The Forgotten Soldier – Breaking the Chain of Command
Posted by intellisg on July 13, 2007
How many of you really know what the chain of command is, be it in the military or a factory manufacturing battery operated dildo’s? Most of us, I dare say, including myself know it, simply as a the neck bone is connected to the hip bone. The hip bone’s connected to the tight bone. The tight bone’s connected to the knee bone that sort of thing. It’s a chain, hardly rocket science, right?
In a military context, the chain of command is the line of authority and responsibility along which orders are passed. Don’t bother yourself with the details, it roughly the same thing. For example, a common soldier who has difficulty carrying out an order is likely to be disciplined for not observing the chain of command if he skips the officer who is in direct command of him and directly appeals to a higher-ranked officer in his chain of command.
The world should in theory hum along quite happily, but what if the chain of command breaks down? What if the system doesn’t work? What if our world spins out of control? Do we break the chain of command?
It’s a big dilemma that’s not only confined to soldiers, but affects anyone who has to work in a hierarchy. For instance what would a financial controller do, if he’s being asked by his superiors to massage the figures? How would an in-house counsel respond, if he was asked to overlook a case which perverted the course of justice?
Let’s not kid ourselves –its complicated. Especially when the chain of command offers only a rough guide to those who are in the field, they seldom have perfect information to make an informed decision, clarification regarding policy or seeking permission may as well be like a man posting a letter from the moon.
In situations like these, the task of pursuing proper channels by following the appropriate chain of command sounds a bit like theory gone all awry. Assertively pursuing the best route out of the quagmire, does little to clarify, define and win the day – this matter is heightened in the new information age, in which those who may feel the system has broken down has the capacity to leverage on the public will at large by accessing endless channels of telling their story.
Infamous incidents such as the My Lai incident and the Abu Ghraib “human pyramid,” abuses in Iraq live on in the collective consciousness precisely because we no longer live in the age or sail or horse drawn carriages. Technology enables news and information to be disseminated faster and more efficiently than ever before in human history, and this so-called ‘CNN-effect’ puts even more stress on the mechanisms of responsibility, namely the ethics concerning the chain of command.
Some may claim justification by ‘opening the whole can of worms’ before a public forum if the chain of command fails, but it raises the question: can public opinion be the basis for reaching a fair and impartial verdict? Others may contend, these whistle blowers who continuously break the chain of command are driven by altruistic goals to improve the system, therefore they should be accorded some measure of immunity and protection. After all don’t we live in an age where decision makers are less willing to assume responsibility for failures or unjustifiable decisions by those in the lower ranks of the bureaucratic machinery? The dilemma arises again: is merely having an altruistic goal justifiable? It could be argued those at the lower ranks of a bureaucracy, don’t necessary have a helicopter or bird’s eye view of the bigger picture. Besides even the concept of ‘right’ is hardly settled. One could all too easily be ‘right’ and still be woefully ‘wrong.’ So the argument of justifiably circumventing the chain of command hardly holds one drop of water.
Central to the debate whether there are any mitigating circumstances which can justify the chain of command to be either circumvented or broken brings us to a thorn bush – the issue of ethics – for example: is it justifiable for a soldier to shoot a mother carry a baby walking up to a check point? No. But what if there’s a possibility, that person is a suicide bomber?
That’s how the ethical dilemma is usually framed and encountered at the ground level, usually with doses of imperfect information to make an informed decision. In less than perfect situations where the little folk must choose the best moral course of action in a predicament from which there are two competing and equal moral choices. It’s all too easy with the benefit of hindsight to say – you should have followed the chain of command! But the argument, you were not there! Is just as compelling.
The issue of ethics in the context of acting outside the scope of the chain of command also raises the dilemma of rights – yes, you have a right to blow the whistle! But it doesn’t answer the question – who gave you that right in the first place to position yourself as the sole arbiter to choose the best moral course of action without knowing in advance the outcome of the decision? In the long run, the chosen course of action may not be beneficial for all parties involved in the decision and may even exacerbate the situation – thus denying one party a fair and impartial hearing.
What needs to be appreciated is whenever the chain of command is broken for whatever reason, it automatically raises the ethical dilemma of whose rights are we protecting here? Before you put up your hands and shout out, “my rights as a citizen!” Let me remind you even your best moral choice may not be best for all the individuals involved in the predicament. It may only exacerbate the situation further, for this reason I am not a big fan of those who decide to break the chain of command unless either people or planet is clearly in danger – other than those extraordinary circumstances there’s no excuse for anyone to follow the procedure laid down and there is a very good reason why I always plumb that way – it’s a way of respecting the rule of law and the whole entourage that goes with it i.e natural justice, ethics, morality etc. Besides, its just my nature to always reach out to the other guy who slipped or dropped out – I don’t know why. Maybe I am screw up artist par excellence, but I know people just don’t go bad for no rhyme or reason. Maybe his girlfriend dumped him, or his dog died or maybe his mother is suffering from terminal cancer or maybe he was dropped on the head when he was a baby – all I know is leadership isn’t about check listing question boxes, any fool can do that! It’s got to do with the serious business of bringing out the best in people, enabling and not disabling them! That’s the creative and imaginative part, such as listening and understanding. That’s why I am just sitting on the fence right now, only because I am waiting to hear the forgotten soldier’s side of the story – there’s always the other side of the story.
(This has been brought to you by Aurora your friendly brotherhood controller – 2007 / Executive Summary 990392 – The Forgotten Soldier 2007 of Extended Piece (EP 990392 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)
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