top-rated free essay

MY LAI MASSACRE AS A RESULT OF OBEDIENCE TO AUTHORITY. Relates to stanly milgrams experiments and how authority play a part in genocide killings.

By blazinprbo Apr 15, 2002 1235 Words
MY LAI MASSACRE AS A RESULT OF OBEDIENCE TO AUTHORITY

The Vietnam controversy made many people feel at distress. It was never considered a "war," although that is exactly what it was. The My Lai Massacre in Vietnam was one of the many atrocities of that war. There is an unquestionable connection between Milgram's "Obedience to Authority" and the My Lai Massacre.

According to Kelman & Hamilton, "Unquestioning obedience has been the cause of such disasters as the My Lai massacre and the Holocaust. People need to resist the dangerous web of influence from strong personalities in fields such as politics, religion and the mass media who become the objects of their idolatry. To become less susceptible to the irrational persuasive power of such personalities, individuals should develop a sense of self-respect and practice critical thinking" (Kelman & Hamilton). In cases such as the My Lai Massacre, the soldiers were not just following the thoughts of a politician or religious figure. They followed their military leader, the same person they counted on for leadership and survival.

"Soldiers are trained to always follow orders, never question orders (When I say jump, u you say how high). But that belief is somewhat erroneous, the charge to the soldier is to obey any lawful order given (Schwalbe). "Absolute obedience, although not wholeheartedly embraced in official military pronouncements, is nevertheless unanimously praised in combat context (Peppers). Some military scholars call the modern version of military discipline "enlightened obedience." Enlightened obedience

springs from a belief on the part of the subordinate that his superior's orders are authoritative and valid (Peppers)."

A classic example of the power of authoritative factors is provided by Stanley Milgram's study on obedience to authority. College students from Yale University were asked to participate in an experiment to test the effects of punishment on learning. They were willing to continue administering what they thought were increasingly higher levels of shocks to another subject (actually an actor) simply because the experimenter (Milgram) said to do so. The results, in fact, were so unbelieveable that they made Milgram one of the most famous social psychologist. About 65 percent of the subjects continued to obey the experimenter to the end of the experiment even when they thought the victim was getting dangerous levels of electric shock, and even when he asked them to stop

So what exactly does the My Lai Massacre have to do with Milgram's experiment? The My Lai Massacre of 1968, in which a company of American soldiers poured automatic rifle fire into groups of unarmed villagers, killing perhaps 500 people, many of them women and children" (Hammer). Those soldiers were obeying orders from a superior officer.

"It passed without notice when it occurred in mid-March 1968. Yet the brief blood bath at My Lai, a hamlet in Viet Cong-infested territory 335 miles northeast of Saigon, may yet have an impact on the war. According to accounts that suddenly appeared on TV and in the world press last week, a company of 60 or 70 U.S. infantrymen had

entered My Lai early one morning and destroyed houses, livestock and all the inhabitants that they could find in a brutal operation that took less than 20 minutes. When it was over, the Vietnamese dead totaled at least 100 men, women and children, and perhaps many more, only 25 or so escaped, because they lay hidden under the fallen bodies of others. (Schawlbe) Military men said that stories of what happened at My Lai are correct. If so, the incident ranks as the most serious atrocity yet attributed to American troops" (Hammer).

Isard said, "I see men who obeyed the leaders of their country, then lost themselves". The My Lai Massacre was planned. "Planned, how could it have been planned? A recon patrol, perhaps, was planned, maybe even a search and destroy mission: Burn the villages; interrogate the villagers, and all that. But a massacre? Strategies are planned. Brutalities just happen" (Isard).

"Obedience to Authority" Stanley Milgram described the "agentic shift in which an individual attributes responsibility for his or her actions to a person in the position of authority." In the My Lai Massacre the men felt it was their duty to open fire on the village. They were given orders to do just that. There was no questioning of orders from Cally, their superiour. The soldiers must have done as they were told, or incur sever consequences. Soldiers are taught from their first moments in Boot Camp that orders must be obeyed.

The way in which the My Lai Massacre was particularly a case of over obedience to the military, is that the men that committed the massacre were ordered to do so.

They did not decide on their own to destroy a bunch of people. They were following orders from military authoritative figures to destroy My Lai. What does this mean? Its clearly a case of over obedience to military authority. The men had two choices. They could obey a command and kill hundreds of innocent people, or they could disobey a command and face a possible consequences from the courts. In actuality they didn't have a choice. many of the soldiers in Vietnam were there because of the draft, they however in their eyes, served their country to their best of their knowledge. They went bravely into battle and they did what had to be done. In the case of the My Lai Massacre, they were following orders just as they had done in many other times in the war. Only this time, the orders were to kill hundreds of villagers, not the Viet Cong, not the enemy. There were women and children in that village. They were gunned down mercilessly. For what reason? They were ordered to do so.

The soldiers had an obligation, a duty to obey their superiors. That is what makes the military so successful. Soldiers not ask questions; they merely obey orders. In this

instance the orders went too far. Hundreds of innocent people were killed in the name of following orders. Is this any less an atrocious because the men were ordered to fire on the village of My Lai? No. Were the men doing this for personal gain? No. Were they doing it out of hatred or in defense? No. Many of the people in the village were women and children. The soldiers had nothing against those people In this instance the village of My Lai was a case of death by over obedience of the American army. Was what they did right or wrong? In the eyes of most people, including the participants, the action was wrong, but they could not be faulted because they were simply following orders.

Works Cited

Hammer, Richard One Morning in the War: The tragedy at Son My. Coward-McCann NY 1970

Isard, Walter., ed. Vietnam: Issues and Alternatives. Schenkman . Cambridge MA: 1969

Kelman, Herbert C.; Hamilton, Lee V. Crimes of Obedience. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1989

Milgram, Stanley. "The Perils of Obedience." Writing and Reading Across the

Curriculum. 7th ed. By Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 2000. 343-355

Miller, Heather. "Stanley Milgram"

http://muskingum.edu/~psychology/psycweb/history/milgram.htm

Peppers, Donald A. "War Crimes and Induction: A Case for Selective Nonconscientious

Objection." Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 2. (Winter, 1974),

pp.129-166. JSTOR Middlesex County College Library, Edison. 29 Nov. 2000 http://www.jstor.org

Schwalbe, David. "The My Lai Massacre." American History. 1998 http://americanhistory.about.com/homework/americanhistory/library/weekly/aa031798.htm

Cite This Document

Related Documents

  • Obedience to Authority

    ...Obedience to Authority No human social organization can function without some degree of obedience to authority, as the alternative would be anarchy leading to total chaos. Hence we find some sort of a hierarchy in both the most underdeveloped and the most civilized societies where certain individuals exercise authority over others....

    Read More
  • Obedience with Authority

    ...writes about how the affects of group pressure can alter a person’s decision. During the investigation, Asch describes how everyone in the group agrees with the answer that they have chosen except for one in which the author calls him the “dissenter (Asch 656)”. Solomon Asch stated that the person who disagreed to the answer quickly became...

    Read More
  • Obedience to Authority

    ...CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION 1.1 Title of the Research The title of this research is “Obedience of soldiers to authority depicted in Saving Private Ryan novel by Max Allan Collins” 1.2 Field and Object of the study The field of study in this research is literature while the object of this research is novel entitled Saving Private Ryan by ...

    Read More
  • Obedience to Authority

    ...Obedience to Authority To what extent can humans’ morality be corrupted by environment, or are all humans cruel by nature? If an authority figure told another person to jump off a bridge, our response would be to reject his command and tell him to jump, but what would happen if an authority told somebody to execute a worthless criminal for ...

    Read More
  • Milgram's Study of Obedience to Authority

    ...Stanley Milgram is a famous psychologist who focused his studies on authority and peoples reaction and obedience to it. His famous experiment and it's results were groundbreaking in psychology, surprising both psychologists and regular people alike. First I will discuss the reason for Milgrims study of obedience to authority. Then I will expl...

    Read More
  • Stanley Milgram Obedience Experiment

    ... Stanley Milgram Obedience Experiment One of the most famous studies of obedience in psychology was carried out by Stanley Milgram (1963). Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, conducted an experiment focusing on the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience. He examined justifications fo...

    Read More
  • The Social Influences of the My Lai Massacre

    ... The Social Influences of the My Lai Massacre Tabitha Harkness University of the Rockies Abstract Humanistic theory states that in all people there is a basis for goodness and respect for other beings. However, though there is a basis, it is not always at play. Human beings also have the propensity and the capacity, but more ...

    Read More
  • Milgrams Obedience Experiment

    ...In the 1960s, Milgram, then a professor at Yale, recruited ordinary people through a newspaper ad offering them money to help in a project purporting to improve human memory. In Milgrams experiment two people come into the laboratory where they are told they will be taking part in a study of memory and learning. Milgram was interested in how peo...

    Read More

Discover the Best Free Essays on StudyMode

Conquer writer's block once and for all.

High Quality Essays

Our library contains thousands of carefully selected free research papers and essays.

Popular Topics

No matter the topic you're researching, chances are we have it covered.