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Obedience At All Costs Essay

1481 words - 6 pages

Following orders unquestionably is one of the traits that the military wants their soldier to have; this quality, however, has caused controversy throughout time. Rob Reiner captures this struggle in his film A Few Good Men. In this film, two men, Lance Corporal Dawson and Private First Class Downey are charged with the murder of fellow Marine, Private First Class Santiago. Dawson and Downey claim that they did not commit a crime but rather, were following orders to perform a “Code Red”. A “Code Red” is defined as a disciplinary action performed inside the Marines by Marines. Stanley Milgram’s article, “The Perils of Obedience” delves into the issue of obedience. His experiment consisted of subjects being told to electrocute other people by an authority figure and observing what occurred. Another article “The My Lai Massacre: A Military Crime of Obedience” by Herbert Kelman and V. Lee Hamilton discusses soldiers who follow orders unconditionally. Kelman and Hamilton discuss the case of soldier, Lieutenant Calley with his court case concerning the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War. Questions are raised constantly about why someone would follow orders that are against his own morals.
Many people believe one of the leading factors for someone obeying unethical orders is the one issuing the order. In A Few Good Men Dawson and Downey obey an order to harm another marine knowing that it is wrong and they will not enjoy it. Downey states that the code red was ordered by a higher ranking officer and thus should be followed to the letter (Reiner). Kelman and Hamilton would see him following a superior order that was issued by an authoritative officer (Kelman 271). However, Milgram would say that Dawson and Downey’s obedience to such an aggressive order was due to their latent, carnal, and aggressive natures (Milgram 219). The use of superior orders creates a barrier between the ones issuing the order and the blame for the criminal behavior. Many military personnel believe that certain aspects of the military should stay inside the wall of the military. When Colonel Jessep shouts, “You can’t handle the truth,” he demonstrates that civilians and outsiders of the military would not be able to grasp why certain actions are taking place and the needs for such action (Reiner).
Soldiers in the military know the consequences to not following an order issued by a superior. According to Ron Powers, a man with 22 years of service and has been awarded many medals, states in his article “To Obey or To Not Obey” that soldiers are trained from recruitment to deployment to follow orders unquestionably. Soldiers are also told that willfully disobeying orders can result in a dishonorable discharge, or in a time of war, death (Powers). This leaves soldiers a minimal amount of ability to allow himself to follow his own morals. The thought of disobeying an order will usually bring disgust to the face of a soldier. This is because a soldier is merely performing...

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