Thursday, December 25, 2014

Tragic accident highlights illegal orders issue in Singapore

An interesting case, reported here, has come up in Singapore. At issue is what should be done when a senior NCO orders a conscript to drive a vehicle for which he lacks the required license, leading to an accident in which another soldier dies and two are seriously injured. The driver was tried and sentenced to 10 days' detention. A district judge observed: "Perhaps one positive outcome of this case is that national servicemen now know that they do not need to obey a manifestly illegal or unlawful order." The master sergeant's case comes up next.

Jonathan Yee writes in NSM Singapore:
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the collective roar of approval of NSFs around the island.
The culture of SAF “Don’t think, just do” – how important is it?
As a rule of thumb, NSFs [national servicemen] are told simply to follow what they are told to do and quickly – so quickly that your brain barely registers what you need to do.
While that sort of decisiveness can be crucial in war and can make the difference between life and death, discretion has to be exercised when NSFs receives an order which is unlawful, or worse, life-threatening.
To outright disobey your superior might not be possible even if the order given is illegal, as the fear of making a mistake is also heavily drilled into the heads of NSFs.
Because of the SAF culture of ‘don’t think, just do’, the message that NSFs should not carry out unlawful orders even if given by a superior, is even more important in preventing more lost lives due to negligence or disregard for rules and laws.
And that’s the message you should be taking from this article, not “eh, this article said I don’t need to obey my superior!”
One might quarrel with the phrase "unlawful, or worse, life-threatening." It is not difficult to imagine an order that is both life-threatening and perfectly lawful. E.g., "Charge!" Note also that the driver was not acquitted; he simply got a lenient sentence.

Thanks to Jon Ong for the thought-provoking link.

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