What first attracted Michael Lyons to a career in the armed forces was an advertisement he spotted as a teenager, depicting the Royal Navy delivering humanitarian aid. Lyons, now 25, is beginning a seven-month term in military detention after being found guilty earlier this week of wilful disobedience of a lawful order. He was also demoted and dismissed from the navy, where he had served since 2005 as a medical assistant submariner.
After refusing rifle training because of moral objections to his deployment in Afghanistan, Lyons’s case was the first to be heard on grounds of conscientious objection in over a decade. Because his concerns were broadly political – stemming, he said, from the WikiLeaks revelations – rather than religious, there was minimal precedent for the decision. (There was, of course, a well-established tradition of conscientious objectors in the last two world wars, with thousands of British men, including my own Quaker grandfather, granted exemptions on condition of “alternative service”.)
Perhaps it was simply the case that Lyons, who enlisted at 19, grew up. He is not the first, nor will he be the last, young man to enter the forces with a naive or partial view of all this commitment entails and then suffer the consequences.