katniss is horrified by the discovery that the deaths of those children and her sister were not caused by Snow. That's right – the people on Snow's side didn't slaughter those children. This atrocity was committed by the rebels she's been fighting alongside.