It may seem strange to try to apply rules to a battlefield. You train people to be the most efficient killers they can be, particularly for elite units like the Royal Marine Commandos. One of the mantras of commando training is: “To see without being seen, to kill without being killed.” That leaves recruits in no doubt about what the job is or what the risks are.
And even a brief glance at modern military history will reveal the atrocities and brutality of “total war” as it developed in the Second World War.
The Taleban insurgent killed by Sergeant Alexander Blackman in Afghanistan had already been seriously wounded by an Apache gunship pilot who was perfectly entitled to open fire on the enemy. But when Sgt Blackman shot him a further time in the chest, it was judged to be against the rules of engagement. So there are rules for battlefields, and it is right that there are.
But it is also right that the battlefield has to be treated as a special case. It is dangerous and fast-moving, every decision can be life or death, not just for the individual but also for their comrades. Amid the killing and the dying, morality can understandably become blurred.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is relatively common among people who have been exposed to such environments. It can be devastating, and it can present in many different ways and at different times – sometimes it can be years before the effects show. Now Sgt Blackman’s legal team have presented evidence that he was suffering from PTSD at the time, and he has been given leave to appeal in the light of that evidence, making him and his family wait for a bail decision seems cruel.