Created By: Unknown Troper on January 23, 2010

"just following orders"

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Also known as the Nuremberg Defense and the Stock Phrase motto/mantra/defense of the Punch-Clock Villain, as well as most bureaucrats (obstructive or otherwise), Mooks, and just about any of us during failures of nerve, nous, job security, heroic fortitude...

Seen It a Million Times, and of course by now usually not played straight but instead ironically, sarcastically or self-hatingly: it's one of the tropes that cycles between Dead Horse Trope and Undead Horse Trope, because it always sneaks its way back somewhere, even if you did not mean to invoke it...And even if everyone should know by now that playing this straight (even when fully sincere, which is not always the case) is likely to meet with skepticism and ridicule.

Often also turns up in or close to other guises: My Country, Right or Wrong, people claiming they were Just Doing My Job or Had No Choice or just Couldn't Help It somehow...

Launching tomorrow, unless anybody has weighty last-minute objections
Community Feedback Replies: 16
  • December 16, 2009
    IMDb Search Quotes for "only/just following orders".

    • Gunner Palace
    SPC Devon Dixon: [feeling bad about killing] I'm not doin' the wrong thing, I'm just following orders, so I'd rather it not be me. So, I had to, you know, I learned to live with it.

    Mr. Marcus: We're here in Customs and I have a job to do.
    Frances: We're just following orders, are we? Asshole.
    Draco: What in the name of the realm is going on? You are attacking while my ships are still hours away?
    Kane: I'm... just following orders, sir.
    Draco: And just whose orders were you following?
    Kane: Your daughter's, sir.
    Draco: And did she order our ships to disintegrate as they enter battle? If either of you survive this greatest debacle our realm has known, you will answer to me!
    • Ever After. Danielle has ordered her servant Maurice to be released from slavery.
    Cargomaster: I'm following orders here. It's my job to take these criminals and thieves to the coast.
    • Outbreak
    Sam Daniels: If you think I'm lying, drop the bomb. If you think I'm crazy, drop the bomb. But don't drop the bomb just because you're following orders!

    Live Action TV
    Orac: I am obliged to do as you tell me, even though I know it to be wrong.
    Kerr Avon: Only following orders? That's not very original, Orac.
    • Star Trek The Next Generation
      Data: Captain, I wish to submit myself for disciplinary action. I have disobeyed a direct order from a superior officer. Although the result of my actions proved positive, the ends cannot justify the means.
      Captain Picard: No, they can't. However, the claim 'I was only following orders' has been used to justify too many tragedies in our history. Starfleet doesn't want officers who will blindly follow orders without analyzing the situation. Your actions were appropriate for the circumstances.
      • "The Pegasus"
      Commander Riker: I wasn't a hero, and neither were you! What you did was wrong. And I was wrong to support you, but I was too young and too stupid to realize it! You were the captain, I was the ensign. I was just following orders.
    • Star Trek Voyager episode "Equinox: Part 1"
    Captain Janeway: I'm putting an end to your experiments, and you are hereby relieved of your command. You and your crew will be confined to quarters.
    Captain Ransom: Please, show them leniency. They were only following my orders.
    Captain Kathryn Janeway: Their mistake!
    • Heroes Chapter Nine "It's Coming"
    Elle Bishop: I only saved you so we could use you, like a lab rat.
    Sylar: You were just following orders... But I forgive you. Now you need to forgive yourself.
    • Holby City episode "A Clean Slate"
    Beata Lindermann: I'm just following orders!
    Joseph Byrne: Mmm, they tried that in Nuremberg, it didn't work.
    Lincoln Burrows: You wanted me dead, Paul.
    Paul Kellerman: Just following orders.

    Real Life

    Video Games
    • Beat Down
    Jason G: I don't forgive and forget so easily.
    Ignacy: No! No! I'm sorry! Forgive me! Please...I was only...following...orders...
    • Parodied in Lunar: Eternal Blue.
    Lemina: Keep your eyes peeled and your hands on your valuables.
    Ruby: Ronfar! Get your hands out of your pants!
    Ronfar: Well... well... well, she said! Just following the lady's orders...
    Thomas Holman: I was just following orders.
    Lian Xing: Yeah? Well, we were all just following orders.
  • December 16, 2009
    In Tomorrow Never Dies Bond has this conversation after subduing an assassin who has just killed the Disposable Woman;
    Dr. Kaufmann: Please Mr. Bond! I'm just a professional doing a job!
    Bond: So am I.
  • January 18, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    From The Thick Of It: Hapless minister Hugh Abbot is about to introduce a new bill about special needs schooling, and gets uncomfortable around an aide who opposes it because he thinks the bill will fail his own child.

    Hugh Abbot: Glenn, the special needs bill. With your particular interest, I... I can't do this.
    Glenn Cullen: You know my views, you know inclusion is an illusion, it doesn't work.
    Hugh: But you don't mind if I go ahead with it.
    Glenn: Of course not, look - you're only following orders.
    Hugh: Oh thanks. So you won't let me feel bad, except by comparing me to a concentration camp guard.
    Glenn: No, that's right.
  • January 18, 2010
    One of Nelson's goons says this in The Simpsons episode "Bart the General."
  • January 20, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    From Good Omens, the mostly Lawful Good angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley discuss their bad feelings about the coming end of the world:

    'It's not that I disagree with you,' said the angel, as they plodded across the grass. 'It's just that I'm not allowed to disobey. You know that.'
    'Me too,' said Crowley.
    Aziraphale gave him a sidelong glance. 'Oh, come now,' he said, 'you're a demon, after all.'
    'Yeah. But my people are only in favour of disobedience in general terms. It's specific disobedience they come down on heavily.'
    'Such as disobedience to themselves?'
    'You've got it. You'd be amazed. Or perhaps you wouldn't be.'

    Three hours of drowning their sorrows later, of course, Aziraphale puts it slightly more bluntly, if less coherently:
    'All right. All right. I don't like it any more than you, but I told you. I can't disod- disoy - not do what I'm told. 'M'a'nangel.'
  • January 20, 2010
    Good Trope. Just Following Orders would make a good title.

    I dunno about "overuse" -- that line still has resonance for me, even though it's been used a lot. I think how an author treats people following extreme orders is important to the moral stance of a work. That is, as well as it being a throw-away line the concept is treated seriously in some works.

    We're used to the negative side take: for example soldiers or what have you burning a village to the ground to deny an enemy army resources. When pressed as to the fate of the homeless starving villagers they are "just following orders."

    The positive take on this trope tends to slip by unnoticed. The example that comes to mind is in Band Of Brothers: Easy Company moving into a position they know the Germans have their guns calibrated for. If asked why they are doing such a suicidal thing, they might have replied they were "just following orders". Just wars are won by people following orders, too.
  • January 21, 2010
    Shouldn't this be called the Nuremberg Defense?
  • January 21, 2010
  • January 21, 2010
    Often prefixed by "nothing personal".
  • January 21, 2010
    Used by My Country Right Or Wrong types as well. Only they paper over it with claiming it was due to patriotism, rather than blind obedience.
  • January 21, 2010
    Just Following Orders, but add Nuremberg Defense to the description.
  • January 21, 2010
    Fifth-ing (that even a word?) Just Following Orders, with Nuremberg Defense as redirect.
  • January 22, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    How does one insert a redirect?
  • January 22, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    Also, this example, from Lucifer, where Lucifer must somehow find the red stone at the bottom of a cauldron of molten lead guarded by a Big Nameless Shinto Monster:
    Big Nameless Shinto Monster: "You must choose, and I must enact your fate."
    Lucifer: Fate's a slippery sort of concept, though, isn't it. I mean, most of the time it's just an excuse for doing what you want to do anyway." (Empties kettle of molten lead over Shinto Monster).
    Shinto Monster: Nuuuh! It burns! It BURNS!
    Lucifer: Well, that's what happens when you play with fire. Here we are. The red stone, I think you said."
  • January 22, 2010
    How does one insert a redirect?

    Creating New Redirects
  • January 22, 2010
    The mantra of the Punch Clock Villain