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Chain of command

  1. Aug 5, 2009 #1
    Random question: suppose in the military that a recruit is given a direct order to do something by his captain, which obviously goes against the captain's own orders. Is the recruit exempt from the punishment because he was just following his own orders?

    If he is not exempt from the punishment, then a recruit most constantly question his direct orders to make sure they are in line with the orders of his superior, and this would destabilize the entire chain of command...causing dissent and making it more difficult in general to get people to obey orders efficiently.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 5, 2009 #2


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    I'm fairly sure that in at least the US military, a soldier "just following orders" isn't exactly immune from prosecution, but it is a strong factor into them possibly not being prosecuted.
  4. Aug 5, 2009 #3


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    The recruit must obey his immediate officer (the captin in this case). If the captin's superiors are upset, only the captin will get punished.
    The only exception is when the command is clearly immoral. In that case the recruit will be punished even if he was ordered to commit the immoral act.
  5. Aug 5, 2009 #4


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    What? I don't see how the captain can give an order which goes against his orders.
  6. Aug 5, 2009 #5


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    The captain doesn't do what he was ordered to do, simple as that :P. "Deliver this truck full of food to the local villagers" and he goes tells his men to set it ablaze instead haha.
  7. Aug 5, 2009 #6


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    If the captain gives someone an order at one time, then a different order later, the second order supercedes the first order. That is, the captain can give one order at one time and then another order, contradicting the first later. You confuse things with your second paragraph which seems to postulate conflicting orders given by a captain and a superior to the captain. It would then behoove the recruit to point out that he has been given order by a superior. Technically, assuming that the captain here is in the recruit's "chain of command", a superior to the captain has no business giving order without going through the captain. If, knowing that a superior has already given the recruit a contradictory order, the captain repeats the order, the recruit must obey the captain, although he might ask that the orders be put in writing so that he would have evidence if he were challenged about not obey the "superior's" orders. That would "destabilize the entire chain of command...causing dissent and making it more difficult in general to get people to obey orders efficiently" only if "contradictory orders" happened often- and it is the job of the officers to see that it doesn't!

    Surely you know that "obeying orders" does NOT exempt one from punishment?
  8. Aug 5, 2009 #7

    I don't think he's talking about any temporal disjoint in orders but pretty much exactly as penguino put it. If you know that your captains superiors told him to do X and then you see your captain disobey those orders and tell you to do Y (which is in conflict with X), assuming it is not something grossly immoral, what do you do? Are you supposed to follow your captains orders even though you know they're in violation of his superiors? Or do you disobey the order because you know that there superiors didn't order this.
  9. Aug 5, 2009 #8


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    If the intent is to ask about illegal orders, the lower enlisted are not given the training to know what is legal or illegal (except for some obvious ones), thus they aren't encouraged to consider the legality of their orders. That won't save them from prosecution, though (catch-22, yes).

    Officers are given training in what is legal and illegal in war and are requried to contradict an illegal order. Thus if a captain (commanding a company) gave an illegal order to a lieutenant (commanding a platoon), the lieutenant would be required to question the order.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2009
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