When tragic events occur, society often points to the people who carried out the crime itself. However, often times the orders may come from a superior authority, and the automatic override to be obedient kicks in. Especially in the military, obedience is a form of order and without it, there would be no organization or respect of one’s upper authorities. In Columbia Picture’s “A Few Good Men”, Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, is a lawyer defending two men being accused of the murder of Private First Class Santiago.
In the movie, Kaffee along with Galloway searches for the truth to discover whether an illegal code red occurred, killing PFC Santiago. Within the movie are many examples of disobedience to authority, when it comes to respecting higher officer. Kaffee questions Lieutenant Kendrick on a previous code red, where he responds that he simply followed orders, like everyone in the military should. Continuing, the movie ends by solving the murder when Kaffee risks smearing a higher ranked officer in order for justice.
Finally, the movie comes to a close with Colonel Jessup and Lieutenant Kendrick pinned down as the villains of the film, as Kaffee becomes the hero of the story. In psychologist, Philip Zimbardo’s TED talk “The Psychology of Evil”, he explains the definition of evil, and how it began in today’s world. He uses several different categories to depict all of the situations that could cause one to become malicious through the lucifer effect. Then, he uses his list of how the slippery slope of evil works, including dehumanization and blind obedience to authority, evident in the film “A Few Good Men”.
Next, Harvard professor Herbert C. Kelman and V. Kee Hamilton’s article “The My Lai Massacre”, explains how and why the My Lai Massacre happened, and how the military personnel seemed to willingly agree to murder, rape, and torture innocent women, children, and elders. The authors discuss the social processes that lead to automatic disobedience within the soldiers that committed this act of terror. These two articles provides answers to the question, why do soldiers accept and carry out their orders, if they know it is wrong or they will be perceived as the bad guy?
Zimbardo’s TED Talk and Hamilton and Kelman’s essay exemplify how soldiers become automatically obedient to superior officers through a slippery slope of dehumanization to support why people like. Also, each of the authors describe the influence outside influences and peer pressure had on soldiers carrying out acts they may not have intentionally wanted to commit. (transition) Many soldiers may fall into a simple routine of dehumanization and then blind obedience to their authorities resulting in a lack of judgement.
In the movie “A Few Good Men”, Lieutenant Kendrick is on trial, and seems like an unbreakable character. Kendrick does not realize the intensity of the punishment he gave to PFC Curtis Bell, because of falling down the slippery slope leading to pure obedience. Kendrick says, “The only proper authorities I’m aware of are my commanding officer Colonel Nathan R. Jessup and the Lord our God” stating openly that the only authorities he respects is his superior officer and God. A Few Good Men) Because he says this, it supports the claim that military personnel carry out their orders regardless of danger, and in result, was considered one of the villains in the movie. They feed the soldiers information represented in the movie such as, “we follow orders or people die,” to scare them into submission to authority which is one of the initial steps to achieving blind obedience by authority and dehumanization. (A Few Good Men). However, Kelman and Hamilton explain how soldiers fall into an obedient state in three simple steps- authorization, routinization, and dehumanization in “The My Lai Massacre”.
These authors advance the idea that soldiers continually feel obligated to follow authorities whether they agree with them or not, which leads to a psychological state where they lose the ability to make decisions, and finally are completely dehumanized to the point where they lose all human feelings especially empathy. The authors claim, “authority requires subordinates to respond in terms of their role obligations… often people obey without question even though [it] may entail great personal sacrifice or great harm to others” (Kelman and Hamilton 140).
This point exercises the authors viewpoint that soldiers are being stripped of their humanity and becoming robots of mass destruction regardless of the danger they may cause. Likewise, Lieutenant Kendrick has lost the ability to make his own decisions and instead has been dehumanized and trained to follow each and every command of Colonel Jessup. Also in Zimbardo’s TED Talk, he lists in more detail than Kelman and Hamilton, how people fall into the trap of evil. Zimbardo’s steps include, “mindlessly taking the first small step, dehumanization… nonymity, diffusion of responsible authority, blind obedience to authority, uncritical conformity… passive tolerance of evil” (TED Talk). This list describes how ordinary people transform to blindly obedient, similarly to Lieutenant Kendrick. The cause and effect of is the soldiers becoming deprived of their emotions and humanity until they are simply killing machines. Not only do these soldiers not realize that the orders they have accepted and carried out are wrong, they have been victims of abuse of power. Each of these authors relate, because they explain how the process affects these soldiers.
They are important because they explain the complexity of the blind obedience and why soldiers are often prone to carrying out inappropriate acts though they were assigned. (add analysis) Next, outside influences encouraged the soldiers to accept heinous orders, leading them to perpetrate crimes they did not intend on. In the movie, Colonel Jessup is placed for questioning “You ordered Lieutenant Kendrick to tell his men that santiago wasn’t to be touched… and Lieutenant Kendrick was clear on what you wanted?… Crystal” (A Few Good Men).
This quote from the movie is an example of one of the pressures of higher authority that soldiers such as Kendrick are forced to follow against their own judgement. When these soldiers have such a large amount of influential pressure to do what a superior officer is requesting, it happens. Zimbardo further discusses the many external or internal causes to fall into the wake of evil and become blindly obedient for no apparent reason. The speaker says that there are three major influences that cause individuals to go bad including dispositional (internal), situational (external), and system (broad influences).
Furthermore, Zimbardo clai “the power is in the system. The system creates the situation that corrupts the individual” (TED Talk). He delves into his idea that the government is what is changing people for the worse, continually manipulating people to do that may be considered immoral. Zimbardo recognizes that most psychologists pin the blame on external and internal influences when really the political systems could be the main pressure point leading to blind obedience.
Continuing, Kelman and Hamilton discuss the ideas of rage taking a leading toll on the acceptance of harmful orders. Both of these authors seem to believe that soldiers obedience relies on internal factors a majority of the time. For example, in the My Lai occurrence “[they were] spoiling for a fight, having been totally frustrated… many were in a mood for revenge” (133). Also, Kelman and Hamilton describe how angry soldiers were from battles not actually occurring and one of their own had recently died resulting in emotions running extremely high, or internal factors.
Therefore, many of the men felt as though they were justified in the acts they carried out at the time, because they had the pent up rage building from internal stressors. All in all, each of the authors contribute to the original question giving examples as to why soldiers may commit excessively harmful acts though they know they are wrong. Like Lieutenant Kendrick, external stressors of a higher authority telling him what to do caused him to do it, but also the internal emotional influence of someone disobeying his order, caused him to further order a code red of PFC Curtis.
Overall, soldiers generally get roped into falling down a slippery slope of evil that can lead to tragedy. Kelman, Hamilton, and Zimbardo each provide significant evidence that supports soldiers don’t commit nefarious acts because they want to, they execute them because they have been manipulated and brainwashed into doing these terrible things. With the evidence from these two sources, it is apparent that just like in the movie “A Few Good Men”, soldiers who do are involved in terrible acts are not terrible people.