"I was just following orders"

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by KnightWriter, Jan 15, 2005.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. KnightWriter Administrator Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Nov 6, 2001
    star 8
    I turn especially to any current and former members of any country's armed forces for this issue.

    Does any given soldier have a responsibility to refuse orders they feel are wrong, inappropriate (in a major way) or otherwise a crime against the constitution? Is there ever a time when one should simply follow orders and not question a superior officer?

    I find it disturbing that 60 years after Nuremberg that the term "I was just following orders" is still being used to defend what seems to be clearly inappropriate and criminal conduct. I hope we can discuss the importance of the chain of command in any military or government here, and the need to refuse to carry out an order that appears to be criminal in nature.
  2. TripleB Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 28, 2000
    star 4
    KW said

    Does any given soldier have a responsibility to refuse orders they feel are wrong, inappropriate (in a major way) or otherwise a crime against the constitution? Is there ever a time when one should simply follow orders and not question a superior officer?

    While I was fortunate enough during my career to have some of the best officers a soldier could ever serve under and I say with absolute certainty that they never, even in desert storm and SOmalia, would have put his soldiers in such a position.

    To answer your question, it is the duty of the officers to ensure their soldiers are never in such a position like these Abu Ghrabib Troops were in. I have to agree with something the soldiers are saying, about why no officers or anyone higher is being charged. I have to almost assume that they are being covered and these soldiers are the scapegoats; or that the officers were derelict in their duty's and for them to have this thing going on is almost as bad a reflection on them as it is on the troops.

    Soldiers have an absolute duty to refuse to follow unlawful commands. I don't agree with these soldiers that refused to roll their vehicles on a resupply convoy because they were not as armored as they wanted them to. That is mutiny. BUt if an order were given to the Abu Ghrab troops like they alledge, they should have refused and if they saw things "come down on them", they should have immediately notified the unit Chaplain.

    NOthing will shock these CIA types or whomever it was that allegedly made them do it more then involving a Chaplain in it.


    I find it disturbing that 60 years after Nuremberg that the term "I was just following orders" is still being used to defend what seems to be clearly inappropriate and criminal conduct. I hope we can discuss the importance of the chain of command in any military or government here, and the need to refuse to carry out an order that appears to be criminal in nature.

    If there were "Non-US Military' types involved (ie, CIA, FBI, etc) then the officers really ****** up on that. They should not have never let their troops working under them knowing that there was a good chance things that were unbecoming to a soldier might happen. At a bare minimum, the officers and senior Non Commissioned officers should have left standing orders that if ANYTHING that does not look right happens, to come get them immediately.

    Like I said above, that is what a Chaplain is for.
  3. EnforcerSG Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 12, 2001
    star 4
    I feel that a solder must balance how they feel about an order with what they know of the situation and how much they trust their commanding officers. Overall, if the balance is far enough to not trust the CO and the person in question understands the situation extremely well and the orders are wrong, then I would say the solder should not follow the order. However, I almost wonder if the solder should be honorably discharged since any commanding officer could not really trust him again (honorably if the solder did the right thing and acted in good faith). Generally it would be the hardest decision for a solder probably.

    Also, I feel that solders should be given every benefited of the doubt. Especially when fighting, they may very well go through things that no one can understand, and it can do a lot to mess them up. Now, not every case has extreme circumstances, and when they are not, the solder should be punished to the full extent of the law, but give them a chance to explain their side of it first.
  4. CitizenKane Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Aug 7, 2004
    star 3
    Good topic, Knight

    Does any given soldier have a responsibility to refuse orders they feel are wrong, inappropriate (in a major way) or otherwise a crime against the constitution? Is there ever a time when one should simply follow orders and not question a superior officer?

    I hope I can reply, because I'm not in the military. Anyway, I most certainly believe that a soldier must follow all orders unless there is a compelling case that following said orders would violate that person's indivdual religious beliefs. I say "religious" becuase, in my mind, only religious beliefs (or the lack thereof) count for anything. For example, I do not believe that a soldier can refuse an order that contradicts his political mindset. You might as well say you won't fight under a (insert opposite politcal party name here) Commander-In-Chief.

    I find it disturbing that 60 years after Nuremberg that the term "I was just following orders" is still being used to defend what seems to be clearly inappropriate and criminal conduct.

    A big problem is that you can't always get people to agree on what constitutes "inappropriate" behavior. That is why I think only an order that clealry and unquestionably goes against a person's religious beliefs should be challenged.

    My thoughts :)


  5. Jediflyer Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 5, 2001
    star 5
    Yeah, you don't have to follow illegal orders, but it sucks to be you if you don't follow an order that turns out to be legal.
  6. Bant428 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 22, 2002
    star 4
    Does any given soldier have a responsibility to refuse orders they feel are wrong, inappropriate (in a major way) or otherwise a crime against the constitution? Is there ever a time when one should simply follow orders and not question a superior officer?

    I hope I can reply, because I'm not in the military. Anyway, I most certainly believe that a soldier must follow all orders unless there is a compelling case that following said orders would violate that person's indivdual religious beliefs. I say "religious" becuase, in my mind, only religious beliefs (or the lack thereof) count for anything. For example, I do not believe that a soldier can refuse an order that contradicts his political mindset. You might as well say you won't fight under a (insert opposite politcal party name here) Commander-In-Chief.


    Well then, do you also believe that people can dodge the draft because of religion? How does one establish the legitimacy of a certain religious belief? How is blind political ideological belief any different from blins sheep religious belief?

    Just some food for thought.
  7. beajedi Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 28, 2004
    star 3
    Can't you follow the orders anyway, but request to have a formal protest written up?

    That way, you can say "I protested against this action, but it was by the order of my CO"
  8. CitizenKane Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Aug 7, 2004
    star 3
    Well then, do you also believe that people can dodge the draft because of religion?

    In my mind, a draft is different. I can't think of one religion off the top of my head that prohibits fighting for your country. And, like I stressed in my first post, it needs to be a clear, unquestionable violation of religious beliefs.

    How does one establish the legitimacy of a certain religious belief?

    Good question. I don't know. Do you?


    How is blind political ideological belief any different from blins sheep religious belief?

    Nice bait.
  9. Genrader Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Sep 12, 2003
    star 3
    I hope I can reply, because I'm not in the military. Anyway, I most certainly believe that a soldier must follow all orders unless there is a compelling case that following said orders would violate that person's indivdual religious beliefs. I say "religious" becuase, in my mind, only religious beliefs (or the lack thereof) count for anything.

    One Muslim in 2003 in the military felt the war was violating his beliefs and he threw a grenade in a tent of US Soldiers.
  10. Armenian_Jedi Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 14, 2003
    star 7
    Watch the movie "A Few Good Men"
  11. Raven Administrator Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Oct 5, 1998
    star 6
    Can't you follow the orders anyway, but request to have a formal protest written up?

    That way, you can say "I protested against this action, but it was by the order of my CO"


    That doesn't sit well with me at all. If you?re given immoral orders then you either follow them or you don?t. You can?t say ?I submitted a formal protest in triplicate, but I executed the prisoners anyways.? In some ways, that makes it worse for me, because someone who would follow immoral orders while protesting obviously knows that what they?re doing is wrong but is doing it anyways.
  12. CitizenKane Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Aug 7, 2004
    star 3
    One Muslim in 2003 in the military felt the war was violating his beliefs and he threw a grenade in a tent of US Soldiers.

    There's a right way and a wrong way to deal with this kind of conflict. That is a good example of a wrong way.
  13. Genrader Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Sep 12, 2003
    star 3
    I think that if something is severely immoral you should be able to refuse orders, unless it is going to cost people's lives.

    Not following orders should be something that happens rarely in the US military. If there are probable grounds for refusing the orders, I can understand that, but I don't want our military to get to the point where people are refusing orders all the time because they are claiming they don't feel good about it or some bs lame excuse.
  14. Mr44 VIP

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 6
    There may be some confusion over what an unlawful order is characterized as.

    In the US, it is held to what is publsihed in the UCMJ (which includes the Constitution, and any ratified agreements and treaties, such as Geneva, Hague, etc...)

    An unlawful order is an invalid order, and those receiving it are not bound to follow.

    However, and this is the important part, it isn't based on how the subordinate feels about it, but how it actually reconciles with the law.

    I'll supply a non-controversal example to illustrate how it would go.

    For example, it is against the UCMJ to photograph, make drawings of, or render other depictions of secured areas.

    Knowing that, if a soldier on guard duty was ordered by a visiting officer to take pictures of a secured area, that soldier would immediately refuse and notify his chain of command. The unlawful order is invalidated until otherwise clarified.

    It's movie myth where a soldier yells something like "I formally protest this course of action!!" and the commander yells something like "Objection noted-fire the torpedos anyway!"

    As has been discussed above, the entire "disobeying an unlawful order" has been blown way out of proportion. The great majority of leaders wouldn't put their troops into that position.







  15. Bant428 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 22, 2002
    star 4
    One Muslim in 2003 in the military felt the war was violating his beliefs and he threw a grenade in a tent of US Soldiers.

    There's a right way and a wrong way to deal with this kind of conflict. That is a good example of a wrong way.


    Who determines the criteria for what is right or what is wrong? Opinions vary, am I right?
  16. Mr44 VIP

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 6
    Who determines the criteria for what is right or what is wrong? Opinions vary, am I right?

    I don't know what this means.
  17. Genrader Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Sep 12, 2003
    star 3
    Bant's question didn't make any sense to me either.
  18. Crix-Madine Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 7, 2000
    star 4
    Bant is right.

    From a certain point of view....
  19. Cyprusg Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 16, 2002
    star 4
    Who determines the criteria for what is right or what is wrong? Opinions vary, am I right?

    I don't know what this means.


    Was that a joke Mr.44?

    But anyway, just following orders is a bunch of BS. It's not even about that anyway, it's the same ole group mentality that plagues humanity. I think after war it's hard for soldiers that committed atrocities to come to terms with what they did, so they say "I was just following orders" when in actuality they had no qualms about doing what they did at the time. But how do you look at yourself in the mirror after that? I can't even imagine that, being a part of the worst atrocities the world has ever seen and only after the war do you truly realize the horrors of what you did, but confronting that puts you on par with the most evil of people, or at the very least a mindless sheep that was fooled into believing a senseless ideology.

    So I completely understand why they would make up excuses for doing what they did. It's no different than probably what most of our grandparents say by justifying racism, "it was a different time" they say. Well screw that, there are plenty of people still alive that don't have to say "it was a different time" because they stood up for what's right and didn't follow the herd.

    So I don't think "I was just following orders" is ever a viable excuse, nor is it even an honest excuse. I belief very strongly that most of the people throughout history that were a part of various atrocities believed that what they were doing was the right thing, and had no qualms about doing it until after the fact when the world turned on them.
  20. Blue_Jedi33 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 12, 2003
    star 5
    In line with this topic in the news today was a SS Nazi General who refused a direct order from Hitler himself to capture and kidnap the Pope during the WW2.

    Remember this wasn't and Army general but a SS General, the most loyal and evil of the Nazi bunch. Yet he refused that order, I found that very interesting.

    Some orders cross the line, and even the most loyal devout soldier may know when this is happening and feel compelled to say NO.
  21. Mr44 VIP

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 6
    Who determines the criteria for what is right or what is wrong? Opinions vary, am I right?

    Crix, Cyp, I'm sorry for being vague and not specifically spelling it out..

    I don't know what this means-within the context of this thread

    We're not discussing someone's dilemma over getting a latte' or a mocha.

    The example that was used- focused on a soldier, who even though he voluntarily joined the military, didn't like being sent to Iraq, so he threw a grenade into the command tent of his own unit.

    That's when Bant provided the reply.

    If you guys are actually claiming that you see nothing wrong with a soldier who tries to kill his fellow teammates, simply because he doesn't like an order, I think this is one area where we won't find a common ground.



  22. JediTre11 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 25, 2001
    star 4
    In the case of Nuremburg the orders were only unlawful because Germany lost the war. The accused haven't lost the war yet. Abu Garhib seems to have occured due to a lack of specific orders and adequete supervision. If the accused believed he was following orders and he trusted his CO then why would he object? Further more if he had any qualms about it then why would he take pictures of the prisoners and his fellow soldiers in comical positions? (He, as in the guy that was just sentencd to 10 years) Either the orders were given and he executed them to the best of his abilities, or the orders were not clear and he acted out of line. Either way, the phrase "following orders" should at least indicate higher people involved. Certainly there were officers involved in the detention of POWs.

    It seems all the accused could say when being told to think rationaly while involved in a war. Something that seems like a paradox to me.
  23. Mr44 VIP

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 6
    In the case of Nuremburg the orders were only unlawful because Germany lost the war. The accused haven't lost the war yet. Abu Garhib seems to have occured due to a lack of specific orders and adequete supervision.

    However, according to procedure, this really isn't true.

    The UCMJ doesn't change based on the conflict. The Hague treaty doesn't modify itself according to the situtation. They are the constants that can be applied equally, no matter the situation.

    The key is that soldiers are still responsible for their own actions.

    For example, I believe Spc. Garner when he said that CIA interrogators told him to do some of the things he did. During his trial, he admitted that he knew a lot of what he was doing was wrong, yet he continued to carry out the requests.

    The UCMJ doesn't apply to the CIA, but it definately applies to him. As soon as the CIA directed him to break his oath of service, and engage in behavior that violated the UCMJ, he should have refused the request and sent it up the chain of command.

    When he didn't, that's when the focus switched from the people giving the orders back to him, and where the excuse of "I was just following orders" invalidated itself.



  24. redxavier Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jan 23, 2003
    star 4
    The UCMJ doesn't change based on the conflict. The Hague treaty doesn't modify itself according to the situtation. They are the constants that can be applied equally, no matter the situation.

    If only this was as simple as you make it out to be. War could not be more muddled. It's an absurd paradox that there are 'rules' of war precisely because of this. Of course the issue is not what law... but whose law.

    The United States of America has not, and will not, ratify its signature on the International Criminal Court treaty. Why not? Many reasons, most of them inane.

    The problem is in the details. What exactly consistutes a crime in any given situation given that every situation is different.

    The Hague and Geneva conventions are basic, open and out of date. That's precisely why the world created the ICC. The problem was that it's harder than it looks to get more than a 100 nations to agree on precisely the same set of rules, and doubly difficult with 100 different interpretations of the language used to describe those rules.

    It's tragic, but that's what the problem is, particularly in a war. One nations approach to how far they're willing to go to defend their families is different to anothers. Some have weapons that others don't. Some have more limited resources etc.

    So even beyond that problem, how do you define a war crime/crime against humanity given a murky issue?

    Simple example. A nation uses a nerve gas to:

    1) drive an invading force from its homeland.
    2) eliminate the administrative/civilian structure of the invading force

    3) help defend a neighbour state defend itself against a third party on that neighbour's soil.

    4) eliminate the defensive forces of an enemy state in an aggressive assault
    5) eliminate the government of an enemy state in an aggressive assault

    6) eliminate a section of the population that are causing unrest/threaten to overthrow the government
    7) eliminate a section of the population on racial or religious grounds


    The point of the above is to really illustrate that the use of a particular weapon, in this case a terrible and destructive one, and whether it was a war crime/crime against humanity depends greatly on the situation in which it was used.

    Therefore there are no constants. The language of the treaties allows for that deliberately. I only wish it were a simple case of 'can't do this ever at any time' (but then what precisely is 'this' and who gets to decide?)

    In each of the above case, would the course of action be appropiate for the situation?

    Right, so what does the guy on the side of the nerve gas say? Both you and the other guy are going to interprete the situation (the crime/war) in a positive to negative way (you're the good guy and he's the bad guy)

    Defining a crime in war is difficult because of the invested interests of both parties. If a nation orders its troops to do something illegal, that order is inherently legal for them at that same time and place (they've made it legal). A government can always get away with breaking their own laws... they made them... they can change/amend/overrule them!

    Take a genocidal war (pick one, there are quite a few and they stretch back well beyond everyone's favourite card-carrying dictator). The killing of an ethnic group is effectively made legal by the authorities of the killers. State-sponsored war crimes... you know it is still legal to kill a Welshman with a longbow (and other conditions) in some places in the UK?

    So if a German soldier obeys an order to shoot a jew in the head and he obeys it, he can't be held accountable under the Third Reich because it's not an unlawful order (morally wrong yes, but we're talking legal). After all, whoever gets tried and hanged for doing something that is morally wrong and legal?

    Take firing into an unarmed crowd (or the killing of civilians in general). Classic case of a war crime, one could argue approach it and talk about 'necessary force', the perpetrator can always justify the action in some way, and therefore escape punity
  25. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 8, 1998
    star 6
    In line with this topic in the news today was a SS Nazi General who refused a direct order from Hitler himself to capture and kidnap the Pope during the WW2.

    Remember this wasn't and Army general but a SS General, the most loyal and evil of the Nazi bunch. Yet he refused that order, I found that very interesting.


    Supposedly when first posed with Eichmann and Hitler's Final Solution, Heinrich Himmler balked. But as the story goes Hitler berated and humiliated him and threatened to fire him so naturally Himmler went thorugh with it.

    Up to that point everyone had been pretty inhumane anyway but the point is that humans are a chaotic bunch. A serial killer could have deep reservations about cheating on his taxes, a family physician could have a pretty mean coke addiction. There are, quite simply, no rules in either the realms of what is considered good or evil.
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.