03 Feb 2015
February 3, 2015

Gallantry medals and killing


A Royal Marine is reported today as having killed at least 173 people. One of my oldest friends was a Royal Marines Commando sniper and a few years ago I got the chance to chat to a few in Afghanistan. Snipers are unusual in that it’s quite specifically their task to kill – which they sometimes do in surprisingly large numbers.

I don’t know if the Royal marine in question has been decorated for his work, but the idea of being decorated for killing the enemy is a tricky one for politicians today.

The stories put out by the MoD to the media about gallantry decorations are invariably the ones where astonishingly brave servicemen and women save their colleagues or a member of the public in theatre. Indeed, I’ve heard that there’s concern within the MoD about gallantry awards swinging away from destroying the enemy and towards more publicly palatable acts involving saving life because politicians find that easier to talk about. In addition, Afghanistan is tricky because sometimes ‘insurgents’ were paid pathetic amounts of money to shoot at our troops.

It’s true that for most soldiers, killing is very much a last resort rather than their primary job. But, in the end, war does involve killing – and we order people to do it on our behalf. The least we can do as a society, surely to God, is accept that harsh reality when it comes to the award of gallantry medals.