Following Orders in the U.S. Military: Tradition or Dilemma? Essay

Following Orders in the U.S. Military: Tradition or Dilemma?In order to maintain peace and preserve national defense, following orders to their superior is essential to any person engaged in the U.S. military.

They are organized along principles of rigid role structures, hierarchies, and discipline. A military posture prescribes unquestioning obedience to orders and aggressive action in the face of an enemy. Thus, the American military ethics is encompassed in the West Point motto of duty, honor, country, designed to bridge the gap between the U.S. armed forces and the civil society.

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Inarguably, the U.S. military follow orders to pledge honorable and dutiful service to the state, which includes the American way of life. Following orders is way how the U.S.

military show their military discipline as an allegiance to a loyalty higher than itself, and its internal, non-democratic codes and practices. All of these orders are designed to enhance the means of meeting the resultant obligations in the most efficient manner (Flammer, 1986, p. 158).Since time immemorial, the concept of military discipline is one of the greatest sources of confusion among professionals and laymen alike. Contrary to popular belief, military discipline has nothing to do with blind obedience to orders.

Rather, blind obedience to orders is the hallmark of militarism, which could be incomprehensible and irrational to some people. If soldiers were to obey all orders without thinking, especially without considering the moral consequences of those orders, the results could be detrimental.In John Holt’s book entitled Freedom and Beyond, he analyzed the conventional view of discipline that is founded on human experience, divided into tightly defined categories of work or play, the easy or the difficult, and the agreeable or the disagreeable.

Holt condemned the conventional conception of discipline that calls for giving unquestioning obedience to an authority, because it rests on the following assumptions: (1) Obedience is necessary for character formation (2) following orders leads to efficient performance of duty, (3) assigned rules should be accepted without complaint, and (4) punishment is needed to remediate disobedient individuals (1972, p. 100-101).As a structured institution, the U.S. military need not encourage debate or tolerate that is required by the civilian state through the First Amendment; to accomplish its mission the military must foster instinctive obedience, unity, commitment, and esprit de corps. The essence of military service “is the subordination of the desires and interests of the individual to the needs of the service.” To instill military discipline, the armed forces rely upon a broad range of means and methods, beginning in basic training and continuing through an entire career’s worth of contacts.

Military scholar Jonathan Shay elaborated the purpose of these:Any army, ancient or modern, is a social construction defined by shared expectations and values. Some of these are embodied in formal regulations, defined authority, written orders, ranks, incentives, punishments, and formal task and occupational definitions. Others circulate as traditions, archetypal stories of things to be emulated or shunned and accepted truth about what is praiseworthy and what is culpable. Altogether, these form a moral world that most of the participants most of the time regard as legitimate, “natural,” and personally building.

The moral power of an army is so great that it can motivate men to get up out of a trench and step into enemy machine-gun fire (1995, p. 8).According to an article by P.C. Casey (1995), one aspect of military discipline that may help laymen to see that the military virtues go far beyond the physical courage and stamina we commonly associate with them. Among military discipline’s most indispensable virtues are moral courage, honesty, integrity, loyalty, fortitude, and dedication. However, Casey pointed out that honor is not among the military virtues. Rather, it is an abstract concept encompassing both internal character and external reputation, measured on several levels simultaneously: personal, professional, and national.

As Casey summed up, military honor originates from the consistent display of the military virtues. The professional and national measures of military honor explain why the character failure of an individual within a military organization can wreak such havoc. A single member’s personal character failure implies some sort of military service failure in developing the virtues necessary for controlling the awesome power over life and death that defines the profession.

Thus, dishonor, scandal, and political disaster are the fruits of indiscipline. It is only proper that character development is the primary obligation of military organizations. The hardware is secondary; for only through developing military discipline and its virtues can military institutions ensure both the resolve needed for victory and the restraint required for justice and sanity (Casey, 1999, p. 316).This is probably the reason why there is a military adage that says, “Follow first before you complain”. It is very essential that any soldier should trust their superiors, for them to accomplish critical tasks that could endanger the state. In my opinion, as an organization that functions a very vital role in maintaining peace and defending our democracy, the U.

S. military is a specialized organization that need to espouse rules that should be strictly followed. Without these rules and principles, standards could become vague, purpose grows obscure, unity dissolves, and the resulting moral contradictions create questions, that in or after combat could devastate our nation and its people.  I believe that any soldier stands a good chance of becoming a better person for having adopted military principles and having allowed these orders to become the basis of his character. These virtues could inspire soldiers and will serve them well in war, in peace, and in everything in between.

ReferencesCasey, P. C. (1999, August). Military Discipline, Political Pressure and the Post-Cold War World. World and I, 14, 316.Flammer, P. M.

(1986). Conflicting Loyalties and the American Military Ethic. In War, Morality, and the Military Profession (pp.

157-168). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Holt, J.

(1972).  Freedom and Beyond, New York: E. P. Dutton.Shay, J.

(1995). Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character, New York: Simon and Schuster.


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