[LETTER SENT TO 3 NEWSPAPERS. PUBLISHED IN IRISH EXAMINER 13 JULY 2011]
As a pacifist opposed to all killing armies and all wars, I find no difficulty whatever with the pardoning of the Irish deserters. Those who left because they believed that killing humans was wrong should be very proud of themselves. Those who joined the Allied war effort should not be punished. Whether they were killing in an Irish or British Army they should have been free to leave, even to leave one for the other.
For whatever reason young people sometimes get themselves involved in joining armies and fighting wars. Governments pay vast sums of money on advertising, recruitment techniques and propaganda to entice them to do so. Once in, many soldiers regret their decision, but find themselves in a Hobson's choice situation where they must either let down comrades by leaving, or act contrary to their lights and consciences by staying. The full moral and legal force of each and every Army makes them fear leaving.
Some Irish soldiers became convinced that it was better to join a force that was fighting a war in Europe than stay in their own Army at home. Maybe this was again due to propaganda but it became their conviction. When they left they acted on their convictions - according to their lights and consciences.
Contrary to the indoctrination instilled by armies, deserters may be the bravest of their soldiers. Threatened with penalties of ostracism, exile, court martial, imprisonment and execution, yet they desert.
While I would prefer if the Irish deserters had never enlisted in any army, I don't believe that they need anyone's forgiveness for acting according to their lights. However if it would set their minds at rest, the honourable and humane thing for the State and the military to do would be to give them the technical pardon they request.