From the private journal of Warren Armstrong, March 10, 2184

“Authorized and required to use any force necessary.”

In military orders, that phrase has no ambiguity. A civilian might think it leaves it to my judgment to decide what sort of force will accomplish the mission. And it does— up to the point when I’m proved wrong. Then I have no choice.

If the offworlders aren’t lining up at the docking ports on May 3, I have to send my troops out to drag them there. And open fire on anyone who tries to stop them.

Open fire on civilians who are only trying to stay in their homes.

What’s my tactical situation? Dismal. The Colonies are not Utopia. Their crime rates are low but not nonexistent, meaning they have police forces comparable to similar-sized cities on the planet. As of this moment, the Star City Police Department has 2,031 officers. They normally carry sidearms, but they’ve got stocks of military weapons for SWAT unit operations— very rarely needed, but the SCPD keeps every officer thoroughly trained in their use. I’ve checked. They can put around 200 officers into combat with equivalent capacity as a military force.

The Star City company of my Offworld Force has 200 troops. I’ve got another 20 officers in my Force Command Staff. Our training is not that much different from the civilian police. Though we’re called the Terran Military, the truth is that since the end of the Unification War a century ago, the military itself has only been needed in a law enforcement capacity.

Safreth has made clear that if my troops attempt to use force against any civilians, he’ll order the SCPD to arrest the whole Force. In response I can stage a mostly even battle against their SWAT teams but with 1800 more officers engaged, even with only sidearms, we’ll be overwhelmed. My only choice will be how much blood I allow to be spilled before I surrender.

The ratio is roughly the same across all 24 Colonies.

Safreth has argued all along that President Monroe doesn’t want it to come to a fight. To keep up his political demagoguery, he needs the offworld “crisis” to continue in indefinite stalemate. I was beginning to think he was right, forgetting what I saw in Monroe’s eyes in our meeting last year. Now I think he was only half right. Monroe does want the conflict to go on. If he was serious about winning it, then necessary reinforcements would be on their way to me already. But I don’t think he just wants the status quo. He wants a bloody spectacle. He wants pictures of wounded and dead spread all over the newsnets, that he can blame solidly on the Colonies. He wants my Offworld Force locked up in offworld jail, so he can talk about the cruel gulags of the evil offworlders.

He is my commander-in-chief. Can it really be my duty to spill blood to provide talking points to a man who is either madman or… something worse?

The UCMJ requires every soldier to obey the “lawful” orders of his superiors. It also says it’s a soldier’s duty to refuse illegal orders. I understand the principle behind that; I even agree with it. There have been too many times in history when “I only followed orders” has been used as an excuse. But there are two problems with it.

First, no military can function if everyone in it acts as a lawyer judging the orders of superiors before deciding to obey them. There has to be a presumption that orders are to be obeyed, a presumption that they are legal orders, unless a soldier or officer is somehow confronted with proof, in the moment itself, that they aren’t.

Second, history’s worst cases of “I only followed orders” were those in which the orders were perfectly legal, by the laws of the tyrannical regimes that issued them. The real call is for military officers to recognize when their leaders have crossed a moral line, not a legal one. Though that only makes the first problem even worse.

President Monroe’s orders are perfectly legal, under the state of emergency that he declared through perfectly legal channels.

How much blood am I supposed to spill before I’m forced to surrender? How much, before “I followed orders” crosses the line from an expression of duty to an admission of guilt?

Shouldn’t the answer be “none?”

I should not be thinking like this.


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