Now this is why Brian Edwards and I are good friends

My good friend Brian Edwards has looked at the terrorism/armed forces/war thing, and it is no surprise he’s come to the same conclusion I have.

…in today?s Herald on Sunday, I read that ?? The Defence Force has confirmed soldiers will be given the chance to withdraw from the controversial deployment.?

This is apparently part of being ?a good employer?. Personal or family circumstances or ?ethical grounds? qualified as the principal justifications for not wanting to be deployed in Iraq. Apparently this has always been the case provided the serviceman or woman ?had legitimate reasons?. ?Otherwise,? said the Former Chief of Army, Major General Lou Gardiner, ?your mates would always see you as a person who opted out. It?s human nature.?

It is indeed. But I would have thought that ?legitimate reasons? for not being sent to a war zone would include not wanting to be injured or killed. That too is ?human nature?. And, as a Defence Force spokesman reminded us, ?military personnel are people who have lives and families and individual circumstances that mean they are less appropriate for a particular deployment?.

Well, if you?ll forgive the term, this policy strikes me as ?a minefield?. Take this example: A and B both claim ?personal circumstances? for not being deployed to Iraq. ?A joined the Army at 19. He is now 42, has a wife and two teenage children. His wife is expecting a third child.

B is 20, single and a relatively new recruit.

A can justifiably argue that his teenagers and unborn child ?ought not to be left without a father or his pregnant wife without a husband. And he has already served his country well. B can justifiably argue ?that, at 20, his life has barely begun. If he is killed in Iraq, he will never have the opportunity to marry, have a family or pursue a career or follow his dreams. He will be denied all the experiences and opportunities that A has already had.

Then there are C, D and E.

C is 31 and a fundamentalist Christian. He loves the army and wants to go on serving his country. But he cannot go against God?s commandment not to kill. Nor can he be party to training others to kill.

D is Muslim and a ?follower of Islam. He claims that he cannot be involved in any deployment designed to bring harm to his fellow believers.

E?s great-grandfather was a pacifist and ?imprisoned for refusing to take up arms during the Second World War. Like C he loves the army but is reluctant to take part in a deployment which he regards as philosophically and strategically unjustified. He feels compelled to take a moral stance. We are, after all, he correctly argues, not formally at war with anyone. That being the case, the ?rules of war? ought not to apply ? even to someone in the ?armed forces.

I call this policy ?a minefield? because its implementation will require the Army to make value judgements not just on the relative strength of one soldier?s argument against another?s but on the relative value of one man or woman?s survival against another?s.

Is a childless bachelor?s life less valuable than the life of ?a married man with children? And should a soldier?s ?ethics? really decide whether they are more or less likely to be placed in harm?s way or killed?

I would have thought not.

When you join the armed forces, you should expect to be sent to a conflict somewhere. ? You do not get to evaluate the politics or the morality of the conflict. ?That’s not the job of armed forces. ?The armed forces go where they are sent by the politicians.

End of.

Of course, since New Zealand has volunteer defence forces, you can always quit.