Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Andrew, I think you let him murder your Division ...

Over at Tom Rick's place, an interesting action going on WRT when and why an officer should not obey an order.

It started with Lt. Col. Andrew Milburn, USMC over at NDU's JFQ.
There are circumstances under which a military officer is not only justified but also obligated to disobey a legal order.
But when and on what grounds should the officer dissent? And how should he do so? I offer three propositions:

1. The military officer belongs to a profession upon whose members are conferred great responsibility, a code of ethics, and an oath of office. These grant him moral autonomy and obligate him to disobey an order he deems immoral; that is, an order that is likely to harm the institution writ large—the Nation, military, and subordinates—in a manner not clearly outweighed by its likely benefits.

2. This obligation is not confined to effects purely military against those related to policy: the complex nature of contemporary operations no longer permits a clear distinction between the two. Indeed, the military professional's obligation to disobey is an important check and balance in the execution of policy.

3. In deciding how to dissent, the military officer must understand that this dilemma demands either acceptance of responsibility or wholehearted disobedience.
Professor Richard Kohn from UNC-CH, is not pleased.
How would an officer know all the considerations involved, and by what authority or tradition is it legitimate to violate the will of the people's elected or appointed officials? Against what standard would even the most senior officer judge? Whose morality, whose definition of what's good for the country, a service, or subordinates? Would every top officer weigh the lives of soldiers against every mission, on their own individual calculation of cost and benefit? If so, the military would be paralyzed by inaction or disagreement. Officers who together refused an order would be in revolt. Think of a Pentagon riven by the kind of pressures reproduced in the movie Crimson Tide. Think Vietnam in the 1960s: the Chiefs and the CINCs (today's COCOMs), and probably officers and enlisted down the line, joining the demonstrators (to the delight of the Left) in some "professional" version of "Hell no, we won't go!" Think George C. Marshall in 1942 refusing the presidential order to round up Japanese Americans on the West Coast because the order might be immoral or illegal (before the Supreme Court rules), or refusing to invade North Africa because American soldiers might be unnecessarily sacrificed at the wrong time and place to defeat Germany (Marshall opposed that invasion).
That is close to an airtight argument.

Is there an American tradition of rare and specific "selective hearing?" Sure, but that is at the Tactical level. At the Operational and Strategic level though - there is very little wiggle room; as it should be.

In my career, I was involved in things I did/do not think were "moral" or in the best interests of my nation. My participation in the Haiti embargo in the 1990s is one; some of the targets I "serviced" in DESERT FOX is another that comes to mind. But; I did them - and I did them well, as I knew that history would decide and I did not know all the facts. A bad taste? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes. Why? It was/is my duty, and yes - I was just following orders.

I have always been more of a Picket and Longstreet guy than a Lee guy; but they were right in their ideas and their ability to follow orders. As it should be.

In the end - when in doubt, call the JAG if needed. Better - mention your concerns privately with your boss; then execute the order - and execute it with the full force at your disposal. Anything else smells more like South America - to me at least.


Redeye80 said...

<span>"In the end - when in doubt, call the JAG if needed. Better - mention your concerns privately with your boss; then execute the order - and execute it with the full force at your disposal. Anything else smells more like South America - to me at least."</span>
<span>Good advice indeed.</span>
<span>I followed an illegal order once.  Damn near got me killed and ended my career because I should have known better.</span>

bullnav said...

I really don't understand why anyone would even discuss disobeying a lawful order.  In my mind, if you are even considering that idea, it's time to submit your resignation.  The Oath of Office does not say anything about "moral obligations" but does mention obeying orders...

Southern Air Pirate said...

This all goes back to those O-4's and above that want to be O-9's and wanting to appease prospective politicos. Remember for the last seven years at least all we have heard from the Colleges, Media, talking heads, and others on the progressive side; that everyone and thier brother in the Pentagon didn't want to go to Iraq. Someone should have stepped up and said something. You know just like those guys that were in charge of the Pentagon during that horrible war in Vietnam. If only someone in the military leadership and stepped up and said enough, "I won't approve this" then all of the 55k of low-income, colored kids wouldn't have died in the rice paddies of an internal conflict.

I am really not suprised to have seen an article like this in JFQ now. All this will do is give for fuel to the more radical progressives who don't believe in the US and the military, and only seem to think that most members of the officer corps are looking for martial glory and military adventures.  

clarkward said...

I was going to type something, but you captured my thoughts on this succinctly.

ewok40k said...

When ordered to form a firing squad, round up civilians in the village, shoot them.
When ordered to nuke a city of a country at peace with US, allied, or even US own.
When ordered to arrest congress en masse - or shoot them - or even just one party or the other, doesnt matter which.
You will know when to disobey. It's called conscience. And stakes are usually that high that your career or even life matters not.
Hopefully US armed forces will never get such orders.
And re: smelling of South America - if it will come to this, it will be already South America and beyond.

GIMP said...

There's no possible way to know all the information the order giver has, thus no possible way to know if an order is legal or illegal, thus orders must be followed, period.

One of the problems of officership is that although "following orders" is no excuse for illegal action, not following orders is not an option.  If given an order, follow it.  If following the order results in prosecution and conviction because it was illegal, that is an occupational hazard.

If you cannot accept that there is a risk of being given an illegal order and going down for it, resign.  This is the US military.  You follow orders.  If following orders results in legal jeopardy, you will be hung out to dry by your chain of command.  That's life and life isn't fair. 

Your only protection is likely to be some form of surreptitious documentation.  If you voice concern you may simply paint a target on yourself.

cdrsalamander said...

Vignette 1: Tactical.  Would be disobeyed by USA officers (Even in Mai Lai a US Army Officer stopped this)
Vignette 2: Strategic.  Would be obeyed.  If the codes came from CINC, it would happen today.  I would.
Vignneet 3: Constitutional.  Would start a Civil War and before any Congressmen were shot or even arrested - US military would be shooting US military first - though more like Capitol Hill police shooting FBI.  BTW - in the USA, the FBI would do it.  The Army or National Guard would even answer the phone - much less move in.  Doubt the FBI would if ordered, at least the arrest part ... but who knows.  As a normal American - I don't trust the Federal Government with police power.  My bias.  Even then - I would never see anyone lined up an shot in the USA.  We have no history of doing it.  Throw people in camps ... yea, that might happen. But they would be nice camps - ask the Japanese Americans recruited for the fighting 44th.

You get 2 out of 3.

Chap said...

Worth noting that the current Justice Department is roiling over similar issues of selective following of orders.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

"<span>I don't trust the Federal Government with police power.  My bias. "</span>

That bias is shared by any thinking American.  Which is why 2nd Bn 8th Marines walking around New Orleans with locked and loaded weapons was such a dangerous precedent. 

Oddly, the ultra-left wingers up here had no problem with that.  They mentioned almost in unison that Posse Comitatus, Title 10 Section 1385, was obsolete.  They wouldn't trust George Bush with counting their silverware, but they were perfectly willing to give him the precedent of using Title 10 forces as a national police force.

AW1 Tim said...

Although, I will say up front that I do not view Posse Comitatus as preventing the President or Conmgress from ordering US militarty forces to the border to close it or to act in a manner to prevent people from entering illegally, or from rounding up and incarderting those who enter illegally, provided that those rounded up are turned over to law enforcement at the earliest practical opportunity.

I view border security as fully within the duties and responsibilities of the US Military, since protecting and defending the borders are a national security issue.

Byron said...

In this specific case, it was necessary. You have no idea how ugly it got in New Orleans those first few days after Katrina. I mourn every time I think back to that day, and how my wonderful city was destroyed by the savages that required that armed soldiers were needed to walk the streets to maintain order. What was left in NOLA those days were third world denizens who thought all the rules were out the window and it was a free fire zone.

Southern Air Pirate said...

CDR and URR,

I sat through a lecture one day over at William and Mary that talked about the role of Posse Comitatus, Title 10, DoD, and the new world of international terrorism willingness to attack the CONUS. The question, that IMHO wasn't answered successfully, was on who would be hung out to dry if someone like a NORAD commander or 2nd Fleet commander decided in an attempt to protect the US sank/shot down a terrorist threat on a ship or airliner. The idea of "sacrifcing a few for the plenty" debate. In today's modern world of talking heads and immedate hindsight (via the 24hr news cycle) it only seems to me that any decision is going to be wrong. The same question would be true about having Army or USMC units going to assist in hunting down and raiding suspected training camps in the US. Would we (ie the American populace) stand for that if it was an attempt to prevent another century bomber/times square bomber? The final thing that I learned in that debate at least from a constiutional lawyer and a standard criminal defense lawyer is how congress in essance created two competeing and non-workable rules via the passage of the Posse Comitatus law. Basically the section of title 10 that states the DoD will provide the defense of the US and that the DoD shall not be used for internal policing without prior approval of Congress. The time constrates now a days might require violations of that act since it seems Congress can't do anything without debating it till the third blue moon comes up a year.  

UltimaRatioRegis said...


Probably there was a need to have armed forces on the streets, but that is why the National Guard exists.  Title 32 carries a much different set of rules than does Title 10.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Posse Comitatus precludes members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps from direct participation in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law.  This does not include USCG or National Guard in Active State (Title 32) status. 

You are right about border security.  Perfectly within the rules for use of Title 10.  The rules under DSCA are such that Title 10 forces can only be used in a law enforcement role in cases where it is the recovery of nuclear materials (when AG and SecDef agree that an "emergency situation" exists), chem/bio weapons (with the same proviso), and when an insurrection was declared.  Arkansas in 1957 comes to mind.  The Gov (Faubus) had the National Guard enforcing segregation against federal law, and Eisenhower called in Federal troops (101st Abn).

Curtis said...

Marshall was a man of enormous integrity and was even then in a position to 'influence' the decider and those who influenced him.  At the Strategic level it used to be enough that the CINC laid out his Commander's Intent and let the action officers execute.  At the Operational level wasn't it a NATO General who told our NATO CINC to shove it up his butt he wasn't obeying that particularly stupid order in Yugoslavia?  And again, at the Strategic level, wasn't it Mclellan who told the CINC to bite him?  I'd be curious to see what the CINC'S guidance to Black Jack Pershing was viz putting the USA under the direct command as replacements in the French field units or under the British as direct body replacements for the men they routinely slaughtered and how Wilson must have reacted when Pershing invited those august soldiers to bite him.

I went to XOI several times for failure to obey the UCMJ or even orders from superior officers.  I found it an amusing and enjoyable experience.  The only times I went to mast were as the ship's legal officer, as CO holding mast or post-it-can't-be-done and we move on to Courts martial.  As I would instruct each of my divisions, departments and commands, you gotta be solid on your understanding of the UCMJ before you wander over-close to that particular minefield.  Know the UCMJ ROE solid before you start to project power as the underdog and don't turn into a guard house lawyer because they always, always lose.

Redeye80 said...

It was always bad in NOLA, Katrina just put the spotlight on the problem when things got really dicey.

Robbo said...

I don't know Andy Milburn personally, but he's held in high esteem by a couple of my friends (maybe it's the accent).
I think the professor's coments are very solid. I also think that treating actons under fire like an episode of Law & order is a mistake.
In the end, where do we say that 'those were my orders' is not a good defense?

ewok40k said...

You do well to bring My Lai, though it was rather case of privates getting out of control than orders going wrong.
Second case - it rests on the president's aides to verify his sanity. I am not sure people down the command chain really know what cordinates they enter into targetting systems translate into point on earth, so they probably could do it and not even know.
Third - ever heard of Civil War? Lincoln did things not far from those. (sorry for touching your Southern streak)
And coups get into play strangest units, I heard Beria was arrested by air defence officers because they were only unit deployed close enough to the Kremlin.
Still nice to see enlightened discussion :)

GIMP said...

Never, you just do it, and if you get hammered for doing it, you get hammered.  If you can't accept that possibility, you resign and a grateful nation thanks you for your service.

ActusRhesus said...

from one of my recent ROE briefings in response to a question on lawful orders:

"First off, that sort of evil genocide committing senior officer makes for great movie drama, but not so much in the real world.  There's a supreme court case where the court had to define pornography and one of the justices said 'I can't define it, but I know it when I see the way, porn is a violation of Gen Ord one.  I'm not so naive to think you all won't bring it with you, but do me a favor and keep it well hidden.  I don't want to have to waste my time on porno masts.  But I digress. The same thing is true about illegal orders.  You will know it when you see it.  Clear as day.  So if you are just nervous or unsure, trust that you just don't have the whole picture and the order IS legal.  Think about how well our operations would run if everyone stopped to question every tactical order.  War is messy.  People die.  If you have concerns and time permits, talk to your chain or your JAG, but like I said...know that there is a difference between an illegal order and an unpleasant one, and you will know it if you see it."

ActusRhesus said...

generally following an order that was perceived as legal and in the hindsight was not will still be a defense, or at least a mitigator.  The "I was only following orders" line only gets shot down outright if the order, on its face, was so clearly illegal that no reasonable person in the accused's position could have thought it acceptable.

e.g. "SN Johnny, I want you to take this civilian that we just rescued from that refugee flotilla and rape her." 

ActusRhesus said...

well...TECHNICALLY the posse comitatus act only mentions the army...

but in practice it's applied to all.

ActusRhesus said...

the profs who answered that questions clearly don't know dick about targeting procedure with your ship example.

Your ship CO would be in all kinds of ROE violation trouble if he just shot it down on his own.  However, had he gone through the right channels, I don't know.  It might be a legit strike with the right approving authority.  Would need more facts.

As to internal strikes, Congress has explicitly excluded SOCOM assets from anything resembling Posse Commitatus.  So we do have some options...

ActusRhesus said...


immoral/unpleasant != illegal.

I used to have to explain that concept repeatedly to an old colleague of mine. 

ender said...

Here is a question for those that are professionals that know their profession:  Have you ever violated a direct order because you know your job better than your boss and knew that it would hurt someone?  

For example, land with a tailwind that is, in your judgment, guaranteed to kill you and crew?  Another example, move a fighting position because it "has better concealment" at the expense of survivability?

I've been in a lot of situations like those because I read my books and am "tactically and technically proficient" enough to know when my boss fails to understand the subtleties of the situation.  Each time I nod, answer with a "roger that" and then promptly ignore the order.  When called to the carpet for it I take full blame and own up to my choice.  Those are times when I think it is your responsibility to violate a direct order.  Also, this is the reason that I have always maintained the highest respect from my senior enlisted. They see that I think for myself and can explain my decisions so that there is no other way to proceed without blatantly ignoring logic.

Yes, it is a dangerous and slippery slope.  However, one dreary day at USNA I realized that questions like, "Who decides right and wrong?" and "Why do we get to impose our beliefs on them?" are really for the Soviet military.  In America, I am trained, educated, and trusted to make hard decisions in times of crisis.  When I give an order, it is because I think it is the right thing to do.  I may not like it, I may not think it is perfect, but I understand the "why" behind that order.  So, "who decides"?  I do.  I am the one pulling the trigger and I am the one pushing the button.  If I don't like it, then I need to (as privately as possible) find my boss, tell him I am not playing his game, and to find someone else who will.  If you don't trust me to make those choices, then replace me with a UAV or a 1916 French infantryman that simple stands up and walks to my demise.  

I've done this multiple times in my career and each time I was justified and respected when the smoke cleared.  

Although these debates are important and I wouldn't have reached my confidence in my moral stance without them, I say go push these little ethical dilemmas on a second rate military, not the US military.  We are held to a higher standard of decision making and I trust each of you to know when to salute and when to turn in your papers.  If we lose that trust, we are static, inflexible, and we forget everything the Germans taught us, and we perfected, about the essence of maneuver warfare.

Actus Rhesus said...

I was being a nitpicker.  The original text of the Act only said Army...which was interesting because it was Reconstruction era, so the Navy and Marines did exist.  But yes, subsequent legislation has included all branches in the concept.

So we are both correct.

Skully96 said...

I agree with this post.  If you do not want to follow a legal order then you resign, but you have no over riding obligation to disobey a legal order.  If the order is legal then you follow the order. 

Skully96 said...

I don't understand what "unpleasant" have to do with anything. 

Actus Rhesus said...

and when by your example, your troops start thinking they know more than you, and won't follow YOUR orders?

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Oooh, boy!  Now I get to nitpick!

The original Act of 1878 did not mention the US Navy because at the time the Revenue Service was not the Coast Guard, and those LE duties the USCG now executes under Title 14 were the pervue of the US Navy.  (The USCG did not take its present form until some time during WWI).

And there WAS a Marine Corps in 1878, but it was so small that Congress saw no threat of its use as a precedent to a national police force as the Army had been used during Reconstruction.  That was actually true until just before WWII.  Marines guarded the mail in the 1930s with powers to arrest and detain.

But yes, essentially, you had it right.  I just wanted to give you a peek at how exciting my life is.....

ender said...

Predictable shot.  That is why I mentioned the respect of my Senior Enlisted.  They ALWAYS know more than me and they follow my orders.  Some of my JOs know more than me, and I respect the hell out of them for it. 

For the SE and the JOs - If they don't like what I tell them, they know where the door is.  They understand that the first time I meet them.  I expect them to ignore me and find their own path, if they don't, then will end up managers instead of leaders. 

The hard part is knowing when they are out of line and think they are getting sneaky.  Sneaky I will not tolerate, but honest defiance, if done in private and with the understanding that it is my way or the highway when it comes to decision time, I will tolerate.  Fine line. 

ActusRhesus said...

the symbol used is "does not equal".

my point being things can be immoral and unpleasant and still completely legal.

ActusRhesus said...

so when you lead you expect them to follow or get out, and voice dissent privately, never to be sneaky and go behind you.  When you are being led, you get to say "roger" and then blow off an order.


ender said...

Interesting, indeed.

"Commander's have as much power as you let them have."  - Ender's game.  Leaders are successful based on those that follow.  Choose not to follow and they are not leaders.

I voice my opinion, make a decision whether I will follow the leader or not, and then stand by for the consequences.  As long as you are right, you win.  That is why you do your homework, know your subject, and are able to defend your decisions. 

Do you want to know the sad thing?  I have yet to find a CO or Senior that will crush me for doing it.  I've been right every time, but you do make enemies.  We have too many managers...too few leaders. 

My point is that each of us has a choice with every order we are given.  Fail to make that choice and you fail to do your utmost.

xbradtc said...

Actually, the Oath of Office says nothing about obeying orders. It says faithfully executing the duties of the office. 

Only the oath of enlistment mentions obeying lawful  orders.

Andrewdb said...

I always tell them that CentCom GO #1 also says "production" of pr0n is not allowed - so don't try to make your own.

Andrewdb said...

I believe Sgt Mom has written about the art of how to respectfully ask for an order in writing.

Andrewdb said...

Ewok -

Lincoln pre-dates the Posse Comitatus Act - indeed as URR mentions, it was passed as part of the political compromise following the deadlocked 1876 election.  One item of that compromise was the end of Reconstruction (the military occupation by the Federal Army of defeated rebel States, aka the Confederacy).

You are correct that Lincoln did not let the Bill of Rights get in his way.  The Department of War (the Army) did extend Prisoner of War status to captured combatants from the Confederacy - the Leiber Code the Army eventually adopted (GO #100) later evolved into today's Law of War in many respects. 

At the same time, there were also Prisoners of State held under the authority of the Seward, the Secretary of State.  Lincoln's suspension of the Writ of Hebeas Corpus was later ratified by Congress, but I would submit it was clearly illegal at least until that ratification.

An interesting history of this is The Fate of Liberty, Lincoln and Civil Liberties, by Mark Neely - written in 1992 it pre-dates recent events, so if it has a bias, it isn't a bias about Guantanemo.

Southern Air Pirate said...


I guess my issue with the ship example, and the example they used as a nuclear weapon at the size of the FATMAN bomb, on board a merchant man. If intelligence found out about it and it was a neutral flagged vessel, then what would the issue be? Put a SOCOM unit on board to seize or just outright risk war to sink it? Or land a law unit on board to seize all personnel and the ship and then take them back for trial under rules of law? One of the big debates was who would be viewed as the pirates when the CNN effect was applied? The US or the terrorist that had crewed/seized the ship? The same question was asked to the professors and lawyers about shooting down an airliner that had a NBC weapon on board or just seized by terrorists to try and repeat Sept 01. If they were a fictional NORAD commander would the give the "shoot to kill order" or "shoot to force down" Again the application of the CNN effect. It was an interesting debate amongst the intelligentsia in Williamsburg on a summer evening. That being said, they didn't really challenge themselves in the two hour board.
I would also suggest that the CNN effect is important now a days with regards to illegal orders. Look at how quickly the MSM had jumped on some of the fictional soldiers telling their ordered atrocities. I would also look at how some in the MSM when an event of combat came out that civilians may have been killed, they claimed there were illegal orders being given out to murder civilians/journalists/innocents. So one of the biggest questions now a days by the highest amount of leadership would be how it words play out in the 5 second sound bite on the evening news.

ewok40k said...

A very recent example may be the fatal crash of Polish presidential plane... supposedly there was AF chief of staff in the pilot cabin, probably enforcing presidential order to land despite thick fog and lack of any ILS on the derelict Soviet era airfield.

Kristen said...

What a great discussion.  I read through every comment and they all made me think.  Thanks, CDR, for a great topic and thanks too to all the participants.

Grandpa Bluewater said...

If you know damn well it's illegal, say no and inform the ISIC. Get the names of witnesses, say nothing else without a lawyer. Petty ante stuff, bottle of booze in a locker, ignore. If the next level up, start a written record and a list of witnesses. When they have enough rope, take it to the ISIC, after consulting a lawyer.

If you think it might be illegal, consult a JAG if possible. If at sea/in the field and nobody's blood gets spilt, follow it after getting it in writing. Refusal to put it in writing is as good as an admission of guilt by the superior, get the name of witnesses and request immediate relief. If denied, carry out the order, get a lawyer ASAP and go the whistleblower route.

If blood guilt attaches, just say no, and "I stand relieved".  Don't say anything else without a lawyer. At this point career is out the window, it's a matter of honor and avoiding subsequent prosecution. If on watch you log your objection and carry out the order, unless you know it's lethal. If saving your career means a lifetime of regret, dump the career, it ain't worth it.

Escalating the scenario, if you think they want to play rough, demand court-martial. If at sea, get lawyer & file charges for the offense committed with the ISIC upon return to port. Have lawyer tell 'em to back off or he'll go to the press. Write and leave with a trusted friend a letter with all particulars. Let 'em know you wrote it and it's where it will forwarded to the FBI and the press if they try to harm you or threaten your family.

My take on it.  JAG comment?

Alpha said...

Only one person mentioned the fundamental difference between the Oath of Office and the Enlisted Oath.  I find it pathetic that more officers don't know and understand the difference.  I once witnessed a CO giving the Enlisted Oath to an Officer when he was promoted.  Sad, sad stuff.

Curtis said...

We are shooting TLAMS at civilian targets and plan to destroy them utterly.  Purely civilian targets.  No declaration of war.  That was Serbia. 

How would you characterize attacks with drones against an 'ally' in the war on terrorism?  Again, no declaration of war and no warning.

Is this legal and justice thing black and white or is mostly shades of gray?

Curtis said...


Flew into Houston enroute Love Field with native Houstonions on either side of me who still lament that their city took in the victims of the Hurricane and flood.  Crime trebled overnight.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Whether or not a declaration of war has been made does not determine whether a target is purely civilian, government, or military.

DeltaBravo said...

AR... you ever been in a hospital where a young resident gives a medical order and an experienced nurse says that's contraindicated and seen the sparks fly?

If you ever are the patient, hope the nurse, whose license is on the line if the doctor is wrong because she carried out the order has the guts to follow her own experience.  The other choice is insubordination.  It's not an easy or academic question.  Your life may depend on someone having the courage to know more than a superior and not follow an order.

Byron said...

Sorry, you're wrong. When I was young, I could get on the bus by myself in Chalmette and take the bus all the way to down town (two  transfers, and I knew the way) to my grandmothers 7 years old. I WAS SAFE. Tourists could go to the French Quarter and party all night long and never have to worry about getting mugged. The Mafia and the Orleans Parish cops had a deal: keep the Quarter clean of thugs and thieves, and we'll turn a blind eye to prostitution, gambling and loan sharking. Worked like a champ for years and years. In the blink of an eye everything changed. New Orleans went from being charmingly decadent but safe to have fun to a place where tourists are told to never have less than $20 in cash so the crack heads can get a fix.

Everyone decent moved to Jefferson Parish (to the west of NOLA and across the river) or the north side of Lake Pontchartrain and did a hour drive to work each day. I got begged to take a job there in the late 80s, told them not on a bet. I love the food...wouldn't live there for nothing.

All those people that were outraged when the soldiers in the helos fired down on the houses? Guess they didn't hear someone in the houses were shooting at the helo with an automatic weapon... The soldiers didn't even have to think about it. And I don't blame them a bit. Curtis, I'm really sorry that Houston got screwed like that. There were a lot of cities that had a big jump in crime. If only they knew what they were dealing with.

Curtis said...

How very apt for here.  declarations are akin to no knock warrants?  They don't matter?  Attacking other sovereign countries, sans Declaration of War, a minor bagatelle not to be discussed in polite company.

And oddly enough to this old whossname, attacking purely civilian targets seperates one just how much from the Taliban and Al Quada?  They attack purely civilian targets all the time and we despise them for it.  Given their government I'm not surprised that they get attacked.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Apples and oranges, Curtis, and you know it.  Nobody said that a declaration of war wasn't important.  But present or absent that declaration does not change a targeting category.  You should know that.  You served in the Cold War.  We had targets and target caregories all over the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union.  Some were military, some industrial, some government, and some civilian.  Yet we had no declaration of war against the Soviet Union or any of her allies, did we?

UltimaRatioRegis said...

SAP above addresses El Dorado Canyon.  Whether Qaddafi had his kids at his palace or not, it was a legitimate government target, and that is as it should be.  Otherwise, the human shield technique will render entirely ineffective any targeting process we might have.

Southern Air Pirate said...

Lets get real murky though and deep thinking about valid military targets. What about the night time terror bombings of London during WW1 and WW2, The terror bombings of Chinese Cities (like Nanjing/Nanking) by the Japanese during the Sino-Japanese war, The use of the Imperial Japanese Army use of both biological and chemical weapons on the Chinese populace, the burning of Dresden and Hamburg by the British, and the fire bombings of major Japanese cities during World War 2. Where those part of a valid target process or violations of the Hague Conventions? If they were violations then why didn't the officers involved in those events throw the legality flag? Is the concept of Total War viewed differently or even rejected by the various practitioners?
What makes a person,building, or location a valid target? Do we factor in the response of force as well when doing targeting? Cause they bring a knife does that mean we bring a gun?

Lawfare, the CNN effect/24hr news cycle, and moral/ethic applications start to these questions down the rabbit hole. In my opinion, I try not to deal with hypothetical (i know, I know classic politico non-answer); but cause you say yes to one of these questions doesn't automatically mean I say yes (or even no).

ActusRhesus said...

DB, you are comparing apples and giraffes.

Frequently legitimate, legal military orders are morally objectionable because let's face it war is death.  You are being ordered to kill. I want you to think now of what would happen on the battlefield if every soldier began to question whether they knew more than their superior officer or not.

There is a reason mutiny is a violation of the UCMJ.  

ender said...

I think that a point I should have emphasized in my posts was that the reason I felt I knew more than my superiors, is because I DID know more than them. I am not being cocky or arrogant.  If you don't know your science, you don't know your science.

If these officers took the time to study their books and take their profession seriously, and by that I mean learning how it should be done vs. how it has always been done, then I wouldn't question their orders.  I would respect them as they earned that respect.

I've been in these situations because I stay up late after the kids go to bed, and learn everything I can.  I don't want to be in the situation that I hurt someone because I was supposed to know something that I didn't.

If I ask you how to interlock fires, align the plant, turn the rotor, draft the message, make the radio call, etc, you had better know your material better than I do if you are supposed to lead me.  If you don't you sure as hell better own up to it, start learning, and fix that shortcoming.  Otherwise, I will likely find a way to ignore every order you give me.  What is more, you won't be able to bust me for it because you will have to admit your don't know your stuff.

Using ewok40k's example, if you don't know the ILS is busted since you didn't check the NOTAMs, then shutup and sitdown...bad on you for failing to do your job properly.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

"<span>Cause they bring a knife does that mean we bring a gun? "</span>

You betchee.  Wanna lose a lot of people?  Get into a fair fight.  Foolish to do so.  I want every advantage all the time.  Overwhelming  combat power is still the best way to defeat an enemy.  The fastest with the mostest, and this includes firepower, to the decisive time and place.  Die schwerpunkt. Anyone who thinks differently needs to do something else for a living.

ewok40k said...

Total war by definition includes whole populations... There were individuals who dissented, and certainly even those who rebelled. But on the whole, there was fight for survival going on, especially on the Eastern Front and in the Asia/Pacific where Germans and  Japanese made sure they have given every possible reason to hate them for  the oposition. It's not like RAF started firebombing German cities overnight in september 39 - it took them lessons of Warsaw, Rotterdam, Coventry and Belgrade...

as put by Kipling:
And Tha said: 'The one Night is
thine, as I have said, but there is a price to pay.
Thou hast taught Man to kill, and he is no slow learner.'

Southern Air Pirate said...

Oh I am sorry, You didn't answer that in the form of a question nor in a Sean Connery voice and the judge rule you lost the daily double wager. :-P

All joking aside. I fully understand and agree with the idea of never getting into a fair fight. That is rule #1 of school ground fights. If you find yourself in a fair fight then you screwed up royally. That being said, there is also something to be said about a proportionate response. I mean you down swat a fly with a sledgehammer, nor do you land a full MEB on a beach just to chase down some pirate crew in a boghommer, ditto for going SIOP Grand Tour on a nation that detonated a single NBC weapon on your troops. Just like the police have a use of force "ladder" there is a use of force ladder with the military in response to threats. So yes, you might escalate from him using a knife to you using a shotgun, but not a tank cannon or a 16in artillery shell. I really think that is where if your caught in a situation where your boss wants to use overkill force against a threat that you have to speak up and challenge not only the ethically but moral objections to that (IE the idea of just and humane ways of killing each other).

UltimaRatioRegis said...


The use of force ladder in warfare is a most recent invention by people who have never had to fight for their lives or the survival of their country.  While it is doctrinally accepted, such is foolish and naive.

"War is an act of force, and to the application of that force there is no limit".  The reason, tactically, that overkill is sometimes bad is that finite resources should be employed where they are most effective.  I don't need Arclight to take out a dug in platoon.  I have organic and supporting weapons systems more appropriate for that.  The assets required of an Arclight strike can be more usefully employed by the commander facing a dug in reinforced battalion. 

But sometimes it is highly useful to remind people that pulling a knife will get you a tank round in the eye.

Southern Air Pirate said...


I don't doubt what you say. I was actually introduced to the idea of the proportional response from a book that I read last year that talked about the evoultion nuclear weapon/war theory. This book was from 1983, but it talked about how in the mid 60's the idea of proportional response came from some of McNamara's Whiz-Kids and the whiz-kids over at Foggy Bottom. The idea of trading a CVBG or inf bn or even some of our bases for some of thier bases or even a city. From there it evolved to the idea that if you have a tank commander facing down some guy with a M1911A1 in his hands he wouldn't fire back with his 105mm main gun. Like I said I am all for fighting dirty. I am also a believer in the total war concept. So yes, at times putting a tank round or a ATGM down range against threat is a worthwhile statement to make. I just want to understand others views on this. Also to roll this thread back to the main topic. If you are some tank commander and ordered by your platoon commander to put a tank round down range to get a guy(s) with rocks, then is it your right to protest that or pull the trigger and face the JAG later? I think not. I think it would be best to just do your job and report any questionable order to a JAG, let the lawyers figure out the subtle differences.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Or, as Arthur Harris once said," You can build a new factory in less than a year, but it takes 25 years to raise a new machinist".