In The Times last week two former soldiers attempted to lead readers towards a better understanding of circumstances where mercy killing takes place.
Neal Acheson wrote that he is “Tired of hearing that nobody can conceive what it’s like,” and continues, “Of course they can – by reading and viewing and listening and making an effort of imagination.”
He is right. In farming I encountered the sort of horrendous injuries described by Ascherson: cats in snares, a fox cub that ran into my car and a rabbit near dead with myxomatosis. Taught emergency humane killing at agricultural college it was a matter of less than a second before I put these creatures beyond physical pain and lingering deaths.
The urge to provide mercy in the form of instant killing in human combat, especially given the circumstances that we civilians are most unlikely ever to face, as outlined by Ewen Southby-Tailyour – a rib-cage torn open with heart and lungs disembodied – seems very understandable to me.
I write as a civilian, the son of a conscientious objector, who listened to first-hand accounts of trench warfare as a small child and as a young adult. It is clear to me that there are areas of military activity where the law must engage more imaginatively, not to create falsehood but to engender a better understanding of the circumstances in which people are to be held to account for the deaths of others.