When someone is given an order they don't like, often because said order would cross a Moral Event Horizon
, they often express their disagreement with it. A common example would be a soldier being ordered to commit a war crime, pointing out that it's a war crime, and then going through with it anyway. The disagreement is often as simple as yelling, "but, sir!" For this trope to apply, the subordinate (or hostage or other person who is receiving instructions) has to do it after objecting.
The superior's response to the objection depends upon their character. A Knight Templar
might offer a justification, a stern or emotionally charged superior might simply repeat the order louder, a superior who emphasizes rules might remind the subordinate that it's their job to obey, and a Complete Monster
might threaten to kill the subordinate if they don't obey.
If the order was to do something unethical, which is usually the case, this trope can serve as a Kick the Dog
moment for the superior and as a combination Kick the Dog
and Pet the Dog
moment for the subordinate. It can also serve to indicate that the superior is The Unfettered
The objection often serves little practical purpose, for the following reasons:
- The objectionable implications of the order are often obvious ones that have already been considered by the person giving the order.
- The instructions are usually an order that the superior expects to be obeyed, not a suggestion made in a semi-democratic group whose leader is accepting feedback and is willing to reconsider.
- This often occurs in a situation in which acting quickly is important.
Needless to say, in a war crimes trial, saying that you knew an order was bad and yelled "but, sir!" before obeying it is not a valid defense.
This trope can serve as foreshadowing that the subordinate will later turn on the one who gave the objectionable order.
This trope can also apply to the opposite situation, where someone objects to an order being too merciful.
Minor and medium-level spoilers do not need to be marked on this page. Major spoilers should still be marked.
- In Knights of the Old Republic, an order is given to destroy a planet. The person operating the weapon says something like, "But, sir! There are billions of people on that planet - not to mention our own men still on the surface!" When reminded that the previous operator was killed for refusing to do his job, the operator destroys the planet.
- In Neon Genesis Evangelion, Misato Katsuragi is commanding a mission to capture an Angel embryo that is inside a volcano. First, a probe is sent down to an unsafe depth and is destroyed by the pressure. Then, Eva-02, with Asuka Langley piloting, is sent down. Every few hundred meters, Misato gives an order to go deeper, which the technicians in the command center with her object but then follow when she insists. At one point, one of the technicians yells out: "It's manned this time!"
- In X-Men: The Animated Series, a shapeshifter takes the appearance of a high-ranking police officer and orders some other officers to shoot at Storm after Storm uses her powers against anti-mutant protesters who were about to attack someone. The officers object, the order is repeated, and the officers open fire. We'll never know whether they got in trouble for improper use of deadly force.
- In Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones,