Friday, October 08, 2010

My two cents on the Semrau verdict

"If you drop your rifle you had better hit the ground before it does!"

These instructions from a career infantry sergeant, a veteran of two wars wearing the same cap-badge as Semrau to my motley platoon of recruits, capture the essence of the Semrau killing. While somewhat hyperbolic, the quote nonetheless demonstrates the  rite of military honour that requires one to own-up to their fuck-up without prompt. Hitting the floor for push-ups is a symbolic echo of ancient times where commanders voluntarily fell on their swords for their failures on the battlefield. It also gently set the standard of responsibility expected of us.

There is no room for self-interested careerism* in this ethic. The standard of leadership and responsibility demand that the recruit immediately assume responsibility for their actions and voluntarily adopt the required punishment without further consideration of what this might imply for them personally. The cause of the falling rifle matters not a whit. Whether it was due ccident or neglect on your part was irrelevant to the principle.

But this standard, when it really counts, seems to be rarely met. We did not see it when the two US F-16 pilots ignored their rules of engagement and killed four Canadian soldiers and wounded eight at Tarnack Farms. The American pilots involved did not hit the ground. Instead, they fought the charges, made excuses and rationales, and protested their responsibility. It was that part of the event more than anything else that disgusted me. In my view, the standard of leadership demanded that Umbach and Schmidt immediately declare themselves in error and offer themselves the mercy of the investigators and military justice system. Anything shy of that is self-interested cowardice.

With regard to our own former Second Lieutenant Semrau (he is now demoted and struck off) two factors come up. First, as our Rev and others have mentioned, he violated our own well known and established laws of war by executing the wounded insurgent. Every member of the Canadian Forces passing their basic training is taught the Geneva Conventions and knows that what he did was illegal. As an officer Semrau had a duty to demonstrate that standard.

Second, assuming the best and that Semrau honestly felt that he was utterly compelled to shoot the insurgent, he would have also known that by squeezing the trigger, he was breaking the core law of war he is duty-bound to uphold. The standard of leadership I learned 15 years ago required that upon shooting the wounded man, Semrau immediately acknowledge that contradiction and surrender himself in full confession to the required authority. Instead, like our American pilots, he sought to defend and justify his actions and thereby avoid punishment.

He is, in my view, demonstrably unwilling to take responsibility for his convictions and the actions stemming from them. He put his own personal wellbeing ahead of the standard set by his Regiment, Service and Nation.

I am appalled that the military allowed him an honourable dismissal that permits him to attempt to rejoin. I have witnessed people receive more punitive dismissals for much less. I shall be more appalled if they let him back.

* I would love to see the word "career" stricken from the lexicon, especially in reference to anything to do with leadership. Leadership, in my view, requires that you acknowledge that one day you might have have to fall on your sword. That word reeks of self-interest and implies that you might screw over others to get ahead.


Edstock said...

"He put his own personal wellbeing ahead of the standard set by his Regiment, Service and Nation."

Huh? Now, just how did he put his own "personal wellbeing" ahead of the standard? How was his "wellbeing" put ahead by giving surcease to a dying Muj?

geoff said...

I agree with you Boris and yes it's amazing he wasn't kick-out without honour. I've know fellow sailors - I was pre-Hellier's "Forces" - dishonourably discharged, after doing 90 days in chokey, for being caught ashore, by meatheads not our shore patrol, with 3 packs of duty-frees not the allowed 2 for overnight leave.

afortiori said...

The profession of arms, it seems in your view and mine, is an honourable one.

There is no good conclusion to this series of events. Examining it as you have done is, however, the only useful exercise in attempting to devise a protocol for the next time something like this occurs. And, it will. More's the pity.


kootcoot said...

The Rev's post on this was thoughtful and thought provoking - but yours Boris is AWESOME!

Dave said...

Easy Ed. Very easy. It's not his decision to do that, he has been well trained in that and he should have left the man to a medic.

He took a personal decision not to do that and his discipline and leadership are left wanting.

I've been where he was. I called a medic who may or may not have injected too much morphine. But it was a medical decision - not one left to a warrior. When the fighting is over you give your opponent every parole you can provide.

A warrior is contracted by a legitimately established government to defend the country and fight battles to win. There is nothing in that compact which says I have the right to exact revenge, become a judge nor make a very final medical decision.

The 2nd Lt should have called a medic and walked by.

That is life on the ugliest place on earth.

afortiori said...

The 2nd Lt should have called a medic and walked by.

As painful as the the decision might be.

Again, salute.

LuLu said...

He took a personal decision not to do that and his discipline and leadership are left wanting.

Bravo Cap'n, that hasn't been said nearly enough throughout this entire fiasco.

After spending more than 10 years with a man who has seen and done ugly things in uglier places -- things that he cannot and will not talk about -- I think I know what true leadership and honour looks like.

And it is most decidedly not dressed up as Semrau.