Killing Your Own: Confronting Desertion and Cowardice in the British Army During the Two World Wars

Journal of Military Ethics 17 (1):54-71 (2018)
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ABSTRACTMilitary units can become to some extent self-governing in war-time battle. At times, they may take the discipline of their soldiers into their own hands and such discipline may be severe. This paper examines incidents in the British military, in both World Wars, where British soldiers were killed by their comrades because they would not fight in the heat of battle. The judicial execution by the military authorities of deserters in the First World War led to much controversy in Britain. It may be much less well-known that in both World Wars there was, on occasion, an extra-judicial practice within the British military of executing soldiers who would not fight in the heat of battle. In such situations ethical dilemmas become very difficult indeed and some of the relevant issues are examined here.



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