The Ethics and Consequences
William S. Brown
Introduction to Ethics and Social Responsibility SOC120
JULY 22, 2013
Following Military Orders
The Ethics and Consequences
All military units depend on discipline and good order in order to function smoothly in order to accomplish the mission, paramount of these disciplines is the ability give an order, and to have that order carried out, however there are orders that are of such ethical dubiousness that they can and should be thoroughly questioned. In the following pages of this paper, the writer will attempt to show several ethical scenarios, encountered by a soldier, and how using various ethical theories, the soldier would handle them. Military members who fail to obey the lawful orders of their superiors risk serious consequences. Article 90 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) makes it a crime for any military member to willfully disobey the orders of a superior commissioned officer. Article 91 makes it a crime to willfully disobey a superior Noncommissioned or Warrant Officer. Article 92 makes it a crime to disobey any lawful order (the disobedience does not have to be "willful" under this article). In fact, under Article 90, during times of war, a military member who willfully disobeys a superior commissioned officer can be sentenced to death. Seems like good motivation to obey any order you are given, right? Nope. These articles require the obedience of LAWFUL orders. An order, which is unlawful, not only does not need to be obeyed, but obeying such an order can result in criminal prosecution of the one who obeys it. Military courts have long held that military members are accountable for their actions even while following orders -- if the order was illegal. Powers, R. (2013)
The first situation we will examine is the Nuremberg trials, where the ethics of following orders was quite possibly the most famous instance in history. November 20, 1945, marked the start of the Nuremberg trials that lasted thru April 13, 1949. During the trials, numerous defendants used the excuse of "I was only following orders", further using the rational that the orders given were for the greater good and were necessary to keep the peace. (History, U.S., nd) In the case of Nuremberg, the Utilitarian (Nazi) theorist would argue that with over two hundred million people living under the control of the Reich, what happened to twenty million people was acceptable, because more people benefited than did not. The Deontologist, however, would argue that morally there is no way to justify the crimes committed, whether a soldier was following orders or not, because you are depriving another of their right to live and be free, simply because of their race, religion, politics, etc. Virtue Ethics would argue that the soldier or individual would have refused to follow the order, regardless of consequence, because it would be the virtuous thing to do. Oskar Schindler is an excellent example of Virtue Ethics, even though in the beginning Schindler was all about making money in the later part World War Two he used his entire fortune to save as many of his Jewish workers that he could. At the wars end due to Oskar Schindlers efforts saved an estimated twelve hundred Jews and spent his last penny keeping as many of his "children" alive. (Bulow, L., 2011-2013). In 1972, the trial of Lieutenant William Calley ended in his conviction for the murder of civilians at the village of My Lai, South Vietnam. All through his trial, Lt. Calley claimed that he was following the orders of those higher in the chain of command. (Wanke, P.C., et al., September1972). Lt Calley was the only conviction to come from the massacre at My Lai, With Lt. Calleys' immediate commander, Captain Ernest Medina, acquitted and Calleys' Battalion Commander Colonel Henderson, were acquitted.