Friendly fire and the Order of the Purple Heart

Why shouldn’t combat-zone injury qualify for the Purple Heart even if it’s not enemy-inflicted?

A couple of days ago I asked, incredulously, why there should be a rule denying the Purple Heart to victims of “friendly fire.” As usual, things turn out to be more complicated than they first appeared.

The general rule seems to be that the Purple Heart is for being wounded by the enemy.

When contemplating an award of this decoration, the key issue that commanders must take into consideration is the degree to which the enemy caused the injury. The fact that the proposed recipient was participating in direct or indirect combat operations is a necessary prerequisite, but is not sole justification for award. In general, accidents don’t quality, nor do combat-related diseases, such as food poisoning, frostbite, or PTSD.

By a special exception, friendly fire injuries “in the heat of battle” are covered. [See clause 6 (b) of the controlling regulation, Paragraph 2-8, Army Regulation 600-8-22 (Military Awards).] But that exception doesn’t apply if there’s no battle going on. Then we’re back to the “accident” category.

Now that I understand the logic, though, I don’t think I agree with it. If we want to have a decoration for those who were wounded defending their country, I can see the justification for a rule that getting hurt through your own negligence doesn’t count. But if a soldier in a combat zone catches a piece of shrapnel, it seems to me that he has a war wound, no matter whose shrapnel he happened to catch.

Time to change the rules? Seems that way to me, but I’m open to instruction.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: