PME Resources

Ethics: What We Can Learn From the Case of SGT Blackman

By Sally Graham March 26, 2021

In war, the line between legitimate violence and unethical actions, serious civilian crimes or war crimes is often not as clear cut as we would like it to be. Even when actions are clearly inappropriate, unlawful or unethical, the context surrounding the event or transgression can prove fertile ground for moral relativism, legal loopholes and legitimate leniency. It is imperative to consider these complexities ahead of the requirement to act in similar circumstances.

Understanding the conditions which lend themselves to poor ethical decisions can provide some grounding for commanders, staff officers and soldiers to be better informed. Like 'Learning from 'Black Hearts' this Unit PME Package uses a case study to provide an opportunity to explore warning signs and triggers, particularly at a sub-unit level, that could be indicators of future unethical behaviour within the team. Discussions should also help explore actions that individuals can take in the face of unethical decisions by those around them.

This PME Package aims to provide commanders with resources to support delivery of collective PME at sub-unit and unit levels. It includes a video, a reading and some suggested discussion points. The discussion points could also be used as a guide for developing questions to be addressed in essays or verbal presentations. The intent is to provide commanders with options to support their PME effort.

Readings and Resources

Huffpost Live Video, 'Sickening Audio of British Marine Shooting Afghan', 8 November 2013

Tom McDermott, ACSACS Occasional Paper No.5 'We need to talk about Marine A': Constant War, Diminished Responsibility and the Case of Alexander Blackman, UNSW, Canberra, 2017.

Discussion Points

  1. Could a situation like that portrayed in the video occur in the Australian Army? Why or why not?
  2. How can the 'the behavioural risks of persistent COIN' be managed?
  3. What can be done to develop and maintain the appropriate culture?

An instructor/facilitator discussion guide is available here:


Reflection is an important element of learning. It allows us to consider theories or events, and understand how they might apply to us. At the completion of the PME activity have your team reflect using the 'what, so what, now what' process.

  • WHAT did I learn from considering the SGT Blackman case?
  • SO WHAT does that learning mean for my own practice as a military professional?
  • NOW WHAT am I going to do about (with) what I’ve learned?

Writing this down in a journal, essay or blog post is a good way to consolidate learning.

Concluding Comments

The information in this package is designed to help commanders to develop and deliver PME in the unit environment. If you have suggestions for improvements - additional readings or reference material, alternative discussion points, new delivery methods - or if you just want to provide feedback, please contact the Cove Team via soldiercove [at]



Sally Graham

Sally Graham is a Major in the Royal Australian Corps of Transport. She has sixteen years worth of experience serving in a variety of different corps and non-corps postings throughout her career.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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