By an amazing coincidence I read only yesterday a column written by George Orwell for the Tribune newspaper dated 31 December 1943. It was in reference to 'war guilt' and the surprise that people seem to have when they discover that war is not a crime.
One of the main headlines today is that a Royal Marine has been sentenced to life imprisonment for dispatching an enemy combatant who he was trained specifically to kill.
The column by Orwell and the trial of the Royal Marine has certain parallels and these raise some issues that should be taken into consideration when officers make the decision to prosecute soldiers for killing the enemy.
Before referring to Orwell and this particular case, it is worth looking back briefly at the incident in question.
As I understand it, the accused Marines were sent to check an area for live insurgents after a helicopter had attacked a group of Taliban killers.
They found one who was barely alive and after a few expletives he was dispatched to meet his maker accompanied by a Shakespearean quote from Hamlet.
The incident came to the attention of an officer and it appears the disciplinary process started from there.
Unfortunately the action was caught on a helmet camera and one of the Marines kept a diary which was used in evidence.
The dispatching Marine also made reference to the Geneva Convention which helped seal his fate.
The prosecuting attorney, David Perry QC, stated that the incident was "an execution of a man who was entitled to be treated with dignity and respect and entitled to be treated as any British service man, or service woman, would be entitled to be treated in a similar situation".
I am not sure which planet Mr. Perry QC hails from, but what he doesn't tell us is, that although British service men and women are theoretically entitled to respect and dignity, would they get it from the Taliban?
The Taliban are a formidable, utterly ruthless enemy who, as everyone knows, 'worship death like we worship life', they show no quarter nor do they ask for any in return. They have declared jihad on the west and have threatened to behead all infidels if they do not accept domination by their desert death cult.
The Taliban butcher their own kind with no mercy, including women and children, for partaking of normal activities such as attending school or flying a kite.
The Geneva Convention does not exist for these medieval barbarians therefore one cannot expect to win a war when only one side fights by the rules.
Did Mr. Perry QC take into account the stress these Marines were under after losing seven comrades killed in action and another forty injured, some with life changing injuries?
Does he accept that only people who have experienced the heat of battle can understand what being attacked every single day does to ones mental equilibrium, let alone sustaining ten casualties in a twenty four hour period.
One of the Marines on trial described as "absolutely devastating" seeing some of his comrades killed in action and their body parts hung in trees as trophies by the same Taliban insurgents who are "entitled to be treated with dignity and respect" from the comrades of the fallen.
Would it not have been better to use the effects of these attacks as mitigation, then send the Marines on some R and R for the purpose of de-stressing, rather than putting them on trial for murder?
Training Marines to kill the enemy, then prosecuting them for murder when they do just that because they didn't kill them within the rules, smacks of posturing.
This incident could have been dealt with in-house, instead the 'powers that be' chose to parade it on the international stage; this show trial has the effect of burnishing their compassionate. 'progressive' credentials for their masters at the UN.
The lessons that should be learned by military men and women who are sent into harms way are this:
a) Always remember some of your officers will stitch you up if it enhances their 'progressive' reputation on the international stage.
b) If you are going to keep a diary, make sure to keep it well hidden.
c) Switch off the helmet camera and microphones in dodgy situations.
As for George Orwell, he summed up the utter stupidity of the attitude to 'official war'. He demonstrates how a soldier dispatching one enemy outside the rules gets charged with murder but the people responsible for starting the war and killing millions are not guilty of anything.
Tony Blair, who is accused by a growing number of people of starting an illegal war in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed, is now laughably, a multi-millionaire peace envoy.
While helmet cameras and diaries have been used in evidence against the Marines, the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, is steadfastly refusing to release documents of communications between Blair, Bush and later Brown, to the Chilcot inquiry.
This inquiry was instituted to determine Blair's justification for the Iraq war. Two previous inquiries were so obviously flawed they were dismissed as pure whitewash.
It would appear that Blair has something to hide and the people have a right to know what it is.
(I was unable to find a link so I will write his quotes as they are classic Orwell).
"Hitler, it appears, has not done anything actionable. He has not raped anybody, nor carried off any pieces of loot with his own hands, nor personally flogged any prisoners, buried any wounded men alive..........in fact he has not done any of the things which enemy nationals are usually credited with doing in war-time. He has merely precipitated a world war which will perhaps have cost twenty million lives before it ends. And there is nothing illegal in that".
He goes on to describe how the Kharkov trials attempted to pin the guilt on Hitler and the rest, for atrocities committed on the Russian front by his subordinates; the fact that there was a trial, proved that Hitler's guilt was not self evident.
"His crime it is implied was not to build up an army for the purpose of aggressive war, but to instruct that army to torture prisoners".
I will conclude with Orwell's own conclusion from December 1943:
" Nevertheless, a world in which it is wrong to murder an individual civilian and right to drop a thousand tons of high explosive on a residential area does sometime make me wonder whether this earth of ours is not a loony-bin made use of by some other planet".
See a previous post on the same subject here.