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  • Robin Horsfall

'I was only obeying orders.'

‘I was only obeying orders.’

How did the Windrush scandal manage to continue for two years unabated?

How did the racism in the police forces manage to continue before the Stephen Lawrence murder?

Why do police officers continue to interrogate and arrest soldiers who did their duty against a murderous enemy fifty years ago?

People are divided into four groups: tyrants, victims, watcher and heroes. The tyrant give the orders, the victim obeys, the watcher watches and the hero speaks up.The usual result of this pattern is that the hero is fired, the watchers continue to watch, the victim remains the victim the tyrant continues to rule. We need more heroes and fewer watchers.

At the end of WW2 the Nuremberg Trials refused to accept the defence of ‘I was only obeying orders’ from German soldiers and concentration camp administrators. It was unacceptable for individuals to contribute to actions that they knew were unethical or immoral and consequently they were found guilty and in some case executed.

Today our government institutions are full of obedient workers who obey orders. They send the e-mail, post the letter, instruct the next level of bureaucracy and pass on the instructions. They know what they are part of, they know that they are destroying the lives of other people but of course they ‘are only obeying their orders’. They have to feed their families and pay their mortgages and most would claim that ‘It would have made no difference someone else would have done it if I refused’.

A serving soldier is obliged to refuse to obey an unlawful command. At eighteen he is expected to have to moral courage to say ‘no this is wrong’. If he doesn’t he is considered to be complicit in the unlawful actions of his superior.

If a boss pays bad wages eventually his workforce refuse to work but when the government makes victims of our people the civil service doesn’t down tools and refuse work. They all continue to contribute to the destruction of other human beings.

For two years Home Office workers continued to process deportation orders against British Citizens who arrived as children with their parents in the 1960s.

Ministry of Defence workers continue to process the paperwork for the arrest of soldiers. Police officers in the PFNI continue to interrogate innocent old soldiers because they are ‘ONLY OBEYING ORDERS’.

We all have a duty of care to one another and the excuses laid out above are not enough to make such actions acceptable. If your work is unethical or immoral that it is your duty to refuse to work. – Let someone else do it!

If you knowingly contribute to a cover up by keeping your mouth shut, if you post a letter to deport a Windrush immigrant, if you drive a car to arrest a former British Soldier who served in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Bosnia or Afghanistan then you can only resort to the same excuses as the Nazis at the Nuremberg Trails. ‘I was only obeying orders’.

You are a victim or a watcher - you did nothing and you are guilty!

©Robin Horsfall 2018

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