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Perplexing Symmetries in Obedience to Orders

Explores correspondences in attitudes to authority of Kofi Annan and Adolf Eichmann.

Perplexing Symmetries in Obedience to Orders
Adolf Eichmann
Kofi Annan
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Produced in the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Cited in a subsequent development of the argument
(Humanitarian Disaster or Act of God -- Dangerous Implication in Practice? 2011).


The comparisons explored in the following text are repugnant and questionable -- but exactly why is this so? The focus is however on the issue of responsibility of a subordinate for orders that lead to the death of thousands, if not millions of people. Whether repugnant or inappropriate, the questions they raise appear to merit exploration.

From this perspective, there are strange parallels between the case of Adolf Eichmann and Kofi Annan. Whether they are of any significance is for the reader to reflect upon. The question is whether the parallel elements in the two apparently dissimilar cases raise issues concerning decisions made daily by subordinates in governments and corporations -- where these have horrendous consequences for the lives of those affected. Many people now hold such positions. Whether their decisions result in the death or deprivation of hundreds, or thousands, of people -- or of species -- may be irrelevant to the moral dilemma which these cases raise so strikingly.

It is interesting that many corporations are incorporated under the notion of "limited responsibility". Governments also have little difficulty in disclaiming extensive responsibility for systematic programmes, such as the exposure of civilians and soldiers to radiation or to biochemical products.