As a current active duty Army officer, and as a holder of a Master’s degree in Modern European history, I was particularly troubled when the front-runner for the Republican Party’s nomination for president insinuated that service-members under his command as President would mindlessly follow not only illegal orders, but immoral orders the scale of which can only be compared to crimes committed under some of the modern world’s worst dictatorships. After five years of service in Germany, marrying a German, and generally falling in love with their way of life, I have spent many years contemplating and studying how and why an advanced, outwardly religious civilization with endless commonalities with our own could turned into one of the world’s most reprehensible machine of death. How could a ‘civilized’ people do such a thing? How could professional soldiers be complicit in the most egregious actions of our modern era?
My experiences in Iraq personally has given me a more intimate perspective on those questions. There is not much separation from an outwardly civilized society with a tradition of tolerance, love, and respect for human rights, and a calloused, morally-detached disregard for the “better angels of our nature” that induces horrifying behavior from simple soldiers trying to get the job done to protect themselves and their buddies and get home to their families.
Mr. Trump is indeed known for “speaking his mind.” And, if memory serves me right, this was the impetus of the question Ms. Kelley asked. To be clear, the context of the question concerned the “going after [terrorists’] families,” a disturbingly typical over-the-top statement to project an image of strength. His basic inability to contextualize his statement and his doubling-down not once, but twice, stating the service-members under his command would indeed follow his orders demonstrates a disturbing default to dictatorial postures that is completely incongruent with the Constitutional oaths sworn to by all public officials; from the President to the Army Private.
As distasteful as the last seven years has been to me, the believer in original intent of the Constitution, private citizen of the United States, I have yet to be presented with an illegal or immoral order from our Commander in Chief and I have followed my oath to obey his orders with good conscience. I have no doubt I would continue to do the same under any of the other candidates running for office as well. But I would be the first to state that no, Mr. Trump, I would NOT obey an order to conduct illegal activities pursuant to whatever foreign policy you are pursuing. I would NOT obey immoral orders no matter how seemingly justifiable it may be in the emotionally-charged, fearful aftermath of a terrorist strike. I will not because I have sworn to uphold the Constitution and am answerable not to you, not to the American people, but to my God.
A Simple Soldier