Submission to Authority Marines are one of the most disciplined armed forces in our world today. They are taught to receive orders and to follow them without question. But when should submission to authority stop? Should orders be disregarded when they conflict with a person’s own morals and consciousness? Maybe they should, but in the Milgram experiment, it was found that it is actually very easy for a person to accept and follow orders while leaving out their own Judgment. This is exactly what happens in the movie A Few Good Men.
This movie shows the discipline that the marines have and their obedience to authority, even when it may contradict their own consciousness. However, it can be argued that in the marines, soldiers are trained to lose their conscious, to lose their identity so as to not interfere with orders from their commanding officers. In the movie A Few Good Men both Private First Class (PFC) Louden Downey and Lance Corporal (LCpl) Harold W. Dawson display the theme of submission to authority due to their loss of identity that comes with being in a pecific role under a higher authority.
In A Few Good Men, PFC Downey and LCpl Dawson can be compared to the prisoners in the Stanford Prison experiment. When they are given orders, they follow the orders. Their loss of identity with who they really are makes them susceptible to loss of morals and consciousness. In “The Stanford Prison Experiment” Zimbardo notes that the guards made the prisoners perform meaningless tasks such as “picking thorns out of their blankets for hours on end. (The guards had previously dragged the blankets through thorny bushes to reate this disagreeable task)” (394). Due to their loss of identity, the prisoners willfully complied.
Similarly, LCpl Dawson held on to his morals for as long as he could until he was given a direct order to give a code red to PFC William T. Santiago. While PFC Downey was not given a direct order from a higher authority, it is clear in the movie that he sees LCpl Dawson as an authority figure. The order went against what Dawson and Downey thought was right but their loss of identity in the marines meant submission to authority and ultimately ended Santiagds life. People often shrug off blame for something by saying that they were told to do it by someone else.
They believe that because they only followed orders, the person who initiated the orders should be responsible. PFC Downey and LCpl Dawson put this into practice in A Few Good Men. When initially charged with murder they immediately say they did nothing wrong, that they were Just following orders. During the Milgram experiment most subjects responded in the same way. Milgram was surprised by the outcome here, “Of the forty subjects in the first experiment, twenty-five obeyed the orders of the experimenter to the end” (362).
While Milgram did not expect this outcome when he conducted the experiment, based on his experiment he would not be shocked by the Marines reaction to charges of murder in the movie. Their loss of personal identity in the Marines makes them lose personal responsibility for their actions because they feel dependant on a authority higher than themselves. Because of Dawson and Downers dependence they do not believe that it is really them doing the wrong. This gives them an excuse to submit to authority even when it goes against the morals they once had.
Like the Stanford Prison experiment, Dawson and Downers loss of identity was only temporary. When the verdict is read and the Marines are charged with becoming of a United States Marine, their identity comes back to them and they realize that they were responsible. Like Milgram told his subjects after the tests, whether they felt responsible or not, they flipped the switch and were ultimately responsible. In Dawson and Downey’s case the circumstances are different; however,
Dawson and Downey acknowledge that even though they were following orders from a superior officer, they were still ultimately responsible for Santiagds death. As seen in the Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments, the normal person’s ability to resist authority is low, even when the authority fgure is a complete stranger. In the case of PFC Louden Downey and LCpl Harold W. Dawson in A Few Good Men, Col Nathan R. Jessup has much more power than the experimenters and guards had, this greatly changes the motivation for Downey and Dawson to carry out their orders.
Not only are they expected to carry out orders because it is their Job, they are expected to carry out orders without hesitation whether it conflicts with their personal morals or not. When analyzed it can be questioned whether this is an acceptable way to train soldiers, to strip them of their identity. While it is important to have obedient soldiers, should soldiers be absolutely obedient even if the orders are unethical such as in A Few Good Men? This question should be thought over and perhaps bring changes to the way soldiers are trained in the future.