*Minor Spoilers for Episode 5 of “Falcon and the Winter Soldier”*
“I understand that!
I lived my life by your mandates!
I dedicated my life to your mandates!
I only ever did what you asked of me!
What you told me to be!
And trained me to do, and I did it!
And I did it well.”
Captain Walker’s defense for his murder of a disarmed combatant immediately caught my attention in “Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” Specifically, the line, “I only ever did what you asked of me.”
Placing blame not on his self, but on those above him.
I was just following orders.
We’ve heard that shit before.
The Nuremburg Trials were the trials held to convict Nazi war criminals for their roles in the genocide of millions of Jews. This is where the infamous “Nuremburg defense” came to light. Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi S.S. colonel used this defense specifically in the hopes it would absolve himself of any guilt.
When, in fact, Eichmann “organized the identification, assembly, and transportation of Jews from all over occupied Europe to their final destinations at Auschwitz and other extermination camps in German-occupied Poland.”
“I couldn’t help myself; I had orders, but I had nothing to do with that business.” — Adolf Eichmann, Nazi War Criminal
But it was not just Nazis who used this defense. American soldiers used this defense for their role in the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War.
LT Calley’s defense for his war crimes in Vietnam was that he was carrying out the orders of his superiors. That everyone in the village he massacred was a target. Every man, woman, and child.
While he was convicted, his sentence was later reduced and he was eventually pardoned by Nixon. And it should be noted to say that while hundreds of civilians were murdered, he was the only one convicted. Many other soldiers and commanding officers escaped punishment as well. Including those that personally pulled triggers and those that attempted to cover up this war crime. Including Calley’s commanding officer, Captain Ernest Medina.
“I will have to say that I was a 2nd Lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them — foolishly, I guess.” — William Calley, 2009
But this cowardly defense is not just used by soldiers. American police officers have attempted to justify their brutal tactics to suppress peaceful protesters as well.
This was the same defense used by cops to justify two Buffalo, New York police officers assaulting a 75 year old man. Shoving him to the ground. And stepping over his unconscious body as he was bleeding.
“These officers were simply following orders.” — Buffalo Police Union Statement
It is a coward’s way out to not accept responsibility.
During my time training to become a solider, every single one of my Drill Sergeants, NCOs, and COs made it explicitly clear: We never follow orders that are illegal, unethical, or immoral. Because that’s what the Nazis did.
Because that’s what cowards do.