To Obey or Not to Obey: Unethical Military Orders
SOC 120 : Introduction to Ethics and Social Responsibility
Instructor : Stacey Hiles
February 27th 2012
In a military environment following orders is essentially the top priority. Insubordination is generally defined as a willful or intentional failure to obey a lawful and reasonable request of a supervisor.1 Following orders shows that the organization is well structured and disciplined. Sometimes though an order comes down from above that you may feel is not ethical or it goes against your standard thought of what is right or wrong. Here I plan to discuss my thoughts on this topic as well as supporting my claim that through the use of utilitarianism, a solution to this issue could be reached.
In the recent past the image of our military has been tarnished in perspective of the public eye as a result of some officers not following ethical conduct of the force. They believe that their thoughts and ideas about what can come from their orders are the only thing that matters and what you feel shouldn’t matter because you are a subordinate and should follow orders. With that said I believe that there should be an ethical process involved when making certain decisions. I also believe that all subordinates should let their superiors know what they think of certain common situations so there is no need to question someone’s ethics when there isn’t time to do so.
In the civilian workforce people are ordered by their boss do take part in unethical practices all the time. A lot of the time these people obey the order because they are in fear of losing their job or some other repercussion. There are laws that are supposed to circumvent these actions and protect the civilian worker. That be told, in the military there are certain “laws” that
govern disobeying an unethical order but most of the time no one knows about them. Almost everyone believes that when an order is handed down they have to obey it or risk court martial. I think that if they were to implement a small course on obeying orders into the new recruits training then a lot of the problems with insubordination can be avoided. Military ethics is the concept of proper conduct of military personnel in military activities.2 There are rules against a subordinate following an unethical order from a superior. The problem here is that because of operational readiness you are expected to follow all orders given to you from a superior. If you feel that the order given to you is unethical you now run into a moral dilemma. Do you follow the order and forget your morals or do you follow your ethics and risk insubordination? As stated before you are expected to follow the orders but most of the time you can talk to your officer in charge and maybe come to an understanding before this matter of ethics versus orders arises. Making this knowledge known prior to any heated situation can help your superior make better decisions on and off the battle field. This will then increase battle readiness and response.
I suggest you pull your officer aside when you report for duty or even before you deploy and talk one on one with them. Explain that you do not find this morally acceptable or that unethical and then the two of you can come to a conclusion that will be beneficial to you, your officer, and the mission. This way when the heat of the moment comes and a situation arises, your superior has an understanding of what you believe already and can base his decision on this. This use of utilitarianism will help everyone in the long run because now everyone can be happy Military Orders4
with the outcome. Also there will be no insubordination through this course of action. This makes for a better image of the superior officer and the subordinate. Now don’t get me wrong, there are times that come when you have...