Military Personnel Should Disobey the Civilian Leadership When Being Issued Immoral Orders

I must concede civilian supremacy has long been an illusion in this country. The military-political-elite complex has long had interchangeable parts and whether, for example, Gen Hayden is director of C.I.A. or a "civilian" is in charge of this terrorist organization is of little importance. Rear Admiral Sidney Souers, Lieutenant General Hoyt Vandenberg, Rear Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter, General Walter Bedell Smith, Vice Admiral William Raborn Jr. and Admiral Stansfield Turner all were D.C.I. It makes no difference in its mission and tactics whether a military "man" or civilian runs it. The agency should be abolished; it serves no useful purpose to enhance America's vital interests and makes us less secure.

Yet I want to address the role of the military in creating and, at least by all appearances, being asked to carry out orders from the civilian leadership: The Joint Chiefs of Staff should have resigned or withheld their support when faced with a decision to implement or support the commencement of hositilities in Iraq. CENTCOM, that frequently leaves hits on my blog, should have refused to deploy or train soldiers, sailors etc for this mission of imperialism and dishonour.

The military cannot have it both ways. They claim they follow orders of the civilian leadership and yet they demand and do play a role in decision making. Mr Bush has repeatedly made this point and the military must be assessed in terms of policy and not merely tactics deployed in implementing the policy. Secretary Rumsfeld as noted below, was criticised by senior military officers for not including them in military decision making which I believe is a flight of fancy.

It is well to remember the Principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal, 1950 that were codified after the Second World War. Prinicple IV declared the following:

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a MORAL CHOICE was in fact possible to him. [Emphasis added.]

At the Nuremberg war crimes trials, which appeared to be based upon ex post facto application of laws, the excuse of German leaders that they were following orders was not accepted as legitimate. This principle was intended as a warning and an effort to codify the practice that individuals, even within a chain of command, are responsible for their actions. This principle was clearly applied to both civilian and military nazi leaders and I am applying it here to American military leaders.

It's disheartening to think that the senior military leadership lack conscience, scruples and morality. While individuals may not fit this opprobium as I assume they take care of their families and interact appropriately with friends, as a class they do. We are involved in one of the most immoral displays of power since the development of the nation state in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia. We invaded a nation for political reasons in which deliberate lying about national interest was used as a ruse. We have utterly made miserable the Iraqi people and caused 100,000s of deaths and injured persons. How can we get away with this? Why was there not one general or admiral who resigned in protest or who disobeyed the SecDef or the Commander in Chief? Yes this may have created a constitutional crisis. Yes it might have created instability if it were carried out en masse but what is the purpose of our having this country if we cannot undermine or ignore actions that are grave threats to international peace and security?

When I see a man, rarely a woman I might add, in uniform with stars on the shoulders, and medals on the chest, I am unmoved and unimpressed by that. I received a couple when I was in uniform–although they were NOT combat medals–and they represent a kinda video game mentality to kill and then run up points. I question their integrity and morality in participating in mass murder in an unjust war. Yes, it is true several retired senior generals, as I have chronicled on this blog, have criticised Secretary Rumsfeld and called for his resignation. I asserted then and repeat now that their argumentation was over tactics not ethics and so my point remains. Who among the Chiefs or in senior levels of command authority will begin to ponder the need to end this war by any means necessary but excluding acts of violence?

Loyalty to country; obedience to superiors; being a "good soldier" does not have unlimited virtue. A subordinate has a duty to decline acting in a manner or accepting an order that is unlawful. I hope we can elevate the discussion that senior military officials have a responsibility to be moral and to act in a manner that is consistent with international law and the laws of war. Immoral actions and illegal acts from torture to invasion to rendition to kidnappings to civilian targeted killings cannot honour or add to the reputation of the military. Think outside the box and demand an end to a war that is eviscerating your services, causing global revulsion against America's military and killing so many innocent babies and civilians who have done NOTHING to us. Just a few examples are Falluja and Haditha. What are you doing in their country?

"Remember your humanity and forget the rest."

This entry was posted in Iraq, Af-Pak War. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply