Disobeying a direct order in combat?

In the US military, what would happen to a soldier that refused a direct order from an authority?

Sergeant: Charge that bunker position!
Soldier: No! (throws down gun & curls into a ball)

Technically refusing a direct order in combat is just about the most serious crime on the books and it is the equivalent of a capital crime under the military code of justice, if convicted you can be sentenced to death.

In real life? That may have been the result in the Civil War or something but in the year 2011 the person would probably end up being evaluated for psychiatric problems and eventually discharged.

The relevant statute:

By the letter of the

, said soldier should be arrested and sent to court martial.

In a practical sense, wouldn't the sergeant just shoot him on the spot or have I just seen too many old war movies?

Seen too many war movies. He would be placed under arrest after the engagement was over.

Too many old war movies. He (or she) would be sent back to higher headquarters on the next truck for whatever processing and decision that will be made. Front line, platoon level groups don’t mess with that stuff.

I figured. I’d bet it’s tempting, though.

It worked for the Russians.

Just the fast note that it must be a legal order. I think the OP presupposes this, but there do exist rare instances – My Lai comes quickly to mind – when a soldier receives an illegal order from a higher-ranking figure.

Right, and you can disobey an illegal order but the situation in the OP is one in which the soldier is displaying misbehavior before the enemy (curling up into a ball), so even if the order was illegal the soldier would still have been displaying misbehavior before the enemy due to:

Sometimes disobeying an order is the right thing to do. Modern example here.

Either way, you’ll still face a court martial which will be where the legality of the order is determined.

So for your average private, it’s a real interesting chance to take if they think an order is illegal- you get charged with cowardice, insubordination, etc… and then if the order is determined to have been illegal, then you get acquitted. Otherwise, you go to Leavenworth for a while.

Going back a bit, but there are recorded cases of British soldiers (one I believe an officer ) being summarily shot by the neighbouring unit as they tried to withdraw against orders, at Dunkirk.

In addition to Article 99 (Misbehavior before the enemy), which would apply to the “throwing down gun and curling into a ball” part, the part where the guy replies to a (lawful) order by saying “No!” could lead to a charge under Article 92 (Failure to obey order or regulation), although it doesn’t carry the death penalty:

The O.P. specified the order was given by a sergeant; if the order was given by an officer, there would be Article 90 (Assaulting or willfully disobeying superior commissioned officer), which in time of war may carry the death penalty:

Of course they can only put the guy to death the one time.

(I am not a laywer, military or any other kind; I am not your lawyer; I don’t play a lawyer on TV–just on the Internet!.)

Whatever happened to drumhead courts-martial? [Dig on my plural there. :)]

I recall reading an article about the last person to be executed for cowardice (or was it deserrtion?) in the US army.

“The United States Army carried out 141 executions over a three year period from 1942 to 1945, and a further six executions were conducted during the postwar period, for a known total of 147. … With the exception of Eddie Slovik, who was shot for desertion, all of these soldiers were executed for murder and/or rape.”


So they can but rarely do use the death penalty.

That’s highly unlikely to happen in a modern military. AFAIK summary exectutions haven’t been done in the US Army since the Civil War if not earlier. They didn happen in the Soviet & German armies during WWII. A US Army seargeant or LT who did that would likely end up being court-maritaled for murder unless there were some very, very, extenuating circumstances (like it was the only way to stop the soldier from giving away their postition or said solider was trying to kill his comrades or civilians). Even then the sergeant would be facing all manner of inquiries.

Seems like a lot of paperwork to do during a combat scenario. Do they really have time for formal procedures even in these situations?

During the Vietnam war, apparently the opposite of many of these responses happened. There were a large number of incidents, possibly more than a thousand according to Wiki, in which an officer was killed by his own soldiers presumably for issuing too many, er, unpopular orders.

I recall a documentary – maybe Charlie Company? – when a new lieutenant ordered his men to march down a road to a new location, and a substantial number of the men refused. They were veterans and had been taught by their previous lieutenant never to walk on roads because that’s where the booby traps and ambushes were set. And they didn’t want to get blown to pieces because some new clown gave dangerous orders without understanding their implications.

It was eventually talked out and they went on their way because the new officer showed some common sense and listened to reason. I suspect not all of them did.

Remember Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now? IMO, he would have been a serious candidate for fragging. :stuck_out_tongue:

There’s a lot more time for paperwork than you might think, especially in the asymmetrical conflicts of the last decades.