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View Full Version : Soldier's Opinions: Guilt, responsibility, and orders


Zoombie
09-07-2011, 03:57 AM
Ho-boy.

SO!

I'm writing a trilogy of young adult hard-sci fi military fiction books!

(Or, as I call it, triYAHSFmilifi!)

The first novel is over and done with and I'm now heading straight into the second one. Our heroine has come home from the war with five fewer fingers, the medal of honor, and a serious case of guilt.

See, the climax of the first novel has our MC being the highest ranked soldier at the front lines. She's facing an overwhelming enemy force, and she gets the orders to use Sandcasters. They're essentially the terror weapon of orbital conflict...it's like a mix between an IED, machine gun, and permanent landmine, and it's very very illegal due to the fact that it's indiscriminate and causes nigh irreparable pollution of our orbit. Which is bad.

So, she makes a choice: She tells her CO no, she won't follow an illegal order. The end result?

She loses the battle, but wins the war. The cost to her troops - all her friends - is staggeringly high, but at the end of the day, reinforcements arrive and she finds that keeping the sandcasters offline kept the orbital routes clear and, thus, have secured supply lines back to the Earth.

She gets to go home. Most of her friends don't.

Now, the second book is mostly about her trying to recover and understand this loss and this guilt - as well as getting caught up in her formal CO's court-martial (For, ya know, trying to use illegal weapons) - and so a big part of the novel is about guilt and where the responsibility of orders falls.

I have a pivotal scene in mind, where my MC gets a serious dressing down from an older soldier who tells her, in effect, that her accepting ALL the guilt for her friends deaths is...well, insulting as hell to her friends. Her friends, her comrades, followed her orders because they respected her and because they knew she was right. They did what good soldiers do: put their lives on the line to save others.

This scene is important, because it begins my MC's path toward figuring herself out, figuring out what it means to be a soldier and all that junk.

So, uh...

Those of you who are actually soldiers and actually know what it's LIKE...is this all a load of bullshit?

thothguard51
09-07-2011, 04:24 AM
Sounds good to me, but the problem with guilt is that no matter what others say to make you see the light, its hard to let go.

She may understand the older soldier and even agree that he has a point, but any GOOD officer is going to remember the faces of those he sent in harms way. It may or may not affect his/her ability to give the same orders again in another time and place.

GeorgeK
09-07-2011, 08:15 AM
It's illegal to follow an order that you know to be illegal. Of course, that assumes modern US military. Yours is obviously in the future and maybe Sith-President-Darth Cheney changed a few things.

If your hero is true to her philosophy, I think her guilt will give way to anger at the illegal order and those giving them. I could see her kidnapping the top brass and handing them over to a world court.

Drachen Jager
09-07-2011, 10:05 AM
Do a lot of research on PTSD and survivor's guilt. Even without her decision playing a role in getting her friends killed she's liable to feel guilty, angry, depressed. She's prone to develop substance abuse issues, blackouts, flashbacks, nightmares and dissociative episodes. If I were you I would go find some good documentary films on the above subjects, that's the best way to really immerse yourself.

A quick google turns up http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/339/index.html and a bunch of others (but that one's a free download from PBS).

I think Catch 22, in spite of it's zaniness is actually an excellent study in the madness of war as well, and well worth the read, even if it wasn't for research purposes.

Zoombie
09-07-2011, 11:14 AM
Oh, yeah, my LAST thread on this was all about PTSD. For just this reason! And so far, it almost seems like 95% of the book is nightmares, flashbacks, sobbing, hiding...

No drugs yet, though.

Yet.

Okay, I'm glad to know that I'm not completely screwing the pooch. It's hard for someone whose never even been within a thousand miles of a combat zone to write about it. But, hey, that's why I...keep asking questions!

Drachen Jager
09-07-2011, 09:08 PM
It's hard for someone who has been in a combat zone to write about it. It's a tough subject to get right.

JinxVelox
09-07-2011, 11:15 PM
If you are ordered to do something illegal, it is an "unlawful order" and needs to be routed up the chain of command (per hubby, who is in the Air Force). So *technically* if it's modern military and following the laws of today, she shouldn't get in trouble for refusing to follow an unlawful order. Especially if she does go up her CO's chain of command and reports it.

I like your idea very much. ^.^

mirandashell
09-08-2011, 12:02 AM
But in the middle of a battle, is she gonna be able to go up the chain of command?

Anyway, I've never been near a battle either but this sounds like a good story.

Drachen Jager
09-08-2011, 12:24 AM
Miranda, I think Jinx was referring to Zoom's description of the NEXT novel where she gets court-martialed for her actions. While in a normal military she'd probably have channels to air her side of the story, in an SF world it's not a big stretch to imagine that one commander is capable of sidelining the military justice system in that way.

IMO as long as she tries the appropriate channels (normally in modern armed forces the chaplain is the approved go-between, otherwise you can get in deep trouble for circumventing the chain of command) and finds that her clever boss has blocked them, I'd be okay with that.

mirandashell
09-08-2011, 12:33 AM
Ah, sorry Drachen. Now I get you. I obviously misunderstood. Told you I was no expert!

Zoombie
09-08-2011, 06:16 AM
Actually, she does not get court-martial-ed. She's a witness to the court martial of the offending officer (her CO).

Heck, she actually gets an official commendation for her refusing to follow an illegal order.

JinxVelox
09-08-2011, 12:56 PM
Miranda, I think Jinx was referring to Zoom's description of the NEXT novel where she gets court-martialed for her actions. While in a normal military she'd probably have channels to air her side of the story, in an SF world it's not a big stretch to imagine that one commander is capable of sidelining the military justice system in that way.

IMO as long as she tries the appropriate channels (normally in modern armed forces the chaplain is the approved go-between, otherwise you can get in deep trouble for circumventing the chain of command) and finds that her clever boss has blocked them, I'd be okay with that.

That's precisely what I meant - she'd report her CO after the fact. In the midst of battle, she'd certainly focus on what needs to get done, and deal with the ethical repercussions later. :)

I take it she does go up the chain of command later to report the incident, and that's why the CO is court martialed.

What I think I love most about the idea is the experienced older soldier telling her to get over her guilt and to realize that thinking she did the wrong thing is an insult to what the Army stands for. She did the right thing and for the greater good. It sounds like an interesting read!

blacbird
09-08-2011, 01:09 PM
I've written an entire, finished, polished and unpublishable realistic novel on this issue.

Can't be explained in a couple of paragraphs in an AW post.

caw

AlwaysJuly
09-11-2011, 07:12 PM
Yes, I think that sounds good. As a Marine we had quite a few classes on military ethics and our responsibility to oppose illegal orders, and I like what the older soldier said to her.

But, I also think she'd really suffer with survivor's guilt. Friendships in the military, IMO, tend to be deeper and more intense, and the sense of responsibility for each other more dramatic, than in the normal world. I think it would be really hard for her to come back from all that... and, if I were her, I might have some real bitterness about even being ordered to use those weapons, and put in a situation to make that decision, which would have enhanced her sense of responsibility about the outcomes.

It sounds like you're on the right track, and your story sounds terrific! I'd definitely read it. :)