Created By: Tifforo on May 12, 2011

Obedient Objection

When a subordinate expresses disagreement with an order, then follows it.

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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.

Examples:

  • 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,
Community Feedback Replies: 14
  • May 13, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Often comes up in dialogue like,
    Lt. Alice: I'm [doing the order] under protest.
    Captain Bob: So noted.
  • May 13, 2011
    Fanra
    "When a subordinate expresses disagreement with an order, then follows it."

    In the military, following an order, whether you agree with it or not, is People Sit On Chairs.

    If you are ordered to commit an illegal act (war crime, etc) that is different. In that case, you are required (in the US military, anyway) to refuse. In other words, an order to break the law has no force. An order which is unlawful not only does not need to be obeyed, but obeying such an order can result in criminal prosecution of the one who obeys it.

    Naturally, you can be arrested for failing to obey orders and it's up to you to defend yourself in a court martial.

    Often, when given an order that a subordinate strongly disagrees with, they can, if not in the heat of combat, request it in writing, so as to provide some proof (cover your ass) that they disagreed. Naturally, this does not please the superior and is not going to help your relationship with them or your career (unless the superior turns out to be later reprimanded). Once you get it in writing, you must then carry it out, unless, again, it is illegal.

    Note, this is for the US military, naturally the Star Wars Empire and other forces have different rules.
  • May 13, 2011
    Fanra
  • May 13, 2011
    Damr1990
  • May 13, 2011
    wilyweasel
    Name it: <i>Theirs not to make reply</i>. The trope namer, obviously, is "The Charge of the Light Brigade".
  • May 14, 2011
    Arivne
    This happens all the time on Mildly Military shows, where disagreeing with (or complaining about) orders you're given is almost expected.

    The subordinate may ask for Permission To Speak Freely before disagreeing.
  • May 14, 2011
    Arivne
    The subordinate may also say With All Due Respect before disagreeing.
  • May 14, 2011
    ginsengaddict
  • May 14, 2011
    JoieDeCombat
    I'm not quite sure how well it relates to this trope, but in Prince Caspian, Trumpkin the dwarf argues determinedly against Caspian's plan to try to summon help using Queen Susan's horn, especially since the plan requires sending messengers out in hopes of meeting whoever the horn summons and Caspian's army doesn't have the manpower to spare. Once it's clear Caspian's mind is made up, however, Trumpkin volunteers to be one of the messengers: "You are my King. I know the difference between giving advice and giving orders. You have my advice and now it's the time for orders."

  • May 14, 2011
    ginsengaddict
    I think in My Master Right Or Wrong the person still follows orders he disagrees with due loyalty and Respect, and are mainly about Morally Questionable actions, With All due Respect is about questioning the Judgement of The Commander officer(probably questioning the effectiveness of their tactics, or just making some insult about him) Permission to Speak Freely is just about experssing their oppinions, maybe on a less formal level that the one of the comman line demands for, and not necesarilly having to follow some order this one, would be about the person following the order due the command line rather than because loyalty or respect.
  • May 14, 2011
    captainpat
    ^^ that's still My Master Right Or Wrong. The point is a character disagrees with their superior, either verbally or non-verbally, yet follows their orders anyway.
  • May 14, 2011
    MC42
    My Master Right Or Wrong is specifically for when the master in question is a Complete Monster, or close. This is a more general trope where a subordinate expresses disagreement with the leader's orders, regardless of what kind of person the leader is. It can be used very easily among heroic characters to show a difference in viewpoint or to show conflict between them. My Master Right Or Wrong also seems to be the relationship between the master and subordinate, while this trope is about the specific act. As a result, My Master Right Or Wrong might not always have this trope explicitly played out, only implied.
  • May 14, 2011
    captainpat
    ^ We don't have objective parameters for Complete Monster, however I see your point.
  • May 14, 2011
    Tifforo
    The quote from "The Charge of the Light Brigade" would work better as a page quote than a trope name.

    I was originally thinking of calling this trope, "But, sir!" and using it to refer solely to cases in which that phrase was used, but I realized that it would illustrate a bigger story-telling trope and allow more examples (that don't require remembering a person's exact words) if it instead was used to describe a situation involving an objection followed by obedience.

    I agree with those who have pointed out that this may have some similarity/overlap with With All Due Respect and My Master Right Or Wrong, but that it's different from My Master Right Or Wrong because loyalty to the one giving orders is just one of several possible motives for the subordinate's obedience in this trope. As a previous commenter mentioned, soldiers in a military setting can be arrested for disobeying orders.
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