Armed conflict seldom has anything to commend it, bringing few benefits to any of those involved in its brutality – even the victors – and normally, without fail, damaging those whose lives it touches.
To the politicians falls the responsibility of starting wars, and often to those same politicians come popularity and votes if victory is secured.
If things go wrong, they seldom suffer much. Sometimes they even prosper. Soldiers, by stark contrast, die, are horribly maimed or otherwise damaged in conflicts they never chose. They serve, they take orders and they do everything they are asked – in the full and certain knowledge that the uncertainties of the battlefield routinely make a nonsense of all the pre-conflict planning.
And, while governments give their troops a wide licence to kill when things are going well, they back away in exaggerated horror if any individual in the ranks is caught breaking the laws of war. This, as we have reported in the Western Daily Press in the past week, is the difficult paradox that has engulfed Marine A – Sergeant Alexander Blackman. His conduct on the battlefield was captured on camera and could not possibly be ignored by the authorities of any law-governed country. There is no doubt about that.
And so Sergeant Blackman has been convicted of murder and been sentenced to life, with the instruction that he must serve at least ten years in prison. Clearly, the letter of the law has been followed. But what about its spirit?
Since Friday's sentencing of Sergeant Blackman, many Western Daily Press readers have contacted the newspaper to show their sympathy for this serviceman. They all feel he has been unfairly treated. Yet there has been silence on this subject from serving members of the Government.
For the politicians, it is an inconvenient issue. They would rather move on and forget Sergeant Blackman, and would hope that the media will do the same. In doing so they abandon a public servant who, although he has done wrong in the heat of battle, deserves better from the politicians who sent him there.
Of course, this nation must remain within the law and so too the men and women who serve in our armed forces. It is what we stand for. But there is almost always room within that law for flexibility and mercy.