Introducing Rationalizations #25B, and #25C: “I’m Just Doing My Job,” and “It’s Policy!”

Here are two  more rationalizations for the list, bringing the grand total to 89.

#25B  The Nuremberg Rationalization, or “I’m Just Doing My Job!”

Amazing: 87 previous rationalizations described, and the word “Nuremberg” did not appear once.

Rationalization # 25. The Coercion Myth, covers the excuse for unethical conduct that the actor “had no choice,” and # 25A. Frederick’s Compulsion or “It’s My Duty!” posits that duty excuses wrongdoing. #25 B follows the theme of denying free will by using the fact of employment to justify or excuse unethical conduct. It embodies the defense of the Nazi officers at the Nuremberg Trials that because they followed the orders of others, they were simply agents, and their horrible crimes against humanity should not bring them punishment…after all, they had no choice. It was their duty to follow orders, because that was their job.

We all need jobs, but we all have a choice whether to remain in a job or not. Sometimes it’s not a very attractive choice, and even a frightening one, in which choosing the ethical course requires personal sacrifice. Nonetheless, when a job requires one to commit unethical acts, the choice is this: quit the job and refuse to perform the unethical act, or commit the unethical act, following orders but accepting the responsibility, accountability and consequences of doing so.

For inspiration, we need look no further than the first admittee to the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor, the amazing Henri Salmide.

From the Ethics Alarms post:

In 1944, Salmide was a German officer in the 159th Infantry Division of the German army occupying the French city of Bordeaux, the largest seaport on the west coast. It was August 19, and Allied Forces were spreading out from the beaches at Normandy and taking control of the war. An order came from Berlin calling on the Division to destroy the entire seven miles of port infrastructure before abandoning the city. The port’s destruction was scheduled to occur within a week.

“It fell to me,” Salmide recounted in an interview, because, as head of the bomb disposal unity, he had expertise with explosives. “I couldn’t do it. I knew the war was lost. What was the point of this, I asked myself. People would die and suffer, and the war would still be lost by Germany.”

On  August 22, he filled a bunker at the docks with detonators, plungers, timers and other hardware needed for the planned demolition. But instead of using them to destroy Bordeaux, Salmide blew them up with dynamite, in a terrifying explosion. “It was all I could do,” he said later.

French historians estimate he saved 3,500 lives by refusing to carry out his orders. About fifty Nazi soldiers died in the blast instead. “I could not accept that the port of Bordeaux be wantonly destroyed when the war was clearly lost,” he explained in an interview. “I acted according to my Christian conscience.”

Salmide deserted, and was hunted by both the Gestapo and the French authorities. He hid with the French Resistance for the remainder of the war. Then Salmide adopted a French name, married a local woman, became citizen of France, and raised his family in the very city his conscience had rescued. The Germans regarded him as a traitor, and even the French were reluctant to give him the recognition he deserved, according to his wife.

“No one wanted to admit that he had done it,” Mrs. Salmide told the New York Times. “If he had been French, it would have been easier for him.”  It was not until 2000 that the French government finally awarded him the French Legion of Honor,* and the Bordeaux City Hall said this week that it wants to erect a memorial to Salmide.

His best and most lasting memorial, however, would be for his story to be known around the world, and taught in every school, of every nation. For when any of us finds ourselves being required to act under authority to accomplish unjust and cruel ends—to blindly do our job, knowing that the results would harm others unjustly, and we wonder if it is fair for us to be accountable for our actions when, in reality, we seem to have no choice, we should recall Henri Salmide. His moment of courage should remind us that we are always accountable, and we always have a choice, provided we also have the ethics and courage to take it.

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/20/17

Good Morning, everyone!

Good Morning, General!

Good morning, Traveler!

1. Sensing that there is now a new approach to undermining Donald Trump’s presidency with propaganda, today’s New York Times Sunday Review sports a front page almost completely occupied with a giant graphic of the President’s head without a face. In place of a face is a photo of the Charlottesville torchlight demonstration. suggesting that he approved of the demonstration and its primary participants’ white supremacy views. This is a complete lie, of course, and meets the definition of Anti-Trump porn. The rest of the supplement follows the front page’s tone.

2. An impeachment and conviction of President Trump absent the kind of offenses the Constitution specifies would be nothing less than a coup, and an illegal over-turning of an election for partisan gain. Please observe the individuals, professionals, pundits and elected officials advocating this: they are the ones treading close to treason, defined as “the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to…overthrow the government.”

3. Of course, the cowardly, chaotic and anarchistic juveniles calling themselves “Anonymous”—you can’t get more chicken that that—are all-in with the phony impeachment drive, and have published what it says are the private cell phone numbers of 22 GOP Congressmen to bully them into supporting the movement. I would give you a link, but the one sent to me has crashed my browser twice: apparently a story about Anonymous even makes my computer throw-up.

4. Then there is this Incompetent Elected Official, Democratic Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, who announced this week that he will introduce articles of impeachment against President Trump “based on his defense of the white supremacists who participated in a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.” While we’re at it, let’s call out The Hill for that slanted and misleading description.

First Cohen, who said,

“Instead of unequivocally condemning hateful actions by neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Klansmen following a national tragedy, the President said ‘there were very fine people on both sides.’ There are no good Nazis. There are no good Klansmen.”

Cohen is a simple-minded ignoramus with the historical perspective of a lump of granite, and you can quote me. Sure there were good Nazis. Is he really claiming that every German citizen who didn’t have the courage to risk liquidation by defying Hitler was evil? That every child indoctrinated in Hitler youth groups were beyond redemption? Here’s a good Nazi: Henri Salmide. Here’s another: Albert Goering.

And wait, didn’t Stephen Spielberg direct a movie about another good Nazi, one who is honored in the Holocaust Museum here in D.C.? I’m sure I recall something about that. Huh. I’m sure the name will come to me.

There have been good Klansmen too. Legendary Democratic Senator Robert Byrd was once a member of the Klan. So was Hugo Black, one of the greatest judicial minds ever to enhance the Supreme Court.  Yes, and even Harry Truman, a much-admired Democratic President, found it politically expedient at one point in his career to join the Klan.

Is Cohen ignorant and stupid, or does he just want to make sure Democratic voters who believe their elected representatives are ignorant and stupid? Those attempting to benefit politically by dividing the nation and sowing discord want to represent every issue as black and white, good and evil, with no acknowledgement that there are important nuances to consider. Cohen is an especially nauseating example, arguing that if a President doesn’t accept misleading progressive half-truths and jump through the hoops they set set up, he is a criminal. Nor can Cohen defend his double standard, embraced wholeheartedly by the anti-Trump’s gotcha! brigade, that if you march with the white nationalists against the purging of American history (which should be marched against, as it is ethically despicable) you are innately  bad, but if you march with hooded, violent thugs of the antifa movement in favor of Soviet-style historical editing and in an attempt to silence protected speech, you can still be the salt of the earth.

Nor can anyone.

5. Ah, yes, the Hill. It described the President’s remarks as a “defense of the white supremacists.” In fact, Trump never defended white supremacy. He defended the cause they claimed to be marching for, which was allowing Robert E. Lee’s statue to stand.  I also defend that cause, as well as the right of anyone to march in protest against the current orgy of statute-toppling, that virtuous activity that sometimes must be undertaken in the dead of night. Moreover, the Hill says that one side”participated in a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend,” as if there was not another side that also participated, one that included hooded individuals intending violence…or perhaps the hood were to hide bad cases of acne. This was exactly why it was appropriate for the President to level blame on both the demonstrators and the counter-demonstrators.

As always of late, the news media, like Cohen, wants to keep the public misled and divided.

_______________________

Pointer: Neil Dorr

Presenting the Ethics Alarms Heroes’ Hall Of Honor

remember

Today, the anniversary of September 11. 2001, American minds should be occupied with thoughts of gratitude for heroes, the often anonymous and unknown people we may pass in the street every day, as well as the justly famous and celebrated, who make our lives and many others better by living their own selflessly and well. They are our salvation, role models and neighbors, and they teach us the lesson that all is never lost, and hope is always thriving, as long as there are good and courageous people who will do the right thing, no matter what the cost, when fate turns to them.

This seems like a propitious time to dedicate the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor, the list of the Ethics Heroes Emeritus whose stories have been told here (and on this site’s predecessor, The Ethics Scoreboard.) Every current member of the Hall is now deceased, like the brave men and women who died this day, 12 years ago. Each of them, in a unique way, teaches how human beings can rise above the vicissitudes of mere survival, self-interest, personal benefits and the base desires of the species  to live  meaningful and virtuous lives. Some accomplished this over decades, some with one brilliant and transforming act of distinction.

There are currently 32 members enshrined in this virtual Hall. Obviously, it is far from complete. They are just symbolic representatives, worthy ones, of millions more who once breathed the same air we do today, and like those who perished twelve years ago, face the prospect of being forgotten over time, as we all go about the consuming task of getting from one day to another. Each one of us, I believe, is capable of emulating their example.

Here are the thirty-two members and their stories, as of this date,

September 11, 2013... Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Hero Emeritus: Henri Salmide, 1919-2010”

Henri Salmide

Henri Salmide, Hero: Unknown in the US, and only barely recognized in Germany or France. Greatly appreciated on Ethics Alarms, however.

German visitor Reinhard Gross sent me a useful clarification on the 2010 Ethics Alarms tribute to Henri Salmide, who as a German soldier in World War II saved the French port of Bordeaux by defying orders to blow it up and blowing up his German superiors instead. You can read the post on Salmide, an Ethics Hero Emeritus, here, and his New York Times obituary here. It’s an inspiring story, and if you are not familiar with Salmide, you should be.

Salmide lived the rest of his life as a French citizen in Bordeaux, and until late in life was seldom noted for his heroic act in France, so strong was the bias against him as a former German soldier. I asked Reinhard what the attitude in Germany was toward Salmide, and his Comment of the Day was the response. It also provides some insight on the the long and painful process the German culture must work through, as the German people come to terms with the dark Nazi period, when their society and its values were so horribly warped, with such tragic consequences for Germany and the world.

Here is Reinhold Gross’s Comment of the Day on the post Ethics Hero Emeritus: Henri Salmide, 1919-2010…and I thank him for reminding me of Henri Salmide’s courageous and ethical act: Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Henri Salmide, 1919-2010

Henri Salmide by the port he saved, and came to love.

Henri Salmide by the port he saved, and came to love.

In the Nuremberg war crimes trials following World War II, the Allies took the high-minded position that “just following orders” was no defense to “crimes against humanity” committed during wartime. It is and has always been much easier to argue for defying military orders in the abstract, however, than in real combat situations. Conveniently, the victors in a war can take such a position, even knowing in their hearts, as most honest soldiers do, that they themselves might not be able to muster the courage and conviction to tell a commanding officer, “No!”

Henri Salmide, a former German soldier in World War II who died in France this week, would have been an appropriate judge for the trials, for he would not have been plagued by any such conflict or hypocrisy. For Salmide, back when he was called by his birth name of Heinz Stahlschmidt, was a rare and remarkable man who did defy an order he knew was wrong, and saved a city with his courageous, dangerous, and principled actions. Continue reading