This is a lazy post, in fact a year-old repost from before I started this blog, that I thought readers might find interesting. It’s explictly a moralistic sort of piece, not a political analysis (no war but the class war! etc).
To listen to most endorsements of remembrance day, and to most poppy-related appeals for money, one would be forgiven for thinking that the job of a soldier was to die. It is not: the job of a soldier is to kill people. Those people fall into approximately two categories: firstly, civilians, and secondly, other soldiers. The number of dictators, politicians, generals, etc. who are killed by soldiers is negligible.
It’s true that courage was not uncommon among the armed forces, and that many (though probably well under half) of the last century’s fallen soldiers were fighting for something better than what they were fighting against; it’s also true that most responsibility the blame for the horrors of war lies with high-level decision-makers – and the average soldier is usually in a situation of very limited freedom. But people are always free and people who kill are responsible for deaths, even if others bear equal or greater responsibility. Consequently it seems ridiculous to look on soldiers with an attitude only of praise, and not utter a word of blame or condemnation. That condemnation should be limited by the very limited perspective, the limited power, the limited opportunities, of average soldiers – but it cannot be simply dropped altogether.
Of course there is huge variation among individual soldiers, ranging from the truly discriminate soldier who shoots only those shooting them, and fights only for good causes, down to those who participate in irregular massacres – to deny this variation would remove the whole point of speaking of freedom. What is wrong is to ignore the whole issue, for this imputes to them a uniform purity.