By definition, a soldier is a person who has enlisted with, or has been conscripted into the armed forces of a sovereign country and has undergone training and received equipment to defend that country or its interests. The duty of a soldier has a very brief and simple description; it is to follow the orders of his superiors. It is a soldier’s job to act based on other people's decisions.
However, does this mean that he can and should completely ignore his own sense of what is right and wrong? Can soldiers be justified for their actions because they were given orders? I believe that although it is up to the individual person, soldiers must know where to draw the line. I don’t think that every order given should be followed blindly without question.
In 1937, Adolph Hitler began the second Great War to plague our planet. Although there is still a dispute over why he truly began the war, most agree it was due to Germany’s wretched economic state after World War I and of course the fact that he believed Aryans were the superior and dominant human race.
Wolrd War II, which was completely avoidable and downright pointless, then went on to become the biggest and cruelest in the history of mankind. With over fifty million killed (twenty million were soldiers), one cannot keep a blind eye towards the fact that there were millions of soldiers fighting for a cause as cruel, extreme and ruthless as that of Hitler’s. Most did not even question their cause. They did their job. They were pawns to a bigger man's plan for the entire world and did not once think or act based on conscience.
Today, we see those men as war criminals. But would the case be the same if the outcome of the war was different? During the Rwanda massacres, Romeo Dallaire was faced with orders by the United Nations to keep away from armed conflict and act only as a peacekeeping force. Before the genocide against member of the Tutsi tribe began on April 6, 1994, Dallaire was aware of what was going to happen in the country. He even knew where the arms for the killing of the Tutsis were being stored.
He had 300 well trained men at his command and was able to prevent the genocide from happening. The only thing which he needed was a mandate from the United Nations to take action against the attacking Hutus. When he was not given this authorization, he did what many people would have done: he went with his orders. Although his conscience might have told him otherwise, he stood by while an estimated 800,000 innocent people were slaughtered.
When focusing on a topic such as Rwanda, one cannot ignore the consequences which a general would have to face for going against the will of the United Nations. Dallaire was equipped for and sent into Rwanda on a peacekeeping mission; acting against the decision of the rest of the world towards an issue which he had no direct influence could have brought on severe consequences.
His decision to go against the ruling of the UN could have put him and his men’s positiin at risk. Not to mention the fact that there is always a chance that if he decided to go against U.N. orders, he could have lost some or all of his men, or even put his own life in jeopardy. His mission could have ended due to one lapse in judgment. On the other hand, his decision to stand by and not take action allowed the Rwandan disaster to take place.
It is hard to tell weather a soldier must follow orders even if against conscience. There are many different ways of viewing this. A single decision, right or wrong, made by a soldier could mean preventing the death of thousands. Then again, that same decision could also cause the death of thousands. Even the brightest minds make mistakes, so who is to say that a soldier can go against orders based on personal beliefs?
However, in world such as ours, where today’s ally is tomorrow’s foe, it is hard to know who can be trusted with decision making which effects so many people on such a large scale. This is why soldiers cannot follow all of their orders blindly without question, while at the same time, they cannot make decisions based their own conscience.