Defending our Veterans

In many areas, my support for conservative policies is based on pragmatism. While all political decisions have a moral dimension, quite often that position is based upon utilitarian rather than deontological considerations.

In economics, for example, my support for the free market is based upon pragmatic considerations rather than its innate moral value – and I have no qualms about the state stepping in where it doesn’t, for example to break up monopolies. Similarly, teaching phonics is good because it works, rather than because it is innately virtuous than other teaching methods.

There are some areas, however, where morality is directly in play, where issues are a straightforward matter of right and wrong. And one of the most clear of these is in protecting our troops from unjustified legal action.

It is a matter of national shame that for years now our government has done nothing to protect our veterans – people who have risked their lives, lost friends, lost limbs in defence of our country, while we sat back in peace – from being hounded through the courts, sometimes for actions that occurred decades ago. You may note that I used the word ‘conservative’ above with a small ‘c’, and that’s for a reason: the Conservative party has been equally culpable with the Labour party and Liberal Democrats in this matter. It is sickening that after nine years of a Conservative government our troops are still being subjected to these vile persecutions.

To be clear, this is not about saying our troops are above the law. The international Law of Conflict, which includes things such as the Geneva Convention, should always hold sway. But to quote General Petraeus, “The problem the British military has faced in recent years is the “judicialisation” of conflict and, in particular, the displacement of the Law of Armed Conflict by European human rights law. British soldiers are increasingly subject to a different legal regime than are their American counterparts. The extension of the European Convention on Human Rights to the battlefield has made extensive litigation against British soldiers inevitable.” It is completely inappropriate that civil, peacetime codes are being retrospectively applied to the battlefield and used to hound those who have served. I would potentially go even further and say that, under the ‘jury of peers’ principle, only other soldiers or veterans should sit in judgement in such trials: fundamentally, I do not see how it is possible how someone who has never served, like myself or the majority or my readers, to determine what is ‘reasonable’ or ‘proportionate’ in a combat situation, where one’s own life and the lives of one’s comrades are at risk. If you have more interest in these matters, my current employer has written extensively about this over the last few years (e.g. see here), though it’s not an area of work I’m personally involved in – and it should be clear that all the views expressed in this post, particularly on political party matters, are my own, not those of my employer.

As we are in a general election campaign, I will end with this. Despite our far from ideal record, I do think this issue is still a reason to vote Conservative. For one thing, almost all of the activist MPs who have been championing this issue, notably Johnny Mercer, are Conservative, and the issue has strong grass roots support amongst members. For another our Prime Minister has promised to end the situation, stop the legal actions and restore the law of armed conflict to its rightful position. This is not the first time a Conservative Prime Minister has made such a promise – May made it in 2016 – but it is still more than any of his opponents have done and it can be hoped that, if he secures more of a Parliamentary majority than May, he will be able to make good on it and end this ongoing travesty of justice.