When Is Killing OK?

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There is a much-loved comedienne in Australia called Magda Szubanksi. She recently revealed that her father, when a boy in Poland, had killed Nazi collaborators as an assassin for the Polish Resistance. This was considered shocking news. I was not shocked at all, however. Magda’s father was quite rightly fighting to free his country from a cruel invader. He was a hero.

A couple of years ago there were shock-horror stories in the British press because Prince Harry revealed that he had undertaken missions as a pilot that involved killing Taliban fighters. But what the hell do we pay military pilots for, if not to kill the enemy?!

Now we have a similar reaction to the news that David Cameron authorised drone strikes that killed UK citizens fighting for Daesh in Syria. To my mind, if a British citizen joins a terrorist organisation and goes abroad to fight on its behalf, the British Government has a responsibility to take all possible steps to prevent that citizen from doing harm.

How is the British Government to achieve that? They could send in a team of highly trained soldiers to capture the renegade citizen and drag him home to face trial. But the risk of failure and consequent injury or death of team members would be high. A drone strike, based on good intelligence, is low-risk and much more likely to succeed.

Admittedly a drone strike carries the risk of civilian casualties. But a civilian living in an area that is under Daesh control, or under Daesh attack, is already in extreme danger of death, injury, kidnap, rape, enslavement or dispossession. And who knows how many innocent lives may be saved by the death of a single terrorist?

Drawing the threads of these three stories together, it seems to me that there are times when the opprobrium usually directed toward the act of killing is undeserved.

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