Leading article: Compassion in war

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The Independent Online

Nonsense. All the evidence since, as at the time, was that the conditions of trench warfare and the appalling circumstances of the fighting did have a profound effect on the minds and morale of the troops. Private Farr had been treated for five months for shell shock before he refused to return to the front and was court-martialled. His nerves, said his company commander, were "destroyed".

Not for nothing did Montgomery refuse to sign the execution order in such cases in the Second World War. Yet today's commanders fear that to pardon the soldier now might seem to be countenancing similar reluctance to go to the front by today's soldiers. They are wrong. Psychological understanding and compassion for troops has become more important not less as we ask our forces to undertake ever more difficult and ambiguous duties, when civilian responsibility and martial spirit are dangerously elided.

The High Court judge yesterday adjourned the case so the Defence Secretary could think again. It would be to John Reid's credit if, as one of his first decisions in his new job, he showed a different and more independent attitude than his predecessor to such cases as Harry Farr's.