View Full Version : Chad's thread got me wondering ...

08-04-2010, 02:44 PM
All civil servants have to deal with this to one degree or another, but it seems to me that the stakes are a lot higher for people in the military.

The elected government of the day sets policy direction, and then the civil service has a responsibility to make it so, to the best of their ability. To bring management and implementation skills to bear, to make a success of what is arguably the will of the people.

I remember a staff member in a Social Services ministry, years ago, whose job was to cut the number of people on the welfare rolls by 50%, and cut the remainder's benefits by (IIRC) about 15%. She went home weeping, night after night, because as a former caseworker she had strong opinions about the consequences for the clients, but she had a mandate to follow the politicians' direction. She did, and tried to do so in a way that minimized harm (as she saw it).

What if you're a soldier, though. And you fundamentally disagree with the policy direction that's got you shooting at somebody. It's one thing to cut somebody's welfare benefits, it's quite another to call in an airstrike on their neighbourhood.

As a civilian civil servant, you can quit, when you're asked to do something which would make you unable to look yourself in the eye. That's not always an option for the military.

I have a lot of respect for the folks I know who serve in the military, who in my experience are typically really competent, honest, straight-up people. But how do you work your brain to justify following orders with lethal consequences, which you think are misguided or plain wrong? What's the saw-off you make?

08-04-2010, 02:50 PM
You signed up for it and you follow orders or find another line of work.

08-04-2010, 02:56 PM
I struggled with that a little while back when I disagreed with some of our policy. After a bit of soul searching I really never came up with a clear concise decision. I did however realize that while I may disagree with some points of policy, and we all will at one point or another, that I was still serving the greater good (IMHO) and that as the saying goes my "was not reason why, but do and die".

We as soldiers are not policy makers, but rather policy enforcers and we have to trust our goverment to make good sound decisions. If we don't like their decisions we have our say in our vote and hope that others agree with us and so the change gets made.

I know this may not be the best answer, nor what you are looking for, but I am here for the ideal of the American way of life.


ps there are ways to get out of serving if you don't agree, but you have to be willing to pay the price

08-04-2010, 02:56 PM
Ephesians 5:11

One might also recall Solzhenitsyn's "Don't lie! Don't participate in lies! Don't support a lie!"


08-04-2010, 03:15 PM
Thanks Chad.

It's a question people have wrestled with forever - wasn't it in Henry V that Shakespeare had the Henry say on the night before a battle that "every man's duty is the King's - but every man's soul is his own." That is, we do follow orders, but we also must live with our own accounting.

It has always seemed to me that in the military, because the stakes are so much higher than in civilian life, a person's probably going to spend more time thinking through that accounting.

08-04-2010, 03:49 PM
I can feel for the weeping staff member you mentioned, who hadn't realized that she might end up with (figuratively) bloody hands (look at the elderly suicide rate; a 15% cut would devastate many of them.) Those "above" her, of course, don't see that as a consequence at all -- or are able to ignore it, "for the greater good". Like she did, we try our very best to avoid causing unintended consequences, but we know that they will happen.

This makes the betrayal by Manning and Assange, et al., especially painful.

Bobby of Tulsa
08-04-2010, 03:53 PM
It has been over forty years, so things might be a little different. I was told I could refuse an order if it was illegal or immoral, but when the shooting starts those things change. Just sayin.