“Orders” are not a Substitute for Morals

In light of the recent indictment of alleged Nazi war criminal Samuel Kunz in Germany, it strikes me that most folks are familiar enough with the post-World War II Nuremburg Trials to remember that many of the then-accused Nazi leaders, when queried by the Allied tribunal as to why they committed (or more accurately, ordered and authorized to be committed) such atrocities as occurred both on the battlefields and in the concentration camps, simply replied, “We were just following orders,” or, “We were just doing our jobs.”

This lame response is in no way limited to Nazis. In fact, it’s a typical bureaucratic excuse from every government agent on earth when the inevitable abuses and horrors of such backward institutions are exposed. It’s as if the simple invocation of “I have my orders” somehow magically absolves any bureaucrat who acts on such edicts from any and all forms of independent moral judgment. The bureaucrat, earning his or her tax-funded paycheck, is permitted — nay, expected — to behave like a wind-up toy, a pre-programmed robot incapable of any deviation from his or her master’s directions. And at the end of the day, when natural rights are violated, when real human beings end up deprived of their property and/or hurled into cages, when live people end up dead — every bureaucrat pleads “helpless automaton.”

Tyrants throughout history have used such twisted logic to rationalize their actions. At Hitler’s trial following the 1925 Beerhall Putsch, he stated openly to the German court, “What judgment this court will render, we already know. But in the eyes of history, I have already been acquitted.” Fidel Castro, on trial in Cuba for the 1956 attack on the Moncada Army Barracks issued his now famous speech, “History Will Absolve Me.” And in a less grandiose yet equally heinous fashion, all across the modern American landscape, every single day, police use such ill-crafted reasoning to justify shooting a “suspect.” Soldiers use it in order to clear themselves of any transgression after killing civilians either as “collateral damage,” or, in some cases, deliberately.

That human beings will actually kill in the name of defending the entirely false and fictitious precepts upon which governments rest is a grim and frightening indication of how deep into the psyche repeated conditioning and propaganda can reach.

It is precisely the undoing of this horrible phenomenon that anarchism seeks to achieve.

Whether Mr. Kunz is found guilty in a government court or not misses the point entirely; indeed, merely serves to perpetuate the “good government” versus “bad government” myth. We must reject holding human beings to different and separate moral standards than based on whether or not they are in government employ. All of us have a natural obligation to respect the lives and property of others — and a natural right to expect the same from all others. Anything less is not liberty. And government, by its very nature, will always fall woefully short of that ideal.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory