Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Few Good Employees

What would happen if foot soldiers refuse to obey orders from their Commanding Officer during a combat situation on grounds that they have better ideas on how to overcome the problem at hand? What would happen if each of the foot soldiers had different solutions to solve the problem? What would happen if because they disobeyed the Commanding Officer's orders, they ended up losing the battle, thus causing loss of men; who should be responsible?

We frequently observe how the chain of command is an integral element of the military. The Commanding Officer can order a private to drop down and do 50 push-ups just like that, and there is nothing the private can do but obey. Cut the grass with a nail-clipper, or polish the Officer's boots with toothbrushes etc. No matter how ridiculous the orders are, the private must obey! The kind of attitude that is imperative in the event of war. The military can't afford the risk of everybody calling his own shots on how things are to be handled. The chain of command must never be broken; otherwise all hell will break loose!

I suppose it can be assumed that the Commanding Officer, perhaps because of his longer combat experience, can make better decisions or strategies on how to deal with combat situations. However, I suspect that that is not always the case! Who knows, sometimes even the lowly foot soldier can come up with a better plan! Therefore, there are pros and cons to the situation, but generally speaking, I think it is still a safer bet to let the Commanding Officer plan the attack or defense; and restrict the foot soldiers to the actual fighting because that's what they are trained for. It is possible that the decisions of the Commanding Officer may appear strange, yet he probably has valid reasons for those decisions.

In the movie A Few Good Men, 2 soldiers were accused of the murder of a fellow soldier. As the story progressed, it was found that they merely obeyed the order from their Commanding Officer, which unfortunately resulted in the death of a soldier. Under normal circumstances, if they did not obey the order from the Commanding Officer, they could get into big time trouble. But here, although they were found not guilty of murder, they were eventually dishonourably discharged. That meant the end of their career in the military! The Commanding Officer was arrested.

In the movie Crimson Tide, we had a slightly different situation. Here there was a conflict of opinions between 2 high-ranking officers in a nuclear submarine. They received an order to launch a missile; but that order was followed by a second order. However, the second order was interrupted while in transmission. That second communication could have been a confirmation of the first order; or it could have been an order to retract the first order. The Commanding Officer was for the launch; whereas the Executive Officer was against the launch. Clash of the 2 characters ensued onboard the submarine, until it was later found that the Executive Officer's decision was the correct one, thus saving unnecessary loss of lives. This was a good example of a good ending to a case of going against the chain of command. Had that Executive Officer been wrong, however, he would have been in big trouble for going against the order of the Commanding Officer! And that mistake would have probably caused major loss of lives too!

Sometimes, life is like that, there are very good reasons why there is such a thing as a chain of command. In any establishment, different people have different responsibilities, i.e. some manage the business; some fight to get the clients; some actually do the jobs for the clients; some collect and chase for payments; some handle the accounts, and so on and so forth.

I suppose there are valid reasons why the boss at the BHP kiosk made it a policy that under no circumstances should the door at the station be opened beyond certain hours. Of course it was possible that the employees at the station could've disobeyed the boss anyway, opened the door despite the policy, getting robbed in the process, and eventually getting fired because they're just too dumb for being tricked by the criminal pretending to be in some sort of emergency. If the story had appeared in the papers like that, I'm sure that many of the readers would have been quick to say that these employees are stupid people—that they should've known better! Couldn't they have just obeyed the order? Why did they open the door beyond those hours? They deserved to be sacked, for crying out loud!

Unfortunately, it just so happened that this was a genuine emergency which the employees had no knowledge of. And because they were the good employees who obeyed the instructions, a woman was burnt to death! If only they had a crystal ball and could see into the future, then they would have opened that forsaken door!

And of course people with the benefit of hindsight are quick to express outrage over the incident. We all know that hindsight is twenty-twenty. They call for a boycott on BHP stations; they demand that BHP apologise to the victim's family; that BHP should compensate her family; that the licence of the station should be suspended etc.

When seeing an accomplished event, it is so easy to decide what to do; everything is plain and simple. The benefit of knowing what's at the end makes all the difference—it is possible that a few good employees can suddenly become the main targets and reasons for the death of someone they had no knowledge of.


Sarah Elizabeth said...

That is why regulation is needed, to be the prevention we all want and need.

Cornelius said...

I'm not sure what regulation you're referring to, Sarah. I can only think of requiring the fire extinguishers to be placed outside the station, perhaps more accessible in the event of fire. But I'm not sure what else we can make the station's owner do in terms of "prevention" of accidents?

Cornelius said...

Yeah... that problem with the oil spill is also ridiculous. I have the feeling that it will have far reaching repercussions for many years to come!

And I am also entertained by the news that they have actually sought Kevin Costner's help in the cleanup!