- Students’ Column
- War and Military
Are you familiar with Sgt Alexander Blackman? Blackman was a British Marine that was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for killing a Taliban soldier. In the past few weeks, the former soldier has had his sentence reduced, and he is about to be released.
What is shocking about this story is the line that it draws. On the one hand, the evidence that he killed a man is irrefutable. In fact, Blackman himself is happy to admit that he pulled the trigger. However, the clamour for his release has been fervent, to say the least.
The public and politicians alike seem to agree that his sentence was harsh. To be honest, there aren’t too many people that aren’t firmly on his side. So, why was he jailed for murder? The consensus is that the line between the military and civilians is blurred. Experts say people expect too much in times of war – are they right?
Soldiers are combat veterans, and they understand what it takes to win a war. The public is, well, it’s a bunch of people that can only imagine the horrors of combat. There is no doubt that everyone is entitled to their opinion on the matter because we live in a civilised society. But, for the values of those without experience to take precedent does seem illogical. The same goes for the politicians. Yes, the Geneva Convention is a helpful piece of legislation. However, it doesn’t appear to comprehend what happens on the battlefield. The cold hard truth is that people on the battlefield are the only people that know how to act. Should we, from our ivory towers, pass judgement? Alexander Blackman wouldn’t say so, and neither would 1000 marines that gathered in Parliament Square.
The obvious retort to that argument is to say that legislation must exist to hold people to account. No one is saying that our troops and our allies’ troops can’t be trusted. Most people would trust them with their lives, and the lives of their loved ones. Regardless, an environment shouldn’t exist where they can do as they please. Logically, there are people in the Armed Forces that will break the law. In fact, former members will argue that the environment encourages this behaviour. If and when it happens, the public needs to know that the culprits won’t escape justice. War is war, but it isn’t a blank cheque. That would make us no better than the people we’re fighting.
There is no doubt that we live in an era where the media dominate. One only needs to look at the history of the newspapers to see that they are king makers. They also have the ability to influence how people think and feel about certain topics with their agenda. Did Blackman suffer this fate? The stats seem to show that he was one of the unlucky ones. At the time, the media coverage wasn’t unbiased. The way they portrayed his actions without any proof was quite shocking. And, the shock permeated throughout society. In Britain, marches were held by people to show their displeasure at the murder of another person. It didn’t matter that he was an injured Taliban fighter. It also didn’t matter that he was putting lives at risk – a life is a life. The media frenzy shouldn’t have any bearing on the process, but that would be being naïve. Everyone from the lawyers to the Court Martial Judge felt the pressure, and it reflected in the sentence.
The Western world is a place where people are free to act and speak as they please. Places like Britain, the USA, and even Russia fought for these rights. And, our forces continue to do so in 2017. To say that they should act differently isn’t helpful. Why? It’s because we expect the best, and we have every right to fight for this expectation. The time when our military personnel lowers their standards is the time when society starts to collapse. That might seem like an over exaggeration, but it is frighteningly close to the bone. A glance around the world shows the power of the military. With their help, dictators and autocrats rule in plain sight without fear of justice. At the minutes, Erdogan is taking it to extremes in Turkey, and the Thais are constantly in turmoil. We don’t have to worry about that because we instil a culture into our forces.
Soldiers have to go through a lot if they want to stay on the right side of the law. Apart from regular appraisals, they have to train every day and move away from home. Plus, they have to take a hair follicle drug test to ensure they’re in peak physical condition. And what’s more, they are never expected to make a mistake. Oh, and they do all of this while fighting insurgents and evading gunfire. Any observer should be able to see that the world expects the best and that they deliver. Ninety-nine percent of the Armed Forces perform with dignity and honour. In fact, Blackman’s case was the first of its kind in Britain since the Second World War. Even then, it wasn’t clear cut. What is clear cut is that the Armed Forces deserve a modicum of trust. They are trained to within an inch of their lives and uphold the highest standards – who else can relate?
The final thing to remember is that a soldier only needs to make one mistake. One wrong decision is the difference between life and death. In most careers, an error might lead to a telling off from the boss. In the military, it leads to fatalities. To hold them to account is necessary to continue the current trend. Otherwise, the stats might make for unpleasant reading.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that the military has to put up with a lot. In most cases, it’s what’s required to keep them at the top of their game. But, in the case of Alexander Blackman, it condemned an innocent man to prison.