Last week, Dave Hodges wrote an article called The Psychological Reasons Why American Soldiers Would Fire On American Citizens. Mr. Hodges used experiments by behavioral scientists to support his hypothesis. His evidence was the Asch experiment, the Milgram experiment, and the Stanford prison experiment. All of the experiments proved one thing: under certain circumstances, people would perform acts of cruelty that were aberrant to their normal behavior.
Let me preface my argument by saying that Dave Hodges puts out some great information – none of this is a personal attack on him or his work. This is a rebuttal to a specific article he has written.
Are American soldiers the bad guys, the new tools of tyranny, ready to coldly spray a protesting crowd with bullets?
I don’t believe that they are the enemy. I don’t believe they are deserving of this disrespect.
I am the daughter of a veteran, a patriot who was honored with a military 21 gun salute at his funeral. I’m also the grandaughter of 2 veterans, the niece of 6 veterans, and the cousin of still more veterans. For 3 generations, members of my family have served. They’ve fought in both World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, the Gulf, and Afghanistan.
When someone makes the choice to join the military, they may not really know what they’re getting into. But when they make the decision to stay in the military once their initial time is up, they are well aware of what that decision means.
The possibility of leaving family and loved ones
The possibility of being stationed in some of the worst hellholes on the planet
The possibility of seeing horrible things that you can’t unsee
The possibility of coming home disabled
The possibility of never seeing home again, and returning in a pine box
People who choose a career in the military face risks the rest of us never even considered. And they do it so we don’t have to. They do it because they feel that we have a country worth fighting for, and because someone has to do it. They do it because they believe in America. No one could possibly consider this an easy lifestyle.
Having grown up in a family with such a strong sense of duty, when I read Mr. Hodge’s article, I felt sick at the thought that others look at my loved ones, with their patriotism, courage, and good intentions, and believe that these men are threats instead of guardians.
I feel it’s imperative that people differentiate between the members of the military and the military industrial complex.
In his farewell speech, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about the risk once money began to be made from the military. He said:
Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocation, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.
This hunger for money and power that Eisenhower warned about is the real threat to our well-being. I can very easily see how the military industrial complex (MIC) would be interested in crushing and subduing the public. In fact, they are so powerful that they are the kingmakers. Through their support, our members of Congress and everyone right up to the President find themselves hoisted upon golden shoulders into office. The price for these appointments (we can hardly even call them elections anymore) is to keep lining the coffers of the complex.
Now, compare this with the life of a person who dedicates himself to defending the country. People don’t get rich serving in Afghanistan. They might be sweating out 10 pounds of fluid a day in the desert over there, but it’s certainly not a luxurious spa. It’s a life of sacrifice and duty, and they see nothing of the billions that the folks in the MIC.
You can be vehemently anti-war and anti-interventionism (as I am) and still respect our soldiers and veterans. The two are not mutually exclusive. In any group, you have honorable people and dishonorable ones, but the military people I know are patriots, devoting their lives to the protection of our country. When they are used to do the bidding of the MIC, you can be assured that isn’t the reason they signed up.
Now that we’ve defined our cast of characters, let’s go back to Mr. Hodges’ article.
In the scenario he describes, Mr. Hodges believes that one day, chaos will erupt on the streets of America and our military will be called upon to restore order. No one can deny that there is always the possibility of civil unrest – we saw how thin the veneer of civilization was recently in Ferguson Missouri. He believes, though, that the military will be called upon to open fire on citizens randomly protesting in the streets. He wrote:
This scenario and the resulting public execution of American citizens for engaging in protesting has happened many times in our past. For those old enough to remember, the 1970 Kent State massacre should come to mind as the Ohio National Guard opened fire on protesting college students on the campus of Kent State University. But for those who believe that this was merely an anomaly, let’s examine what the field of psychology has discovered about the answer to this question.
Some our citizens are deluded into a false sense of security by the group known as Oath Keepers. It is a well-intentioned effort to remind both law enforcement and the military to uphold the Constitution and to disobey unlawful orders which would bring harm to American citizens. Under this false sense of security, many in the American public really believe that American troops will not fire upon American citizens. Unfortunately, the field of psychology demonstrates why only a minority of soldiers will actually resist committing atrocities against the American people.
The situation at Kent State was tragic, but what Mr. Hodges doesn’t point out is that the National Guardsmen who fired into the crowd were actually NOT following orders.
One former Guardsman who fired on the students, Larry Shafer, told the Kent-Ravenna Record-Courier on Tuesday that he never heard any command to fire and that “Point!” would not have been part of a proper command anyway. (source)
First, we must also keep in mind that there’s an enormous difference between a protest and a riot. These are two different scenarios, which would result in two different responses. For our purposes, we’re going to go with Mr. Hodges’ example that this is a protest. You know, signs, chanting, maybe some yelling.
It’s highly unlikely that in the type of situation Mr. Hodges describes, a commanding officer is going to give an order to mow down a bunch of civilians, regardless of how angry they are.
But even if such an order was given, Mr. Hodges discounts the repeated training that all soldiers receive that instills in them that it is their sworn duty to DISOBEY unlawful orders. He disregards the ethics that are reinforced throughout their training. Any person in the military will agree that they are reminded repeatedly throughout their careers of this duty.
Military discipline and effectiveness is built on the foundation of obedience to orders. Recruits are taught to obey, immediately and without question, orders from their superiors, right from day-one of boot camp.
Military members who fail to obey the lawful orders of their superiors risk serious consequences. Article 90 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) makes it a crime for a military member to WILLFULLY disobey a superior commissioned officer. Article 91 makes it a crime to WILLFULLY disobey a superior Noncommissioned or Warrant Officer. Article 92 makes it a crime to disobey any lawful order (the disobedience does not have to be “willful” under this article).
In fact, under Article 90, during times of war, a military member who willfully disobeys a superior commissioned officer can be sentenced to death.
Seems like pretty good motivation to obey any order you’re given, right? Nope. These articles require the obedience of LAWFUL orders. An order which is unlawful not only does not need to be obeyed, but obeying such an order can result in criminal prosecution of the one who obeys it. Military courts have long held that military members are accountable for their actions even while following orders — if the order was illegal.
“I was only following orders,” has been unsuccessfully used as a legal defense in hundreds of cases (probably most notably by Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg tribunals following World War II). The defense didn’t work for them, nor has it worked in hundreds of cases since. (source)
But the training goes even further than that. Insubordination is that fine gray area between using your own judgement and following lawful orders.
A service member may not disobey a lawful order given by a superior officer. This includes specific orders given to a service member by his direct superior officer (under Article 90 of the UCMJ) as well as general orders or regulations that govern the service member’s unit (Article 92 of the UCMJ).
An instruction from a superior officer is considered an “order” which must be obeyed when:
- It contains a command to take or refrain from taking a specific action (general recommendations to “perform your duty” are not orders);
- It was directed at an individual;
- It pertains to that person’s military duty;
- That person had knowledge of the order; and
- The order was lawful.
Of all of these requirements, “lawfulness” is the most difficult, and the most important, to figure out. An order is “lawful” when it does not conflict with the U.S. Constitution or its laws, other military or admiralty laws, or international treaties. Also, a lawful order is one which doesn’t interfere with an individual’s constitutional rights. All orders are presumed to be lawful (except patently unlawful orders, such as deliberately killing innocent civilians), and any service member that refuses to obey an order may be properly court-martialed.
However, if an order is unlawful, the service member that receives the order has a duty to disobey it. A commander who issues an unlawful order is essentially ordering his subordinate to commit a crime, and the subordinate that obeys the unlawful order is just as guilty of the crime as the commander. That is the reason that the defense that soldiers “were just following orders” when they committed war crimes almost always fails. (source)
Just to confirm that the rules mentioned above were legitimately impressed upon soldiers, I contacted a Chief Warrant Officer in the Army and combat veteran, Graywolf from Graywolf Survival, to ask about the training they receive on this topic.
“I joined the military back in the Cold War and spent many years as an enlisted Soldier before becoming a commissioned Warrant Officer. I’ve been deployed to several combat zones under many different Rules of Engagement, so I have some idea about the training and mindset of the military when it comes to dealing with civilians.
The idea of following lawful orders and requiring the disobedience of unlawful orders is not only instilled in every Soldier through countless official and unofficial training opportunities, it is pounded into their heads over and over again. It’s a discussion that happens regularly among both officers and enlisted personnel before, during, and after combat. It is a part of required training at every leadership school and at every unit. This is a part of the everyday thinking and training of every Soldier – more so by far than at any time in history.
The ONLY way a Soldier would fire on ANY civilian would be if their life were threatened or if they were saving the life of someone else, and they would gladly put their own lives in danger to do so. In countless situations, Soldiers and commanding officers put their own in danger overseas by not firing back when cowardly enemy combatants used civilians as human shields while they attacked.
Why on Earth would they do any less for their own citizens?”
Now, on to the experiments. Those horrifying (and many say unethical) experiments saw average everyday people doing horrible things to their fellow man. The subjects blithely followed orders and suddenly became as sadistic as the guards at the most evil of concentration camps.
Or did they?
Some studies say that the results of the experiments were skewed. For example, the Milgram experiment had a subject obediently kept increasing what they believed to be the voltage of electric shock to a person screaming in pain. An astonishing 65% of the subjects continued to up the voltage, just because they were told to. However, half of the subjects refused to even participate once they found out the parameters of the experiment. So in reality, the 65% number that the experiment touts is very inaccurate.
Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison experiment had students role-playing parts of both prisoners and guards. The question was, how did those two roles affect a person? According to documents and videos, the guards became increasingly brutal and dehumanized the prisoners. While it’s irrefutable that bad things happened during that experiment, later evaluation of the studies by Professors Alex Haslam and Stephen Reicher suggest that this was not, as Zimbardo concluded, blind compliance.
The study generated three findings. First, participants did not conform automatically to their assigned role; second, they only acted in terms of group membership to the extent that they identified with the group; and finally, group identity did not mean that people simply accepted their assigned position—it also empowered them to resist it.
Although Zimbardo and Milgram’s findings remain highly influential, Professor Haslam argue that their conclusions do not hold up well under close empirical scrutiny. (source)
Mr. Hodges concludes:
This has dire consequences for the ability of uniformed personnel to resist orders from their commanding officers to fire upon American citizens. People will act according to the role that they have been assigned to play. Finally, based upon the Zimbardo Prison Experiment, what kind of treatment could you expect at a FEMA camp?
Will American soldiers fire upon Americans in times of civil unrest? The evidence has been presented to you, what do you now believe?
I’m glad you asked.
I believe that the question is too broad and open to interpretation and the whims of myriad situations. If you narrow it to Mr. Hodges’ original scenario, then NO – I don’t believe that soldiers will open fire on protesting citizens, as he implies.
I believe that this random assortment of studies says that people – any people – can be capable of bad acts. That goes for you, me, the couple next door, and the preacher that lives on the other side of them. This is not “evidence” of anything more specific to the military than it is to anyone else. Members of the military are no more likely to participate in something horrible than any of us. In fact, due to their training and mentality, they are probably less likely.
I believe that if we measure patriotism by our actions and not by our words, the men and women who serve in the military have proven that they are red, white, and blue to the core. They have walked the walk – and done so all over the globe, in whatever conditions they are required to.
I believe this essay is insulting conjecture. It demonizes the wrong people and creates a culture of mistrust. It reminds me of the veterans who returned from Vietnam, and instead of a welcome, were greeted with disrespect and derision. It belittles the sacrifices made by combat veterans, POWs, those who died serving, and those who missed Christmas with their children.
To all of the veterans I know, and also the ones I haven’t met, thank you for your service.