Times When Disobeying A Direct Order Is The Right Thing To Do

By Greg Boudonck

Are there any times when a military soldier or officer should disobey a direct order?

Yes, but there are very few.

Some people assume that our military must follow along blindly and just do whatever their superiors order.

I am stepping into another highly controversial subject, so please understand that any views I state here are not necessarily the views of Part Time Commander.

The website is merely a medium and is not responsible for any statements I make.

So why am I bringing this subject to the surface?

A few days ago, my mate asked me if I would like to watch a movie on Netflix.

While I am busy, I did need a break and a movie sounded like a great idea.

Knowing that I write often about military subjects, she pulled a foreign military movie out of the lot.

It was titled The Siege of Jadotville.

I highly recommend that you watch this movie.

To give you just a brief synopsis, it is about a company of Irish soldiers who are missioned as a U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, Africa.

It took place in 1961 and was an intense situation.

Not actually disobeying direct orders, the Commander of this unit probably should have at one point.

I will not delve further, because it would ruin the movie for you.

In watching the movie, I considered times when soldiers or officers should disobey a direct order.

When a person enlists in the United States military, they are taught from day 1 that obeying the orders of superiors is absolutely mandatory.

Disobeying

Is there any times when disobeying a direct order is the right thing to do?

There is no talk of any reason that a soldier should ever disobey any order.

But when we raised our hands and took the oath:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The key here is that I will only obey orders according to regulations and the UCMJ.

If a superior is giving an order against the UCMJ or regulations, it is actually mandatory that the soldier refuse those orders.

But when a decision has to be made in a half blink of your eye, that decision can be difficult.

And, if you disobey a direct order, you are committing a crime under Article 90 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Some scenarios

#1

You are guarding a compound in Afghanistan.

A family is approaching and you see no weapons.

The new 2nd Lieutenant that just arrived 1 week ago tells you to shoot the woman.

You look at him with wonder and he claims that he spotted that she is wearing explosives under her garments.

Do you shoot her?

#2

You are on board a ship.

You are ordered daily for 2 weeks to make coffee for the Platoon leader and the NCO.

They make fun of your coffee making skills and joke about you.

It is getting frustrating and you do not believe you should have to make coffee for them.

Do you refuse?

#3

You are a soldier in a National Guard unit.

There is a major protest and your unit was deployed to it.

The Governor of the State is near your side and one of the protestors grabs the Governor and has a knife to his throat.

Somehow the Governor slips free and the assailant is flailing with the knife.

The Governor tells you to shoot the one who grabbed him.

Do you?

My opinions according to my research

Before I explain my thoughts on the scenarios, I must also tell you that many individuals who have been brought up on charges of war crimes have claimed they were just following orders.

That doesn’t fly in court.

So what would my decision be on the above scenarios?

#1: Of all 3 scenarios, this is probably the most difficult decision.

The fact that you are getting an order from a “green” Lieutenant who has not been in the country for very long plays a huge part in this.

Personally, I would not outright disobey.

I would tell him first that we should try to halt them.

You should start yelling for them to halt or you will shoot.

If they keep moving forward, I believe a warning shot near them would be proper.

If they keep moving, follow the order and hopefully she is wearing explosives.

#2: First off, coffee is not an absolute need of any superiors.

It is absolutely wrong that they are doing that but… Is it worth the possible punishment for not obeying?

I would make the coffee daily and smile doing so.

Ask the leaders how you can do it better for them.

Just suck it up and do it; it could be worse.

#3: This is actually the easiest answer.

Shoot the assailant!

He still has a weapon and he attacked your highest Superior.

The Governor ordered you to shoot, so you shoot without any questions.

Do you agree or disagree?

At the end of this post, there is a comment area.

I would like to hear from all whether you agree or disagree.

Some cases of question

One of the biggest cases is the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

Lieutenant William Calley was convicted while 20+ soldiers under his command were not.

They committed atrocities against civilians.

They followed orders that they should never have.

And there is Army Specialist Michael New who was told he was being sent from Germany to Macedonia as a U.N. Peacekeeper.

He refused on the grounds that he vowed to protect the U.S. and not be led by a foreign commander as part of the U.N.

He faced court martial and was convicted of disobedience and given a bad conduct discharge.

This is still a case that has people reeling.

Should soldiers agree to wear U.N. equipment and be led by other country’s military leaders?

Again, we would love to hear your views on that.

Final Thoughts

We have witnessed many military members who have done illegal acts maintain a defense that they were ordered to do so.

I rate that defense in the same degree as Mom used to tell me when I said that my friends are doing something, why can’t I?

The answer was always, “If your friends decide to jump off a bridge, will you too?”

While there are questionable circumstances normally a soldier knows what is right and what is wrong.

One huge example was the torturing of prisoners at Abu Gharib prison.

Defendants used the “I was ordered to” defense.

Sorry, but that does not fly in my book and it should not fly in the books of those who are passing judgment.

We would say that these terrorists may have committed unreal atrocities to members of our forces, but do 2 wrongs make a right?

We need to stand above that level of revenge and show the world that we are better than that.

When we bow to those levels, we create a hatred for us and we fuel the desire to attack and kill us more.

There are those certain times when disobeying a direct order is the right thing to do.

You may have to face serious consequences for doing so, but such is life.

I would say that isn’t it better to know you did right in your heart and with your Maker than to do wrong and make some officer happy.

That is my opinion, now feel free to give yours.

Thank you and have a great day!

References

  1. http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/5378
  2. http://www.omjp.org/ArtLarryDisobey.html
  3. http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=616532
  4. http://www.ucmj.us/sub-chapter-10-punitive-articles/892-article-92-failure-to-obey-order-or-regulation
  5. https://www.quora.com/Law-of-Armed-Conflict-When-and-under-what-rules-circumstances-can-a-US-soldier-disobey-a-direct-order-from-a-superior-officer-When-if-ever-can-they-not
  6. https://www.thebalance.com/military-orders-3332819
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