Free «Military Orders that May be Unethical» Essay Sample


This paper is based on the issue of following the Military Orders that appears to be unethical. Obeying or declining to obey these orders depends on the kind of order that has been issued and these military members do it at their own risk. Either way one may land into trouble by either agreeing to follow an order that is unlawful or declining to obey an order that that is lawful according to the decision that the superiors and the court will settle for regarding the legality of the order. This paper will discuss the manner to determine the legality of an order and when to obey or decline to obey an order.

Identification of specific the ethical issue and the ethical problems it presents

Every time one is enlisted to join the Military, whether it is on active duty or reserve, it is mandatory that they take an oath in which they swear to defend the constitution of their country and to obey orders from the president and the officers that are appointed over them. One of the major reasons why this is done is because the military effectiveness and discipline are founded on the compliance to different orders.

New recruits are trained to obey with immediate effect and with no question, the orders that come from their superiors, and this begins right away from the day they set their feet into the military camp. The members of the military who fail to obey the military orders from their superiors are considered to be risking a great deal punishment. In most of the constitutions of different countries, it is a crime to disobey the orders of a superior officer willingly and this carries some serious effects that include death. For example, in the united states, under the Article 90, in the times of war, any military member who is found guilty of willful disobedient to the superior commissioned officer can face a death sentence (Olsthoom, 2010).

This may appear too many appear to be a good motivation to obeying any order as issued but this is definitely not the case. The articles in the constitution call for the obedience of the LAWFUL orders. As a result it is should be noted and the military people should keep in mind that not every order falls within the confines of the LAW. Only the lawful orders should be followed and to be able to determine the legality of different orders as they are being issued requires the military officers to be conversant with the provisions of their constitution. It should be clear that any order that contravenes the law of the land should not be followed and any person who follows such an order may find himself facing the same government he or she works work when being prosecuted in a court of law. According to the military courts, it is clear that the members of the military are held accountable for all their actions despite the fact that they acted while following orders from their superiors and this applies as far as the order which they were following was against the law. The common phrase that, "I was acting under superior orders", which has been used in several cases as a legal defense does not apply any longer (Federal Bar Association, 1998).

For example, a case involving an American Military officer who used the infamous phrase of, "I was acting under superior orders" was first recorded in the year 1799. A law was passed by the Congress permitting the seizing of ships that were bound to all French ports during the War with French. Nevertheless, in writing an order that was meant for the United States Navy to undertake the mentioned course of action, President John Adams wrote that the ships belonging to the Navy had the authority to grasp all the vessels that were bound to or coming from any of the French Port.  Acting in accordance with the order that was issued by the US President, one of the American Navy Captains seized a Danish ship that had passed through the French Port. As a result of this, the captain was sued by the owners of this vessel in the United States Maritime Court with an account of trespass.

It was after casing that it became clear that such orders from the senior people in government officials should only follow an order as long as it falls within the jurisdiction of the law of the land. This was the reason the case was ruled in favor of the owners of the owners of the ship and the supreme court of the United States upheld this decision despite the fact the captains argued that the seizing of the ship was done in pursuant to the presidential order. The Supreme Court required the Navy commanders to "act at their own risk" when executing such orders that are considered illegal though they are presidential orders (D,Amato, 2007).

The most famous case in regard to execution of orders that are actually illegal is probably was case of the court-martial as well as being convicted for premeditated murder  involving William Calley, a First Lieutenant as a result of the responsibility he beared in the Lai Massacre on 16th March 1968. Calley,s defensive mechanism of arguing that he did what he did under orders from above was rejected by the military court and he ended up being sentenced to life imprisonment. Nevertheless, there was an intense public outcry in the US because this controversial trial had been much publicized and as a result President Nixon had to grant William Calley clemency. Calley spent some three and half years under house arrest and ultimately was released through an order by one of the federal judges (D,Amato, 2007).

It was only recent in 2004, when the United States Millitaly opened some court-martials for a number of soldiers who were among the troops that were deployed to Iraq and they had to answer charges of mistreat of detainees and prisoners. A good number of them claimed that they were acting in accordance with the orders issued by the military intelligence officers. However, this was unfortunate because their defense could not hold water based on the fact that mistreat of prisoners is criminal offence both under the Uniform Code of Military Justice as well as the International Law (Friedrich, 1993).

The United States military law states clearly that the military members should be held accountable, if the course of executing their official duties, they commit a criminal offence under the disguise of being obedient to orders from above. The law also does not have a provision for the obedience of orders that are considered to be illegal. Nevertheless, the major controversy arises based on the fact that, a military will only decline to obey such orders at his or her own risk (Friedrich, 1993).

At the end of the day, it is not the military member to decide whether the order that has been issued is against the law or illegitimate, it is upon the military seniors as well as the courts to decide whether this was so. For example, a case involving Michael New in the year 1995. The Spec-4 was one of the military officers that were serving in a Batalion of the third Infantry Division of the United States army in Germany (Schweinfurt). It happened that Spec-4 and other military officials were deployed to Macedonia as part of peacekeeping mission assignment, the troop was ordered to put on the United Nations arm bands and Helmets. The other members of the troop complied with the order but Michael New refused insisting that this was an illegal order though his superiors did not agree with him. At the end, the court-martial were not in agreement with New and as a result, he was found guilty of going against a lawful order and was discharged after being found guilty.  This conviction was upheld by the both the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces as well as the Army Court of Criminal Appeal.

Another controversial order is one to that involves a dangerous mission. The military can actually order one to undertake what can be concerned as a "Suicide Mission". In the year 2004 at around October, The United States army made an announcement that it was embarking on some investigation that touched on a number of platoon members belonging to the 343rd Quartermaster Company which had its basis in Rock Hill that is located in South Carolina. The reason for carrying out investigations on these people was because they gad declined to transport some goods as supplies to one of the most dangerous regions in Iraq. According to the information that some of the family members gave was that the members that had been commissioned to undertake this exercise thought and knew that this was an extremely dangerous region to travel to and that the vehicles they were using were not armored enough. This being one of the most dangerous regions in the entire of Iraq, the members mentioned feared for their lives and this is the reason they failed to turn up for the pre-departure briefing that was meant to prepare the entire team for this particular mission (Olsthoom, 2010).  

The major question that arises as a result of the people that have been mentioned is that, should these people be punished? Well, according to the way the military conducts its business, the truth is that, these people can actually be punished. According to the military an order that requires one to perform a dangerous mission is indeed lawful due to the fact that this order does not require one to commit a criminal offence. In fact this can be a serious offence if it is discovered that it was one of the soldiers who influenced others to disobey the order. This according to Article 94 of the Manual for Courts-Martial is a Crime of Rebellion. This is a crime that carries a death penalty even it is what can be referred to as the peace times (Federal Bar Association, 1998).

Drawing on various sources, explain how one of the classical theories (utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics) would resolve the problem.

The classical theory that has been selected is the utilitarianism classical theory whose basis is the ability to envisage the penalty of a given action. To the people who believe in this theory, the choice that results to increased benefits to the greatest number of people is the choice that is the choice that is considered to be right ethically. This is one of the theories that may be used to develop a resolution of the stated problems that arises in regard to the adherence to the military orders.

As discussed in earlier in this paper, there are so many situations that the military officials or even their superiors find themselves in a fix regarding the determination of a legal or illegal order. In most cases there is not enough time to decide whether an order is legal or illegal immediately it has been issued because most of the orders usually calls for urgency in their implementation. There are situations where the military officials find themselves in a fix in the field or in the course of doing their duties when they are issued with orders that are not easy to tell whether they are legal or not legal and it is at such times that the utilitarian theory of ethics may be applied to determine the course of action to be taken by the military officer so as to be on the safe side (Olsthoom, 2010).  

The same case applies to the superiors and also the Jury in the court-martials. Once in a while, cases arise in different departments of the military regarding the decline or the execution of orders that may be either legal or illegal. When such case reaches the superior officials or the jury incase of a court, it is upon them to determine whether the mentioned order is either legal or illegal. In such a situation, the application of the utilitarianism classical theory can be of much help based on the fact that it can assist these people in settling for the best decision regarding the issue at hand or the case that has been brought before them (Friedrich, 1993).

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In the mentioned cases the utilitarianism classical theory can be applied based on the fact that one can be able to settle for the option which gives more benefits and to a greater number of the parties involved. In this case, some of the cases that have been mentioned regarding individuals who declined to obey some military orders were ruled in accordance to the utilitarianism classical theory. However, in regard to the obedient of the illegal orders, it should have been the duty of the people involved to apply the utilitarianism classical theory to determine whether a certain order is legal or not so as to play safe. This because such orders ought to be neglected and this can be easily settled for if one applies the use of utilitarianism classical theory to decline the order.

Contrasting the response given with the perspective brought to the issue by ethical egoism

This response can be contrasted with the perspective of ethical egoism. This is the authoritarian principle that all people have to act as guided by own self-interest. There should be nothing that should be stated in regard to in regard to what motives others should act from. This is not a theory based on the fact that it does not generalize to other people apart from self. One cannot be able to recommend personal ethical egoism to other people for a mere reason that this will not be a reflection of the self interest of the person involved (Friedrich, 1993).

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As discussed earlier in the case of the utilitarianism classical theory, the personal ethical egoism is a total contrast based on the fact that it does not depend on the benefits of the choice and the number of beneficiaries but rather on the self interest of the person involved. Though this has been applied by most of the military officials in regarding to following of orders, this is not advisable based on the fact when it comes to the issues of the military, one has to neglect the personal interest and follow the stipulated laws, rules and regulations (Khalil,2010). The military is governed by both the constitution of the land as well as other internal rules that must be followed. In fact, if there is a body of in which the people's personal interests count less, it is the military based on the fact that, most of the orders that are issued by the superiors goes against the wishes of many people.

For example, as mentioned early, there are military orders that require people to engage in very dangerous encounters that may even harm their own lives and affect their families. If the military officials were to follow the ethical egoism, a lot of the officers would not agree to obey such orders though they are considered to be legal and this would result to majority of the military members being punished for failing to comply with the orders as they are issued (Olsthoom, 2010). The truth is that most of the orders that the members of the military are forced to obey based on the oath they have taken and the various constitutional provision are indeed against their personal wishes because they are challenging in nature and this is the reason why the ethical egoism is not an advisable principle to follow for the military officers.

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Based on these illustrations, it is evident that when it comes to the Military Orders, obeying or declining to obey depends on the kind of order that has been issued. It is evident that the military obey or even fail to obey orders at their own peril. Either way one may land into trouble by either agreeing to follow an order that is unlawful or declining to obey an order that that is lawful according to the decision that the superiors and the court will settle for regarding the legality of the order (Prakash, 2008). However, it should be noted that any order that contravenes the law of the land or that requires one to commit crime is indeed unlawful and should be declined.  On the other hand, any order that requires an army official to undertake an army duty is lawful irrespective of whether it is dangerous or not provided there is no commissioning of crime.


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