Friday, August 03, 2007

A War Death Sixty-Seven Years In The Making

Today, there is a story in the Telegraph about the death of a WWII vet from wounds suffered sixty seven years ago at the hands of Nazis.

Peter Vernon-Ward had been warned by doctors that he must have his leg amputated or face being slowly poisoned from ruptured wounds sustained when rifle butts were smashed into his legs in a German prison camp during World War Two.

But Mr Vernon-Ward refused the operation three years ago "because he saw it as giving in to the Nazis".

The poison finally killed him in his sleep on Sunday aged 86.

Assume for a moment that the Nazi guards were still alive. Should they be prosecuted for creating this man's death at age 86? He might have lived to be one hundred otherwise. If he didn't fight the guards, some other event could have transpired that would have seen him die at twenty-five victim to the cruel fate of stepping in front of a bus, or a contagious disease.

If this man went through with the amputations that his doctors requested, would he still be alive, or could he have died during surgery? Nobody knows the answer for sure.

Murder is a tricky legal concept; Attempted murder even more so. If you are furious and beat a person half to death, attempting to kill them before being pulled off, should your punishment be less than somebody who throws one wild punch in anger accidentally hitting their target in the throat extinguishing a life?

Perhaps attempted murder should be charged in degrees just like homicide is weighed now. There is no reason why somebody who fires ten bullets but is a poor shot should be treated less harshly than the thrower of a (un)lucky punch.

The injuries this man suffered were created on the battlefield. In the age of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo bay, and extradition to Syria for them to attach electrodes to people in the name of the U.S., murder is becoming an even murkier term.

Lawyers love to play games with this concept. There is the old scenario of a person jumping off a twenty story building to commit suicide. As the person drops past the twelfth floor, somebody shoots them. In legal terms, the person is a murderer. You are free to shoot the corpse three seconds later, but it's life or a needle for taking those precious few seconds away from the suicidal jumper.

Life isn't very precious no matter what people say. We will kill you in order to prove that killing is wrong is a recipe for a civilization that doesn't value human life.

As one war veteran dies of his wounds sixty-seven years later, I wonder how many decades past this dreadful mess in Iraq we will still be hearing stories of those who suffered losses in this war.

Thirty years from now, when for most of us this war is a faded page in a history book, some Iraqi man will expire from a bullet fired in anger from an m16. His family will hate us, and we won't understand why.