Historians have incessantly warned us not to disregard the lessons of history lest we repeat failures that could have been avoided. That indisputable admonition is commonly found in childhood parables, writings of scholars, clever sayings of gurus, and advice from our parents and elders. Nevertheless, humanity has habitually and often flagrantly ignored the obvious realities of past misdeeds regardless of how costly or disastrous.
A true retrospective examination of mankind’s past, however, teaches us a valuable lesson. Not everyone disregards the past. Evil never sleeps.
Is there a basic moral law that defines and governs human interaction?
Relationships in human groups during prehistoric times were most likely based on physical attributes similar to those found in animal packs. As humanity rose above a subsistence level, anarchistic interpersonal relations posed a threat to harmony and survival. The changing relative values of violence, strength, and mental ability required different guidelines to ensure acceptable behavior in a group setting.
There are numerous moral codes found in recorded human history: Jewish, Christian, Roman, Old Norse, Greek, Babylonian, and American Indian to name a few. It is truly fascinating and instructive that human beings obviously have an innate and universal set of moral principles regardless of their geographical location, language, origin, or religion. In his book The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis writes about universal moral principles he calls “Tao or Natural Law”. For Lewis, these “primeval moral platitudes” constitute a kind of moral inheritance of fundamental truths that are a basic part of human nature.
The common elements of humanity’s universal moral code are found in the Ten Commandments of Moses and other texts:
- Honor your Father and your Mother
- You shall not murder
- You shall not commit adultery
- You shall not steal
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s property
- You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor
- The Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
- Natural Law individual rights in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution
Since anarchy is generally unacceptable, some form of government is necessary to enact laws by which members of society must live. When government rules with the consent of the governed and is bound by the universal moral code, the rights of each individual, even a minority of one, are secured and protected. Ethical problems arise when the mechanisms of government are perverted to grant excessive authority and privilege to the ruling class, who then enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. Since power seized is rarely relinquished, eventual totalitarian oppression of the population is inevitable.
As the balance of power shifts away from the people, discord and anger lead to resistance. The oligarchs must then impose authoritarian and increasingly brutal measures to maintain control. Law enforcement personnel become the face of cruelty and tyranny as they are required to enforce edicts both they and the people know are illegal and immoral.
In the last century, humanity has faced this moral dilemma too often, rarely with acceptable results. Millions have been slaughtered to satisfy the greed and lust for power of the few, and too often there is neither punishment for the guilty nor justice for the dead. Vicious dictators like Stalin and Mao, together responsible for killing over 100 million people, died of natural causes. Stalin died in 1953 at his dacha of a stroke at age 74, and Mao died in 1976 at the age of 80 from Parkinson’s Disease.
Adolph Hitler and the Nazi elite of the infamous Third Reich, however, remain one memorable instance in which “good” triumphed and “evil” was publicly held responsible. While Hitler himself and some of his inner circle committed suicide in Berlin, some of the Nazi leaders involved in the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity stood trial in Nuremberg after the end of World War II. The Nuremberg Trials are most notable for the unsuccessful use of the “I was only following orders” legal defense. That defense was first used in a 1799 naval blockade case and subsequently has been used in military cases related to the Vietnam War more often than in any other conflict. As in the Nuremberg trials, “I was only following orders” proved not to be a valid defense, and those using it were found guilty in virtually every instance.
In the Uniform Code of Military Justice, there is discussion concerning “lawful” versus “unlawful” orders, a critical distinction that is difficult or even impossible to define. An order to commit a crime such as abusing a prisoner of war is obviously unlawful. An order that violates the Constitution or the laws of the United States is also unlawful, but interpretation of the Constitution can shift based on the composition of the Supreme Court. A member of the military is at risk whether he obeys or disobeys an order, because the resulting court martial will eventually determine the legality of both the order and the subsequent military action or lack thereof.
Our current federal government has embarked on a course that ignores the checks and balances defined by constitutional law. They are legislating by executive decree, ignoring restrictions on constitutional authority, putting our national economy and personal financial futures at enormous risk, and imposing laws and penalties on citizens without due process.
As our government continues down this slippery slope, it is very likely that law enforcement personnel and American citizens will find themselves caught on opposing sides of a constitutional and moral dilemma. Imagine numerous scenarios in which law enforcement personnel are ordered to enforce laws that both they and you know are unconstitutional and morally wrong.
If you refuse to comply with an unconstitutional law, what will be their response?
If they attempt to force you to comply with an unconstitutional law, what action will you take?
If they use force to compel your compliance, what will you do?
As you consider your response, remember the lessons of history. Holocaust survivors and their families in Israel today will readily affirm their solemn pledge, “Never again!”
All it takes to become a victim is compliance. To be a hero requires courage in the face of adversity. “I was only following orders”, a defense that fails in earthly courts, will most assuredly also fail in the highest court of all.
Not everyone disregards history. Evil never sleeps. It is time to break the cycle.
Resist Tyranny and Trust in Freedom!