Letters: Stressed troops are bound to break the Geneva rules

These letters were published in the 11th November edition of The Independent

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The absurdity of a “war on terror” tipped our troops into one of our longest conflicts, against a foe which routinely hangs the body parts of captured soldiers from trees.

As a former military chaplain, I am more than a little uneasy with the trial of a marine for shooting “in cold blood” a wounded Taliban combatant on the field of battle. We are so short of troops that these men were endlessly rotated into this idiotic, unwinnable conflict and worn out by battle fatigue – and in the end something was going to give.

The “shock horror” reaction implies such things are completely out of character, but there were many hushed-up cases of British soldiers shooting German prisoners of war in the Second World War.

When taped evidence surfaced in this case, disciplinary action was inevitable, but it is naive to expect men coolly to follow the Geneva rules to the letter in the midst of a “filthy little war”.

Rev Dr John Cameron, St Andrews, Fife


It was inevitable that there would be a quickness to defend and downgrade the crime committed by one of “our boys” (“Ex-general calls for leniency towards Royal Marine who killed Afghan fighter”, 9 November).

As for the attempts to portray this case as a “one-off”, the lie has been given to this by the many incidents of torturing and killing captured enemy from as far back as Kenya.

There is no doubt that our military are under horrendous pressure, but that can’t ever excuse such cruelty, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries for which we have no justification for having invaded.

When we eventually retreat, we will have left thousands of dead women and children who just happened to be in the way, creating a bitterness in people against Britain and the West that will achieve the opposite result to that carelessly promised before invasion.

Eddie Dougall, Walsham-le-Willows, Suffolk


I appreciate that the killing of a wounded enemy combatant is a disgrace and inexcusable. But if you consider the circumstances: shortly before his death, the deceased had been trying to kill the marines, and he or his close associates were responsible for the death and maiming of many of Marines A’s comrades.

Is a moment’s madness in those circumstances murder? Surely, it was manslaughter at worst.

In a war situation, things are rarely clear. Is the operator of a keyboard and joystick who fires a missile from an unmanned drone mistakenly on to an Afghan wedding party any less guilty?

If you follow the argument that the operator was working under orders, is his commander then charged with the murder of those innocents?

The same reasoning needs to be applied in the sentencing of Marine A. 

Neil Ross, Maryculter, Aberdeenshire


On the day she killed Sally Hodkin in 2011, Nicola Edgington had done the best her ruptured rationality allowed to get help to prevent what she knew  were the consequences of her deteriorating mental state.

Yet the judge still imposed a long minimum sentence and made it clear he thought she was entirely responsible for her actions.

Her appeal drew little coverage, as she has only the support of her lawyers.

What a contrast with the ranks of a former general and the like who have launched into a defence of Marine A even before sentence is pronounced.

It seems that to get constructive and compassionate justice requires a public furore and the backing of the great and good.

Mary Pimm and Nik Wood, London E9

How we can renew faith in democracy

Matthew Norman (6 November) says voting reform is essential if we are to tackle people’s disillusionment with politics. But his suggestion – a “none of the above” option on the ballot paper – will achieve nothing.

Politicians are used to public loathing; giving people another way of expressing disillusionment will satisfy some but do nothing to bring them closer to the representative democracy which is there to serve them.

Closing the gap between people and politics is entirely achievable. Institutional reforms such as an elected Lords and a proportional voting system would mean people’s votes counted for more, and political institutions would reflect their concerns more closely.

Political parties should find new ways to reach out to voters. And we need to foster cultural change, starting young with civic education and a landmark first vote at 16. This would make voting a lifetime habit, creating a generation more willing to meet politics halfway and less likely to project unreasonable demands on a system which is theirs to shape.

Democracy is precious, and we should be proud to participate in it. Perhaps it is time to renew our faith in it by refreshing both the way we do politics, and the way we think about it.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society, London SE1


Matthew Norman suggests that we have a workable system, let down by venal and self-interested politicians. My experience of politicians is that they are like any other profession – generally energetic and committed people with a few rotten apples.

I suspect that the system is unworkable because it assumes that the political parties reflect the broad spread of public opinion, but there are now so few card-carrying party members that they actually represent opposite ends of the political spectrum. We should cancel the principle that the leader of the largest party represented gets to be PM, and go for direct election.

Edward Uren, Salisbury


Russell Brand’s criticisms of the system are spot on.

We haven’t moved on a millimetre from Lenin’s observations 97 years ago that this is a “democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich — that is the democracy of capitalist society” and that elections under capitalism are excercises where “the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in Parliament”.

Sasha Simic, London N16


Poppies support people let down by the state

In many ways I agree with Robert Fisk (“Poppycock – or why our remembrance rituals make me see red”, 8 November) and for years I declined to purchase poppies.

But I now do so, in order to support former forces personnel via the Royal British Legion, and I also contribute to other organisations that do the same.

This is because the present and previous equally lousy governments have failed in their grave responsibility to support those returning from conflicts – where they have loyally served their country – with mental health issues, physical disability or complex needs (not to mention the pension issues for former soldiers).

Those working in health and the underfunded social care sector witness growing numbers of ex-forces personnel abandoned to the scrapheap of homelessness and penury by the country they served, and swept under the carpet by well-heeled, self-serving politicians.

Peter Webb, West Byfleet, Surrey


I can’t agree with everything Robert Fisk said, but he explained my own uncomfortable feelings about the annual obligation to wear a poppy.

Funds raised through the Royal British Legion’s poppy appeal are used to provide support to those disadvantaged through war, and I am happy to donate to such causes. But wearing poppies seems to ask us to accept without question all the wars our soldiers ever fight in.

What did the invasion of Iraq solve? Or the Suez invasion? Or the Libyan bombing? None of these places was trying to see British society destroyed, and by getting our armed forces involved, society has felt even less secure because British civilians are targets for terrorists and reprisals.

We must not let politicians with fake flowers pinned to their blazers suppress us by means of myths that all wars are for good and noble causes – and for our safety.

Emilie Lamplough, Trowbridge, Wiltshire


Those most guilty of being annoying

It is reported that new laws to replace Asbos are designed to silence anyone deemed “annoying”. It may be that Christian preachers, buskers and peaceful protesters could be effectively driven off the streets, unless specific provision is made to protect these most welcome individuals. Would it not be better if this legislation were used to silence most of our politicians? After all, most of what they say is far more annoying.

J Longstaff, Woodford Green, Essex


Haven’t we been here before?

Nissan claims that it will pull out of Britain if a referendum votes for British withdrawal from the EU. Isn’t this the same Nissan that said it would pull out  of Britain if we didn’t join the euro?

John Pinkerton, Milton Keynes