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Military Chain of Reason Versus Blind Obedience

We are miseducating the young to believe that military heroism is the noblest form of heroism, when it should be remembered only as the tragic accompaniment of horrendous policies driven by power and profit. The current infatuation with World War II prepares us– innocently on the part of some, deliberately on the part of others– for more war, more military adventures, more attempts to emulate the military heroes of the past.
Howard Zinn

Defense is a natural right. It is healthy to develop effective ways to defend ourselves. Considering the world today, it would be hard to criticize the organization of a well-regulated militia in pursuit of securing freedom and safety. Defense and personal sacrifice can certainly be justified, honorable and noble. The truth is that in today's world the military seems to presently be necessary because of an unfortunate number of psychopathic human beings who wish to obliterate human rights around the globe.

The need for a military must be viewed as an ugly burden on any society, and all sane people must wish there was no need for a military or the instruments of war. As a member of any military, if you cannot ardently proclaim that you wish there was no need for any military, then you cannot be a good soldier or a good and sane person. Any sycophant of the military has been seduced by the spirit of death, the destroyer spirit and the war-consciousness, and must reassess their moral positions. They then must look clearly at the hierarchy of their government and its commanders, and contemplate the deeper motivations of war. To bring the concept closer to understanding you could say the same thing about nuclear proliferation. While we have these terrible nuclear weapons as instruments of war, or some would say deterrents, any person in their right mind would wish that there were no nuclear arms on earth. Even the people who invented, created, service and deploy them must look upon these weapons with horror, fear and apprehension, hoping they are never used and wishing they never existed.


To love and proudly exalt any military is a form of madness, for the work of the military is a grim, dark burden which none should find gratifying joy in undertaking. War and militarism without a planned desire (or at least a deep wish) for their eventual elimination on earth, is war for the sake of war, and represents the repugnant war-consciousness. The war-consciousness as a living meme seeks only to selfishly propagate its own survival as an organism of destruction and malevolence. Any sliver of morality within the institutions of war reside in the imperative hope by the organizations themselves, that they must one day be superannuated by cultural advancement. Our allegiance to morality should always advocate on behalf of peace, and serve a vision of a future in which the institutions of war are obsolete. Allegiance is a concept we must carefully consider, by asking, “allegiance to what or whom?” Our allegiance must always be first and foremost to humanity, beauty and innocence. The true spirit of the military and law enforcement should be for the protection of human rights, the protection of individuals from injustice, and the protection of innocence. The ultimate goal of the military and peace officers should be the safeguarding of peace. Absent this philosophy, these institutions can become hollow instruments of force, destruction and terror, especially when misused or misled by those with other agendas or moral illness.

Keeping in line with America's historic track record of imperialism and conquest, the Middle East is being disintegrated and reintegrated; it is being disassembled and refashioned according to blueprint. What is happening is one of the most egregious criminal operations in the annals of history. If there were greater transparency and Americans knew the bloody truth about many of its government and corporate activities, people would not allow it to continue. This is why the flow of information is stringently controlled or manipulated. The closer we can get every citizen to the blood, death and suffering of real people, through zero censorship in media, the better off we will all be. But largely, western corporate media is just that — corporate. Its independence ends at the fist that holds the dollar. Hard reality and truth often draw complaints from people living fantasy lives, and advertisers are lost. People don't want real, except perhaps the manufactured drama of faux “reality TV,” which the mob loves and easily relates to because they are immersed in the created, petty dramas of their own lives. America is a nation of illusions: illusions in the media, schools and government, where the Iron Curtain of propaganda holds its citizens in a state of darkness, ignorance, and apathy.

Humanity needs heroic leadership from those who see all life as precious. Humanity needs leadership from a loving-strength possessed by individuals who see the broader commonality between all people. We need leadership from those who are willing to exercise judgement, restraint, compassion, and sacrifice in favor of the highest spirit and bonds between people that extend beyond orders, divisions, and borders. Truth, communication, transparency, compassion, peacefulness, empathy, community and love; these are the tools for reforming our culture of violence.


If you have been tainted and sucked into the culture of violence, which relishes the use of cruel power, then you are a surrogate hand of death and destruction, and you have become a predator and an abomination to the noble spirit-nature of human decency. Indifference, blood-lust, and cruel apathy are the hallmarks of beastly and psychopathic tendencies. The power of the situation in combat, absent sane and moral leadership, allows untamed and impressionable minds to run wild in the fevered, grinning blood-sports of death by the destroyer spirit. There is a base impulse in humans, which when kindled and set free, will even burn-up the hand that set the spark. We must be ever mindful of these ancient lower impulses, and keep them in check with the higher evolved and love-seeking mind.

Morality is a leadership quality which cannot be mechanized, mass-produced, and marshaled at will by any institution. Therefore, the best parts of the institutions of war are deeply in need of moral leadership, and are deeply grateful for those leaders among their ranks who possess those coveted characteristics. Contrary to popular belief, the military does not want machine-men who blindly follow orders, for those are the very type of men who, absent the soul of conscience and morality, would turn their war craft against the very hand that trained and created them. The moral leadership required by all law enforcement and military involves the ability for an individual to overcome the power of the situation with clear moral imperatives, and if so compelled, to disobey any immoral or unlawful order. By disobeying immoral orders, that individual preserves the institution's highest rank — dignity.

In a pre-transitional world, while the apparent necessity of soldiering and policing clearly still exists, those institutions are upheld not by those who know how to pull a trigger, but by those who exercise restraint and morality. It is the clear leadership of morality which keeps these institutions intact. It is the unconquerable humane individual acting according to the voice of reason within who is the true defender of rank and order.

Clearly obedience to orders is an essential characteristic, without which the military would lack the reliability to achieve its missions. However, soldiers must not follow unlawful or immoral orders, and are in fact obligated to disobey such orders. In the military academies officer candidates are taught that blind obedience is an undesirable characteristic. They are taught broad thinking concepts such as, “obedience includes criticism”, “verbal expression of disagreement is part of this chain of reasoning,” and that criticism is not a “statement of disobedience or of disloyalty.” As it turns out, Howard Zinn's reiteration of New York City Mayor, John Lindsay's words from a speech at Columbia University that, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism,” appears to be literally true even in the ranks of the military.

According to the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the publication, How Much Obedience Does an Officer Need? by Major Dr. Ulrich F. Zwygart reads, “Blind obedience can be subdivided into ‘ollieism,' a subordinate acting illegally or unethically to get a job done because he wants to please his boss, and that of the ‘yes man,' who — like Keitel and Jodl — the classical pair of ‘nodding donkeys' are men who do whatever their superiors want, without further questioning.”

Major Dr. Zwygart says, “Obedience is the normal case. Orders or wishes of superiors are to be followed as long as they are legal and moral.” We can see here that obedience, as long as it is legal and moral, is what is expected from a good soldier. But what if the orders are not legal or moral? What would be the correct course of action then? General Peter Pace, 16th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the United States' highest-ranking military office, reinforces Major Dr. Zwygart's concepts when he writes, “It is the absolute responsibility of everybody in uniform to disobey an order that is either illegal or immoral.”

It is also very clear from the Nuremberg Trials that the excuse of “I was just following orders” is not defensible, even with “legal” orders, when those orders are not moral. However, it must also be understood that disobedience carries perilous consequences such as imprisonment or even death. Obeying and disobeying immoral orders both have consequences. This places military personnel in a very difficult position at all times — a position of great pressure. But from all of this we can see one very important theme continually reoccurring — the theme of morality.


So why is it that civilians who dissent on the grounds of morality by questioning some military actions are often condemned as unpatriotic and disloyal? This is especially close-minded, considering that even the military itself honors criticism as a high principle in the chain of reason. It seems that even the public suffers from a civilian version of the militarily unacceptable “nodding donkey.” Sadly, resisting influence in the power of the situation is more difficult than it seems, and there is a tremendous body of evidence that indicate social psychologies that produce these behaviors, in the public and military alike. In his book The Lucifer Effect, Philip G. Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, at Stanford University, calls the “evil of inaction” a new form of evil that supports those who are the perpetrators of evil, by knowing, but not acting to challenge them. There are endless examples of this dynamic, from the torture of prisoners by American Military Police in Iraq's infamous Abu Ghraib prison, to the crimes during the civil rights movement, and even in our daily lives at our workplaces through unscrupulous corporate activity.

If only every police officer and soldier had the courage to think critically, to feel with compassion and to make moral choices by listening to their own voice of reason within. After all, police officers and soldiers do possess courage. Their job requires it, for they risk their lives every time they go to work. The important thing they need to do is ensure they direct their courage in the right direction. To risk one's life for the sake of others is heroic, but to risk one's life in the support of maleficence is villainy. In the final analysis, history will judge those who stand defiantly against all forms of injustice as the true heroes, and it will condemn those whose blind obedience allowed innocent people to be harmed.

Question everything, always. In the movie Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon's character, Will Hunting, answers N.S.A. Agent, Bruce Hunter's challenge, “the way I see it, the question isn't, why should you work for the N.S.A., the question is why shouldn't you?”

Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A… that's a tough one. But I'll take a shot. Say I'm working at N.S.A. and somebody puts a code on my desk, something no one else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East, and once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hidin'–fifteen hundred people that I never met, never had no problem with get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', oh, “Send in the marines to secure the area” 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot, just like it wasn't them when their number got called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from Southie over there, takin' shrapnel in the ass; he comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from, and the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so that we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price, and of course the oil companies use the little skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices — a cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. They're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, o' course, maybe they even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis an' fuckin' play slalom with the icebergs; it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's outta work, he can't afford to drive, so he's walkin' to the fuckin' job interviews, which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin' him chronic hemorrhoids, and meanwhile he's starvin' 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat, the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. I figure fuck it, while I'm at it, why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected President.

It is unfortunate that so many who enlist in the military are from broken homes and broken communities. Recruiters sit like vultures preying upon the poor, oppressed and marginalized. They sell these young people on security, hope, dreams and the promise of a family, but war creates a false family. War and the military create a dangerous surrogate foster-home of community and purpose among its comrades, one that replaces the impaired version of community we presently have in our disconnected society. This sense of community is very alluring to its members who often deeply yearn for that absent loving support of family, community and friendship. The artificial family and “brotherhood” created by war is dysfunctional and hard to escape for the disproportionate number of its enlistees who joined having no foundation, family or support. Young and disenfranchised people who desperately need to “fit in” are told that obedience brings honor and acceptance, which ultimately leads to a “place at the table.” However, the hidden stipulation is that this obedience must never be questioned. “Father knows best” is the silent message delivered to these loved-starved soldiers. The price of admission into this special community is the destruction of the heart and the suffocation of critical thinking and reason. Too often, when injured or emotionally debilitated in combat, these soldiers feel used-up, abandoned and unsupported by their nation and former comrades as they come home to a world that does not understand their suffering. In many cases it takes a lifetime for them to put their shattered hearts, minds and bodies back together again. Military personnel represent a special class of super-victims.


We cannot blame the military for being what it is, because the military of any country is a reflection of the country itself. A government, no matter how corrupt, unscrupulous, or manipulative is a reflection of its people. What we presently see before us in society is a perfect reflection of who we are, both good and bad. Who are you? What do you wish to create today? What is your identity? What is your intention? Most people do not actually know how to think for themselves, and unfortunately that prevents them from even knowing it. You are not really free, and that is why you do not know what I am talking about. You are not who you think you are; you are someone else's ideas. One of the most important things you can do in life is to brutally question every single thing you are taught. The ultimate question of who we are is set before us at all times and answered with every action. Self-reflection, self-awareness, greater authenticity, and consciousness expose more of the critical self-probing needed to escape from the layers of manipulation and conditioning, which caused us to lose ourselves to culture. Once you are fully divested from your prejudices and attachments, you can begin to visualize a world without fear, control, and violence, and in that instant, you will be surrendering your personal role as an agent of violence.

In the future, all military needs to be voluntarily dissolved and disbanded by all nations. The sum of an organized military is greater than the parts, and as a whole, any military should be classified as a weapon of mass destruction. In a highly evolved future society, to the pride of its people, no military will exist. The most powerful weapon against our woes is a willful mind of defiance for good. Hold the dream of a world with no military passionately in your heart, and if you will not, or cannot, then the destroyer spirit has possessed you, and YOU are an important part of the great miseries of the world. If you really love the military you will deeply scrutinize the policies and influences leading them into battle, and if you don't care about those policies, then you don't care about the military. The most basic and meaningful way to respect the military is to never allow those men and women to be misused and abused.

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Bryant McGill

Bryant McGill is a human potential thought leader, international bestselling author, activist, and social entrepreneur.

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