Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Whether following orders "breaks the law"

Speranza wrote,


R. Paul reminisces that at his trial, Lieut. Calley said that he "was only only following orders (Captain Medina's)"

Oddly, the piece forwarded by Helm (and I must re-elaborate on Kramer's commentary) included:

From wiki, 'superior orders', cited by Helm:

"This is a legal defense that
essentially states that the defendant was
"only following orders" ("Befehl ist Befehl", literally
"order is order") and is therefore not
responsible for his or her crimes."

Oddly, I once played with Margaret Thatcher (scenario).

"So, what do you think of Thatcher's policy vis a vis the sinking of the Argentine battleship?".

B: Women are women.
A: War is war.

Grice considers both replies (WoW:"Logic and Conversation", slightly dissimilar scenarios).

Both answers are, as Grice notes, and the wiki entry too,


C: Befehl ist befehl.

Implicatures on which should follow suit. Or not.

Lawrence Helm responds:  Some of this was tied back to the Nuremberg trials and the trial of Eichmann in Israel.   Part of Eichmann's defense was that he was functioning in accordance with German Law.  He understood the orders he received to be lawful.   Eichmann was convicted and executed despite the fact that he didn't break the German laws that governed his actions. 
            I think Eichmann and most of the defendants at Nuremberg should have been either executed or imprisoned, but not because they broke German law.  Nor was there any higher law that could be appealed to.  There was not world court that they agreed to comply with.  It would have been more honest for the victors to have avoided the idea that those being tried "violated laws," because they didn't violate the laws that they lived under.  And it doesn't make good sense to say they violated our laws.  We no longer have laws to govern situations as they were in the past.  In the past the victors reserved the right to execute any or all of the enemies that had just been defeated.  If we are going to execute people as was done in Israel and Nuremberg then we need something like that. 
            Calley's defense was different.  Captain Medina gave Lieutenant Calley orders to demolish a village and told him there were no civilians in it.  The intelligence Medina based his orders on was wrong.  Calley was faulted because he encountered women and children that others thought should have convinced him that the orders were wrong.  However, women and children were used in attacks much as they have been by the Islamists so it is barely plausible that Calley didn't know they were merely civilians.  Calley was not well liked by the men under him so it is also plausible that they were not being objective when they faulted Calley.  On the other hand, I think that if I were there, based on what I know about the case (and about myself) I would have refused to shoot those people.  But many who like me were not there like to say something like that without really knowing what it was like to have experienced what they did.  I saw a documentary on Mai Lai not so very long ago and some of the soldiers that were there report that they still have nightmares over what they did back then.  I would like to think I would have done nothing that would have given me nightmares, but how can I (or anyone) be sure?  Giving them the benefit of doubt, Nixon was not necessarily wrong to have pardoned Calley. 

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