Befehl ist Befehl. (lit. "Orders are orders")Just Following Orders is a justification for morally questionable actions that a character may invoke when questioned about the rightness or necessity of such actions. This justification holds that the (bulk of the) responsibility for such actions falls upon those who make such decisions and give such orders within a (military) hierarchy; by extension, those who obey and act upon such orders cannot be held (entirely) accountable for their actions. Often invoked with the exact phrase "I was Just Following Orders." Also known as the "Nuremberg Defense" because a notable flaw of the immediate post-war German penal code was that the worst category of murder and its attendant sentences ("first-degree murder") could only be "for base motives" (hatred, bloodlust, greed, etc.), which did not include "dispassionate" participation in mass murder note . Perpetrator testimony and the Milgram Experimentnote indicate that even when the desire to conform with the group is a major or primary reason for someone carrying out an immoral group action, they almost always frame their compliance in terms of obedience to authority. They believed that obedience to authority at least partly justified or excused immoral behavior, and that desire to conform did not. Accordingly, Just Following Orders is the Stock Phrase motto/mantra/defense of the Punch-Clock Villain, as well as most bureaucrats (obstructive or otherwise), Mooks, and just about anyone during failures of nerve, job security, heroic fortitude... It seems justifiable if you put yourself in their shoes. One is legally trapped between the prospect of immediate punishment from national law, or possibly delayed punishment from an international court attempting to judge from a higher moral law. If your life and/or your family's life was threatened if you disobeyed orders you knew to be morally reprehensible, what would you do? This was the choice presented to the 'Hiwis' (conscripted from Soviet POW and civilians), Jewish Police (recruited by the Jewish Councils from the ghetto populations), and 'Sonderkommando' (recruited from Extermination Camp inmates). This is why the surviving Hiwis, Jewish Police, and Sonderkommando were never tried for War Crimes or Crimes Against Humanity, but some of the senior commanders of the German troops who supervised them (volunteers legally and practically entitled to opt out, as many did) were. The sympathy of the victims of such atrocities to the troubles of their persecutors is, of course, not a given. This trope is by now usually not played straight but instead cowardly, ironically, sarcastically, or self-hatingly. Still, it's one of the tropes that cycles between Dead Horse Trope and Undead Horse Trope, because the dilemma it rests on is close to unresolvable. Quoting the trope by name, though, is likely to be met with skepticism and ridicule. If the "crime" being excused is a relatively minor one, though, then an accuser invoking a parallel with Nuremberg may be seen as invoking Godwin's Law. Often the de facto justification of those who believe in My Master, Right or Wrong, or "I Did What I Had to Do". If taken to extremes, it can result in Blind Obedience. A Lawful Neutral may well end up saying this at some point depending on who he serves. Not to be mistaken for Think Nothing of It or All a Part of the Job, catchphrases associated with the Humble Hero. Also not for when it's said by someone who's Bothering by the Book. If the villain literally has no clue that the order they follow would cause harm, it may overlap with Obliviously Evil.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Black Cat: In the beginning of the anime version, this is the defense Train gives to justify attempting to murder Eve.
- Dragon Ball Z had Zarbon claiming this after Vegeta rammed a fist through his gut. In the English dub version, this sounds plausible, because Freeza came up with the idea of destroying the Saiyans on his own. In the original Japanese version, this is nonsense, because Zarbon and Dodoria were the ones who planted the idea that the Saiyans were a threat that needed to be destroyed in Freeza's head in the first place. Either way, Vegeta is not impressed and simply kills Zarbon by shooting through him.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Ed tries to invoke this when Riza tells him what happened in Ishval, saying that the Homunculi were really the ones behind it. Riza replies that, yes, the Homunculi may have started it, but they were the ones who carried it out, and that is something they will never forget.
- Fist of the North Star:
- Subverted by Galzus: he falsely claims that he was forced to work for Souther in order to lower Kenshiro's guard, while in truth he did it self-willingly, he even admitted it right before picking on Kenshiro. Of course, Kenshiro sees through it and Galzus fails miserably.
- One of the Godland captains pulls this excuse when Kenshiro kicks him in the face for executing a mother and father in front of their children. He thinks Kenshiro is letting him go, but apparently didn't get the memo that being struck by a Hokuto Shinken user means that You Are Already Dead. By the time he figures it out, it's far too late.
- Naruto: It initially appeared that Itachi, Sasuke's big brother, slaughtered their clan, including their parents, simply to see if he could. However, after Sasuke finally takes his long-awaited revenge on Itachi, it's revealed that the Uchiha were planning a coup against Konoha, and Itachi killed them to prevent it on the Konoha Elders' orders. Even then, he was so torn up and conflicted over it that his own parents, while at his mercy no less, actually encouraged him to finish the job.
- In episode 52, after a fully-demonized Inuyasha kills Gatenmaru and starts slaughtering his way through his human henchmen, some of said bandits attempt to save themselves by insisting they were just following Gatenmaru's orders. Unfortunately (for them), Inuyasha is too far gone to give a crap.
- Naraku orders Byakuya to allow Moryomaru to live. This forces Byakuya to interfere with Sesshomaru's pursuit of Moryomaru. When Sesshomaru turns on him, he says "don't hate me, I'm just doing my job" and then beats a hasty retreat.
- Monster: Began with this trope. Tenma was ordered to save a man of importance as he was about to perform surgery on an immigrant and did so, and only later found out that the immigrant had died and left a widow who angrily confronted him about it. Tenma is later presented a similar situation, and opts instead to save the young boy he was about to operate on over another man of importance. And oh, what a mistake that was.
- Now and Then, Here and There: (played for drama):
Shu: You can't do this! This is not right!
Nabuca: Never mind right or wrong! An order is an order!
- Shimoneta: Played for Laughs with Oboro, as it's the sum total of his character. His superiors have conditioned him to be such a Yes-Man, that he'll readily comply with any order he's given - no matter how ridiculous. And he'll do it with a perfectly straight face and monotone.
- The Unique Cheat Of The Man Dragged In By The Four Heroes: In the human kingdom, four heroes and one accidental tag-along were summoned to this world from modern day Japan. Judom Lankaras, retired Guild Master for the entire human kingdom, is disgusted by this concept. Those who walk blindly without questioning are people he cannot trust. For this reason, he trusts Hiiro, the tag-along, more than the four "Heroes" who jumped at the chance to play hero.
- Invoking this backfires spectacularly for one mook in 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]
Big Nameless 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."
- This is X-Factor's government liaison's excuse for being part of the Sentinel program behind the back of her mutant/human relations team. Quicksilver immediately calls her on it.
- The page pic is taken from the first issue of the World War II comic Blitzkrieg, which was unusual in that it focused on the German forces instead of the Allies.
- The Battlestar Galactica/BattleTech crossover Hunted Tribes gives one of the most epic treatments of this trope ever. Clan Wolverine soldiers refuse to associate with crewmembers from the Pegasus, considering the ship and all who served under Admiral Cain disgraced for abandoning civilians to the Cylons. When someone tries to claim they were just following orders, the Wolverines state that people's conscience should have stopped them, and that they should have killed Admiral Cain for issuing the order in the first place. Roslin tries the I Did What I Had to Do-Defense, only to be told that the Wolverines have been in similar situations without ever compromising their morals, and that that excuse would have been good enough for any number of people, but NOT for them.
- In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, this is Sarah's initial take on things when questioned by the heroes, specifically killing lots of people because the Flood would turn them otherwise. Justified In-Universe since she literally knows nothing else being an artificial lifeform grown in a tank. She does, however, grow out of it.
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act II: Subverted; while Dark does tell Tsurara that he was following his then-master's orders when he attacked the Snow Woman Village years before, he openly acknowledges it doesn't excuse his actions in the slightest.
- Lightning Dust from Bad Future Crusaders provides a variation to the usual trope: She admits she willingly went after Rainbow Dash and enjoyed the act, but still tries to brush the responsibility off by pointing out that she was following orders and if she hadn't, someone else would have.
- In The War of the Masters, the division between legal and illegal orders is a common and frequently repeated theme among the heroic Starfleet characters, given widespread corruption in the Federation government and Starfleet.
- Don't Say Goodbye, Farewell: Zig-Zagged. Kanril Eleya justifies letting Colonel Janice Qua, who defected from Starfleet to the breakaway Moab Confederacy after being falsely accused and imprisoned for planning to defectnote , go, via the subversion of this trope. She essentially argues that there are so many irregularities and unconstitutional actions surrounding Qua's arrest that there's good odds the treason case would have been dismissed with prejudice even if she had taken Qua prisoner. The tricky bit is that, in the moment, Eleya herself considered Qua a hypocrite and knows she's guilty of crimes against sentience (namely use of Child Soldiers), but she hadn't been charged with them (and it turns out later in the Story Arc they're a systemic problem for which Qua is not directly responsible), and Moab III itself was under attack by the Fek'Ihri at the time and needed all the ships and soldiers it could get.
- Used two different ways in Create Your Own Fate:
- When Commander Lastagee tries to seize and classify evidence from a wrecked Moab bird-of-prey, Eleya shuts him down by pointing out his refusal to provide her with the text of his orders means she has no proof they actually exist, and since she outranks him that means she can tell him to pound sand. Later he returns claiming to have orders from Starfleet to take custody of materials, but she takes one look and points out that what he actually has is a request that should be delivered to Bajor's ministry of state, and in the same remark tells the Starfleet crewmen Lastagee brought with him to contact their line COs and request clarification of their orders. It turns out Lastagee is actually a shapeshifted Undine, and after Eleya and the Moab kids capture him, she remarks that the real Lastagee had written a paper at Starfleet Academy on this very topic.
- Eleya discusses the possibility with the Child Soldier survivors of said BoP that their (grievously injured, ex-prostitute, ex-drug addict with six-year-old twins) coxswain might be tried for war crimes for bringing them into combat. Eleya basically says, "I'm sorry, but if Pam Bentine knew and didn't do anything, there's nothing I can do." Fortunately, it quickly turns out that Bentine herself was recruited as a teenager, making her a Child Soldier as well.
- In Academy Daze, a group of Starfleet Academy cadets try this defense in their court-martial for harassing and beating a Moabite cadet (they had been directed by a racist Academy instructor, in a Whole Plot Reference to A Few Good Men). One of the JAGs involved calls BS in a massive "The Reason You Suck" Speech after they're convicted, informing them that a Starfleet officer is expected to have the intelligence to be able to tell whether an order is legal, and to act accordingly: an unlawful order is required to be disobeyed.
- In this rewrite of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ultron justifies his actions of trying to cause the extinction of the human race as just following the orders of his master, Thanos.
- X-Men: The Early Years provides a comedic example. Hank and Warren blame Scott for bringing Bobby to the Mansion. Scott protests he was just following orders.
Scott: Keep it up Bobby. I know where Professor Xavier hid Hank's special rope, and I just might talk in my sleep and let the location slip.
Hank and Warren: You’re the one who brought him home.
Scott: I did not! Professor Xavier brought him home. I was just following orders.
Hank and Warren: We still blame you.
Films — Animation
- Good Cop/Bad Cop in The LEGO Movie faces this dilemma when Lord Business orders him to embalm his own parents with the Kragle. When Good Cop protests, Business has him erased and Bad Cop carries out the order.
- Deadshot in Batman: Gotham Knight uses this defense. It doesn't help his case that he clearly enjoys his work and can afford to live in luxury because of it. Given that Batman is beating the living tar out of him, it's clear he is just begging for his life.
Films — Live-Action
- In Tomorrow Never Dies, Dr Kaufman protests this after Bond gets the drop on him. 007 is suitably unimpressed.
- Better Than Chocolate:
Mr. Marcus: We're here in Customs and I have a job to do.
Frances: We're just following orders, are we? Asshole.
- In 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.
- The Crazies (1973): The soldiers go on a killing spree against civilians because that's what they were told to do to contain the virus. On a more positive note, in the remake the sheriff's deputy is revealed late in the movie to have caught the virus. Why didn't he go off the rails? Because the sheriff ordered him not to go crazy.
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!
- Used along with a healthy dose of Godwin's Law in Clerks. A man berates Dante in front of customers for selling cigarettes, accusing him of being just like the Nazis since he's "only following orders," and tells customers that they should buy Chewlies Gum instead (because selling a dangerous product to a willing consumer is just like gassing innocent people). The man is later revealed as a Chewlies Gum salesman.
- In The Bad Sleep Well, Shirai tells Nishi that he was just following Iwabuchi's orders when he forced his father to commit suicide.
- The Dark Knight Rises: The police guarding the bridge to Gotham have orders not to let anyone cross, following Bane's threat to detonate a stolen nuclear device if anyone is allowed to escape. When Officer Blake and a group of citizens (orphaned kids among them) try to cross, the guards demolish a section of the bridge and use this defense when Blake calls them out on it.
Blake: You assholes! You just killed us all!
Guard: We're just following orders!
- In X-Men: First Class, the Nazis that Erik confronts trot out this line as an excuse for their actions. Charles later makes the mistake of echoing it while trying to calm Magneto down after the combined Soviet and American fleets fire on the X-Men after seeing their power. Definitely an Oh, Crap! moment for the audience when he says it, and he seems to immediately regret his choice of words, since this trope is a major Berserk Button for the mutant Holocaust survivor.
- Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem: Near the end, the surviving protagonists are confronted by a group of military men after Gunnison, Colorado, is nuked off the face of the Earth. Dallas accuses them as such, and they respond with these exact words.
- Compliance is a dramatization of an actual crime where the staff of a fast food restaurant followed the increasing perverse orders of a voice on a phone claiming to be a police officer, without anyone asking basic questions as to why.
- The submarine thriller Crimson Tide features an interesting variation. The Captain wants to launch his nukes because the orders in hand say so. His Number Two points out that a second message may have been a repeat of those orders or a cancellation. Both men are opposing each other precisely because each believes he's Just Following Orders.
- Star Trek:
- In Star Trek (2009), Kirk actually uses this trope to justify his blatant disobedience of said orders. Specifically, when Captain Pike leaves the Enterprise to board the Narada he leaves orders for the crew to "come get him". Most likely, he did NOT mean for Kirk to disobey Acting-Captain Spock, attempt a mutiny, provoke Spock into resigning command, and disregard Starfleet regulations by taking on the absurdly powerful Romulan ship alone. This being James T. Kirk, of course it works, and as Kirk is freeing Pike, Pike asks "What are you doing here?" "Just following orders," says Kirk with a grin.
- In Star Trek Into Darkness, Kirk tries to give this excuse on behalf of his crew to prevent Marcus from killing them. Unfortunately, he didn't intend to let them live anyway. Kirk's "creative" interpretation of the rules to justify his ignorance of them catches up to him and he's (temporarily) demoted.
- John Ford's final western Cheyenne Autumn has a German-accented military officer who claims to like the Cheyenne people but unfortunately has to follow orders and keep them locked up in appalling conditions with no food and water and a group that includes women and children too. This over the objections of several token good team-mates and Only Sane Man officer. When the Cheyenne rebel violently, and the officer looks at the carnage, the officer rubs it in:
Officer: Have orders been sufficiently followed, sir?
- In Cube Zero, Dodd has resigned himself to his job of overseeing the deaths of countless people trapped in the Cube by just keeping his head down and obeying the orders sent down to him without question, in the hopes they won't throw him in there as well.
- Attempted to be used by the leader of a secret Mexican fraternity of Dirty Cops in the movie Man on Fire (being more specific, he says he's "just a professional" and that the apparent death of Lupita Ramos was just a snafu). To say that this pisses off John Creasy (who says he's heard this excuse from everybody else he's interrogated so far and is thus sick and tired of it), is a massive Understatement.
- In Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation, Captain Dax levels a pretty powerful "Reason You Suck" Speech on Lt. Dill after he uses this excuse.
Dax: Well, that's good, but you forgot about the children.
Dax: Cowards; they always hide behind two things: orders and children.
- Breaker Morant is about Lieutenant Harry "Breaker" Morant and two fellow officers of Britain's Bushveldt Carbineers facing court-martial for killing Boer prisoners of war (and one German missionary believed to be covertly helping the Boers) without fair trials. Both the prosecution and defense fully acknowledge that said killings took place, but the issue determining the guilt of the Carbineers is whether the acts were committed because of an informal order from higher up to do so (in order to adapt in the face of a brutal guerrilla war, and also because they felt the prisoners couldn't be adequately fed alongside British soldiers) or if Morant ordered the killings purely out of Revenge for the death and mutilation of a good friend and fellow officer. Complicating matters is that the three are being indirectly tried by the people who gave the informal order — Lord Kitchener and his military circle want to dispose of Morant and company as scapegoats for the killings rather than own up to giving the order so that Britain can avoid incurring the wrath of Imperial Germany (both because of the German missionary and because Germany sympathized with the Boer cause) and cool any simmering tensions with the Boers so a peace treaty can be made.
- When an escaped Nazi war criminal is finally cornered in The Stranger, he says "I followed orders", to which the man that's been hunting him spits back "You gave the orders!"
- A Few Good Men: Lt. Dan Kaffee (Tom Cruise) proposes using this as the basis for his court defense of the two Marines charged with murdering Willie Santiago; they were ordered by superior officers to discipline Santiago, and their "Code Red" just got out of hand. Kaffee's partner retorts that that line of defense didn't work at Nuremberg and it didn't work at My Lai and it's not going to work now. Kaffee fires back that the difference with the Marines is that they were just carrying out a routine order they didn't think would result in any physical harm. But of course, Code Reds are illegal, regardless of what harm might ensue, so their clients should properly have refused the order. Kaffee ultimately gets them acquitted of the most serious charges largely by tricking their CO into admitting on the stand that he had given said illegal orders.
- In Morning for the Osone Family, matriarch Fujiko finally snaps and blames her ultranationalist brother-in-law Issei, and militarists like him, for bringing misery and defeat to Japan. Issei is initially haughty, but finally crumples, saying "I was just a colonel following orders."
- The Producers: Franz Liebkind greets people this way.
Franz: I was never a part of ze Nazi Party! I vas not responsible! I vas only following orders! Vhy do you persecute me?!
- In the film version of The Bourne Series, specifically what he finally learns in the third film of the trilogy, Jason Bourne — Captain David Webb — turns out to have been lured into the the shady Treadstone project under the premise that he'd "save American lives" after giving up his identity. In practice, the critical moment of transforming him into an unquestioning shooter with no qualms about who's targeted turns out to be a badly sleep-deprived, possibly drugged Webb finally (He's not a liar, is he? Is he too weak to see it through?) shooting an anonymous person to death solely because his superior said to.
- According to one tale, a sick Gurkha was lying on a hospital bed, dying, so a British officer walked up to him and sternly told him "don't die". At that, the Gurkha recovered. After all, Gurkhas follow orders.
- Given the usual workout, not just with the predictable Mooks, Punch Clock Villains and Obstructive Bureaucrats, but also with a number of notable subversions, mainly courtesy of the increasingly morally ambiguous and complex police Captain Carrot, who frequently subverts Just Following Orders by (seemingly) playing it straight. Carrot's affinity for subversions of this trope may also explain how he is the first (and arguably only) character in Feet of Clay to notice that the Golems rebel by following orders.
- Played straight with the local watchmen from Bonk in The Fifth Elephant where the captain thereof tries to justify the things he's done to Vimes using this. Needless to say this is a futile effort, leading to the defiance of this trope, where Vimes orders Detritus to kill the man, and Detritus, knowing what's up, telling him to stuff it (with all due respect). Vimes himself has always acted in the knowledge that he swore an oath which was about upholding the law and defending the citizens, and didn't say anything about obeying orders anywhere.
- Good Omens:
- The mostly good 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."
- Ironically, near the end of the book it's Aziraphale who points out, while trying to convince Crowley not to leave the mortals to confront Satan alone, "Lots of people in history have only done their jobs, and look at the trouble they caused."
- The mostly good Aziraphale and the demon Crowley discuss their bad feelings about the coming end of the world:
- Jaime Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire has become a Jaded Washout for this reason. His initial naive ideas of being a knight is shattered when he realizes that being part of the Kingsguard, an elite institution of the Praetorian Guard largely involves standing by while the King rapes his wife and summarily executes innocent people by the dozens while the knights stand on and do nothing, even good knights like Ser Arthur Dayne and Ser Barristan Selmy. The fact that he becomes The Oathbreaker by killing the King when he decides to Kill 'em All by unleashing wildfire on a civilian populace and ends up being shamed and misunderstood for a selfless heroic action, only makes it worse. Following his Heel–Face Turn, he seeks to reform this to include protecting the king even from himself. On a broader note, this is in fact the theme of the series, to what extent is honor and chivalry a respectable code to follow and to what extent its merely an enabling fantasy for being unthinking thugs who do what they're told.
- Star Wars Legends:
- In the novel Death Star, Tenn Graneet, the head gunner on the Death Star, while gripped by the enormity of what he did, can't justify it in any way, even if justifications flick through his mind. Following orders to destroy an inhabited planet, even if refusing just would have meant they killed him and got a new gunner to do his job, is unforgivable to the rest of the galaxy. And to him. He does, however, inadvertently save the Rebellion by not firing immediately after ordered. He keeps repeating "Stand by" before Luke's torpedoes hit the reactor.
- Since the Empire resembles Nazi Germany, sympathetic Imperials wrestle with this trope a lot in the Expanded Universe.
- For a book which became notorious for discussing the "banality of evil", Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem is in fact a thorough and detailed takedown of the mentality of Just Following Orders. She notes that regardless of Eichmann's lack of Devil in Plain Sight behaviour and his insistence that he was following orders, this is still not an excuse and that people have a moral obligation and can be tried for failing to pass on it, even in the most exceptionally difficult circumstances.
- Non-military variation; The Grapes of Wrath features an interlude with a bulldozer driver who is employed by the banks and landowners to bulldoze repossessed farms for development. One of the dispossessed farm-owners recognises him as the son of an acquaintance and demands to know how he can do this to his own people. The bulldozer driver replies that it's his job; it's all very well for the farmer to view him as a traitor, but the bulldozer driver has a family to think of as well, and if he quit out of moral outrage all that would happen would be that the banks would get someone else to do his job and he and his family would end up starving as well. Sort of a Deconstruction of We ARE Struggling Together, if you think about it.
- Perhaps the most extreme version imaginable appears in the last book of Stephen King's The Dark Tower. One of the mooks at the Evil Overlord's multiverse-breaking facility blames the heroes for attacking him and his fellows, in reply to which she queries how exactly this compares to the moral status of their working to kill absolutely everyone everywhere. His answer? Go on, guess.
- In Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, Doctor Neveeve says this line while being arrested.
- Belisarius Series:
- Ranga Sanga both plays this straight and subverts it. He fights for the bad guys because of his feudal duties but doesn't commit atrocities for them and turns on them when they go too far.
- Belisarius himself, goes out of his way to order his men not to commit Rape, Pillage, and Burn on random civilians and in fact harshly punishes those who do such things. Those are of course good orders.
- In Bernhard Schlink's The Reader, Hanna is prosecuted as a war criminal when she is found to have been a concentration camp guard who oversaw a forced prisoner march. The guards were ordered not to lose any prisoners, and so locked them inside a church on an overnight stop. When the church caught fire, the guards chose to leave the doors chained rather than risk that any might escape, and all 300 prisoners died. When questioned about this, she points to her orders, and asks the judge naively, "What would you have done?"
- World War Z:
- Referenced: a unit of the German army has been ordered to retreat to a more defensible location and abandon the civilians they have been defending to the zombies. Despite the fact that he understands the awful necessity of it — their position was in imminent danger of being overrun and to stay would be a futile gesture — the officer being interviewed is appalled that the theatre commander was capable of giving this order, for everyone who enlists in the German military has it impressed on them that their first and most important duty is to their conscience. The officer is more upset because he later finds out that his superior, who issued the order, shot himself because he couldn't live with his own orders. He views it as moral cowardice, the worst offense possible.
- Closer to this trope is the US Military, which first abandons over 50% of the United State's land mass, leaving millions to fend for themselves, only to later come back and wage war with those who survive, as many of them are understandably pissed off and are trying to fight for independence.
- When a rebellion of Russian soldiers is put down, they are forced to select one of their comrades out of every ten and stone them. With this hideous punishment in mind, as well as the guilt and shame of having carried out these orders rather than refuse and be shot for it, the survivors are too frightened to disobey any future orders, no matter how hideous.
We relinquished our freedom that day, and we were more than happy to see it go. We lived in true freedom that day, the freedom to point at someone else and say, "They told me to do it! Its their fault, not mine!" The freedom, God help us, to say "I was just following orders."
- When one character is ordered to destroy a bridge with refugees still on it and can't bring himself to follow through, his commanding officer recognizes his dilemma and does it himself.
- A variation occurs in the "Dragon" play by Eugeny Shwartz.
- Said by Marcello Clerici, the Villain Protagonist of the novel The Conformist which is set in Fascist Italy and ends on the night of Mussolini's fall from power, when his colleague Orlando wonders how they'll explain their role in the government.
- In Harry Potter, some of the Death Eaters (after Voldemort's "death") used this in the most literal way possible - they claimed to have been under the Imperius curse. Most of them weren't.
- Bothari in Vorkosigan Saga is a special example. He is so mentally ill that he can barely do anything else and it takes all his courage just to abstain from raping Cordelia at the command of a sadist. Bothari knows this and thus clings to the Vorkosigans because he thinks he can trust them to give good orders and that is the best he can do. He doesn't think following orders takes away responsibility so much as thinking he barely do anything else so he better find a Reasonable Authority Figure if he wants to be human.
- A less complex example is Aral's regular lectures to graduates of the Imperial Service on what constitutes an illegal order.
- Argel Tal in the Horus Heresy acknowledges that he is following this trope, but does not consider it a worthy excuse and believes that he is a coward, along with every other human in history who has ever used this excuse.
- Argel Tal: I have never pretended to be anything but weak, Kharn. I don't enjoy war, yet I fight. I don't relish torture, yet I inflict it. I don't revere the gods, yet I serve their holy purpose. Humanity's weakest souls will always cling to the words "I was just following orders". They cower behind those words, making a virtue of their own weakness, lionising brutality over nobility. I know that when I die, I'll have lived my whole life shrouded by that same excuse.Kharn: So will I. So will any Space Marine.
- Blood-chillingly Averted with Szeth-son-son-Vallano of The Stormlight Archive. As a Truthless of Shinovar, Szeth must obey any order given by the holder of his Oathstone, whether the order be to cut open his own arm, pour someone's beer on his head, empty the privies, or cut the hearts out of a hundred innocent babies and eat them. The only two orders he won't follow are orders to kill himself or surrender his Shardblade. So far it sounds like a straight example, but then we learn that he is still held fully morally responsible for every evil order he follows, despite the fact that he has no choice but to follow them. As he puts it:
Szeth: It is my punishment. To kill, to have no choice, but to bear the sins nonetheless.
- A rare instance of this being used positively is in Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin. The Waylord of Ansul actually defends Ald occupation general Ioratth despite having been brutally tortured by the Alds for a year, since the occupation would have happened with Ioratth or without him, and it was actually his son and the Ald priests who carried out the worst abuses. Ioratth just finds the whole venture pointless and is quite happy when he gets new orders that let him ease up on the repression.
- A major theme of Humane Tyranny. The Agents who execute the unfortunate souls selected through the Lottery of Doom but don't believe that the population desperately needs to be reduced still have a job to do. At times, private citizens might be required to help the Agents in their tasks and they are legally obligated to do so no matter how they might feel about what is going on. Chelsea has no sympathy for any of those people, though Nero has some for the latter group.
- Invoked in The Dresden Files book Summer Knight because Harry's crew was following his orders when he led them into a Fae war, bringing iron into the battlefield, causing the deaths of several Sidhe, and the Big Bad Sidhe, none of the crew will be the target of any repercussions. However, Harry, as the leader, will be bearing the full consequences of his orders.
- Plenty of villains and Mooks try to use this to justify their involvement in the Other Side's plans in the President's Vampire series. It never sways the protagonist, Nathaniel Cade, a bit.
Nathaniel Cade: Just following orders? I was there when that defence was invented. It didn't work then, either.
- Defied in Kris Longknife: Mutineer: When the admiral orders Attack Squadron Six to attack the Earth Battle Fleet without receiving orders from Wardhaven Command, Kris realizes that her captain is part of a conspiracy to start The War of Earthly Aggression as the Society of Humanity dissolves, and mutinies rather than follow illegal orders. She and the crew arrest the captain and first officer and blow the whistle to Command, then chase down the admiral's ship and capture him.
- Hitman John Rain discovers a CIA bureaucrat has put a Contract on the Hitman, so decides to kidnap the man to discuss the matter personally. Rain predicts that the first line the bureaucrat will come up with is this trope (not to justify the act, but to switch Rain's lethal hostility to another target). He's right, and Rain plays along to encourage the bureaucrat to reveal information. Then he kills him.
- Subverted to tragic effect in StarCraft: The Dark Templar Saga. The protoss Executor Adun is ordered by the Conclave to exterminate the heretical dark templar. He instead fakes the genocide with their help and starts teaching them psionic tricks to stay hidden. This leads to the inexperienced dark templar accidentally unleashing a psionic storm that devastates much of Aiur and reveals the deception.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander chloroforms Dawn and kidnaps her under Buffy's orders. However, it turns out Dawn carries a tazer and doesn't care, so she tazes him and drives them back anyways.
- Blake's 7:
- From the episode "Headhunter":
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.
- In "Rumours of Death", Avon kidnaps a Federation Torture Technician in order to interrogate and then kill him:
Shrinker: Why me? I haven't done anything. I've only ever—
Tarrant: Oh, don't tell me, let me guess. You've only ever followed orders.
Shrinker: It's true! It's true!
Tarrant: I believe you.
- Shortly followed with this exchange:
Avon: Look, Cally, I know you don't want any part of this. All right, I'm not going to give you any part of it. You're out. This is mine. I'm doing it.
Cally: And what am I doing, Avon? Just following orders, like him?
- Averted with Travis in "Trial". He admits that he was acting on his own initiative when he committed the atrocity he's being court-martialed for, but says that his actions were the result of the training and indoctrination that the Federation military had given him. "If I'm guilty of murder, then so are you!" One of his soldiers however plays the trope straight. "He gave the order. We just did the shooting."
- From the episode "Headhunter":
- Game of Thrones:
- Be it Tywin's or Joffrey's, House Clegane often use this reasoning to their advantage when committing heinous actions. Even the Hound, the more decent half of the Clegane brothers, uses him having to follow Joffrey's orders as justification for killing Mycah the butcher's boy when he's put on trial by the Brotherhood and was very proactive when cutting down Ned Stark's guards.
- Janos Slynt also uses it to explain his participation in the purge in "The North Remembers".
- Steelshanks doesn't seem particularly cruel or sadistic; he's just doing what Roose told him to do, as opposed to the likes of Locke.
- From 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.
- From the 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.
- From the Prison Break episode "Bad Blood":
Lincoln Burrows: You wanted me dead, Paul.
Paul Kellerman: Just following orders.
- In the Docudrama Nuremberg, Field Marshal Keitel states this after reading the charges on which he has been convicted.
Wilhelm Keitel: We were just following orders!
- Another documentary, 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.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation does this a few times:
- Inverted in episode "Redemption II".
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": Riker defended then-Captain Pressman of USS Pegasus when the crew mutinied over an illegal order. However, during the episode, he uses this trope to castigate himself. When Pressman gives another illegal order, Picard and crew refuse it and arrest him.
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.
- In "Conundrum" refusal to obey orders that couldn't be verified and were suspicious at best was a key plot point when the crew of the Enterprise-D was tricked and their memories wiped.
Picard: I feel as though I've been handed a weapon, sent into a room and told to shoot a stranger. Well, I need some moral context to justify that action, and I don't have it. I'm not content simply to obey orders. I need to know that what I am doing is right.
- Inverted in episode "Redemption II".
- More or less the theme of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Duet", where it is doubly subverted, first when a Cardassian officer gleefully refuses to claim it, and then at the end when it turns out that he's actually just a common soldier (not even an infantryman or ship crewman, but a file clerk) who is still tortured by his acquiescence in the atrocities ordered by his superiors, and has been impersonating a dead superior in hopes of shaming his fellow Cardassians into admitting guilt.
- In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Equinox: Part 1":
Captain Kathryn 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.
Janeway: Their mistake.
- 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 make me feel bad, except by comparing me to a concentration camp guard.
Glenn: No, that's right.
- It continues in Series 3 with incompetent new press officer John Duggan:
John Duggan: I'm Just Following Orders! Like a Nazi guard, only less gassy! [sheepish pause] You're not Jewish are you?
- 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.
- Babylon 5: A recurring theme for the Earth Alliance characters.
- Averted in the backstory. Dr. Franklin was ordered to turn over his notes on Minbari DNA so that the military can create a biological weapon. He refused and destroyed the data, stating that under military law he has no duty to obey an order if it would violate his conscience.
- Subverted in "Point of No Return". Sheridan is ordered to implement martial law on the station and hand over security to the Nightwatch, and initially carries out his orders despite his distaste for them. However, then he takes a second look at the orders and discovers an irregularity in the chain of commandnote that he uses as an excuse to declare the orders illegal and arrest the Nightwatch.
- Discussed in "No Surrender, No Retreat". During the operation to break President Clark's blockade of the rebellious colony Proxima III, Sheridan orders the four opposing destroyers to stand down on grounds that their orders from Clark violate Earth Alliance law, and that any action they take in service to an illegal order makes them accomplices. After some discussion, one captain who instructed Sheridan at Military Academy agrees and convinces another ship to follow suit. However, the leader of the squadron attacks, saying "I'm dead either way"note and is ultimately removed from command by his first officer, while the fourth ship is destroyed.
- Played straight in "Intersections in Real Time". Sheridan's interrogator never uses the exact words, but it's clear that it's how he reconciles what he's doing.
- It's discussed later, when Lochley comes aboard the station to take over command from Sheridan. Garibaldi confronts her about her side during the civil war, and she admits to having remained on Clark's side. As far as she's concerned, it's not the military's job to dictate policy. Of course, her standing by her convictions is the reason Sheridan picked her in the first place.
- Doctor Who:
- Word of advice, do not invoke this trope around the Doctor. It will only make him mad. For example, this exchange from "Bad Wolf":
Female Programmer: If you're not holding us hostage, then open the door and let us out. The staff are terrified!
The Doctor: That's the same staff who executes hundreds of contestants every day?
Female Programmer: That's not our fault. We're just doing our jobs.
The Doctor: And with that sentence, you just lost the right to even talk to me. Now back off!
- Used even with the Nuremberg Defense name in the Eighth Doctor Adventure Hope when Fitz considers the uniquely helpless last remains of humanity at the end of Humankind's history. Though the viewpoint given here is that of Fitz Kreiner, which also explains the use of the name.
Fitz Kreiner: The human scientist was so naive, so sheltered that his version of the Nuremberg defence — the fact that he participated in the culling and testing of live subjects because that was what he was told to do and he knew no better — became strangely compelling. (...) seemed to lack commons sense, to believe whatever he was told.
- Word of advice, do not invoke this trope around the Doctor. It will only make him mad. For example, this exchange from "Bad Wolf":
- Torchwood: Miracle Day:
- Invoked in Episode 6 when Gwen confronts Dr. Patel about the incineration of "Category One" patients. Dr. Patel begins to protest, and Gwen interrupts her.
Gwen: Don't you dare. Don't you dare look at me and tell me you're obeying orders. Don't you bloody dare.
- And again with Colin Maloney, director of the San Pedro camp.
Rex: They built ovens! And you're the director, so you know that.
Maloney: Look, I'm not in charge of policy... we had instructions that got sent out nationwide, worldwide, and we had orders from above not to say anything. I just did as I was told.
- Invoked in Episode 6 when Gwen confronts Dr. Patel about the incineration of "Category One" patients. Dr. Patel begins to protest, and Gwen interrupts her.
- An episode of JAG (season 9) involves a Marine who disobeyed an order to "treat everyone as hostile" during the invasion of Iraq, freezing when confronted with a 10-year-old kid, who then exposed his squad's position, leading to the deaths of two Marines. He's accused of dereliction of duty and the "duty to obey unlawful orders" is discussed. At the pretrial hearing, the judge feels he isn't guilty of dereliction of duty, but there is a charge for insubordination, which he pleads guilty to.
- V: Used by some humans to justify working for the visitors. One female reporter is called out on this, being told that the same excuse was used at the Nuremberg Trials.
- Invoked in CSI, "A Thousand Days on Earth": during a murder investigation, Catherine uncovers that while their main suspect isn't guilty of the crime, he is hiding his past as a sex offender (turns out he's really a decent guy that made a stupid mistake, and is trying to start his life over). Upon learning this, she goes completely overboard and personally crucifies him by explicitly telling his fiancée of his sex offender registration, who then tells his boss and he is fired, and tries to make the evidence point to him as the criminal. Many members of her team continuously point this out, claiming she is not listening to how his alibi checks out or the fact that one sarcastically comments how it is fun to watch how she is just making the evidence fit her theory. In the end it was her actions alone that destroyed his life. Although cleared of the murder charge, the man's life is effectively ruined by the revelation. When, at the end of the episode, he confronts her over all this and she offers the justification that she was just doing her job, he finds this... unconvincing:
"I was just doing my job. I was just following orders. Blonde Nazi bitch! You get in there with your big boots and you kick it all apart and you don't care who you hurt. Whose life you destroy in the process."
- Used in Rome, in a situation which actually turns out to be for the better.
Centurion Lucius Vorenus: Pullo, report to Princess Cleopatra and do whatever she tells you.
[cue a prolonged bout of vigorous and noisy sex]
Legionary Titus Pullo: Gods, that was something, let me tell you.
Vorenus: I don't want to hear about it. If you're wise, you'll never speak of this again.
Pullo: Why? I was only obeying orders. Bloody good orders, too.
- Annie Cartwright in Life on Mars uses this defence - not necessarily as an excuse but as an admission of complicity in the death of Billy Kemble — in this way in the penultimate episode of series 1.
- Stargate SG-1:
- Used by General Hammond in the pilot episode. When he informs Jack O'Neill that he intends to nuke Abydos (from which they suspect The Teaser's attack through the stargate came), Jack is enraged and points out he disobeyed the letter of his orders to nuke any potential threat to Earth on the previous mission through the gate because the people of Abydos were as much innocent victims of the Goa'uld as he and his team were. Hammond retorts, "I have orders, too. I obey mine," and orders Jack thrown in a cell. However, he shortly after has second thoughts and relents rather than kill thousands of people unnecessarily.
- Invoked by Jack O'Neill in the episode "Cor'Ai", where Teal'c stood trial on another world for crimes he committed there while under the service of the Goa'uld:
O'Neill: Teal'c, there are a lot things we do that we wish we could change and we sure as hell can't forget, but the whole concept of chain of command undermines the idea of free will. So as soldiers, we have to do some pretty awful stuff. But we're following orders like we were trained to. It doesn't make it easier; it certainly doesn't make it right, but it does put some of the responsibility on the guy giving those orders.
- Perhaps even more interestingly, Jack uses this justification as part of his own Dark and Troubled Past.
Hammond: These people's laws in this regard are no different from our own. We don't stop pursuing war criminals because they have a change of heart.
O'Neill: "War criminals"?!
Hammond: Yes, Colonel, he is. Like it or not, what the Jaffa have done to these people and thousands of other people is a crime. Now Teal'c spent many years serving the Goa'uld doing some damned distasteful things. Surely both of you must realize that this was bound to happen sooner or later.
O'Neill: General Hammond, I have spent a lot of years in the service of my country, and I have been ordered to do "some damned distasteful things".
- Interestingly, Teal'c doesn't use this justification himself. He did a lot of awful things while in the service of the Goa'uld and he always takes full responsibility, even going so far as to willingly submit to execution in "Cor'ai". In The Ark of Truth, he has this conversation with a former soldier for the Ori (Vala's ex-husband Tomin, who in one episode ordered the summary execution of villagers who refused to submit to Origin).
Tomin: I sit here... and I cannot imagine the day when I will forgive myself.
Teal'c: Because it will never come. One day, others may try to convince you they have forgiven you. That is more about them than you. For them, imparting forgiveness is a blessing.
Tomin: How do you go on?
Teal'c: It is simple. You will never forgive yourself. Accept it. You hurt others. Many others. That cannot be undone. You will never find personal retribution. But your life does not have to end. That which is right, just, and true can still prevail. If you do not fight for what you believe in, all may be lost for everyone else. But do not fight for yourself, fight for others -- others that may be saved through your effort. That is the least you can do.
- In an episode of Primeval, Captain Becker uses this excuse when arresting the team for stealing the Artefact, although he later turns out be Good All Along.
- In the opening of The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Free Spirit", a group of scientists receive an order to end a mind-transfer experiment by terminating their unconscious human test subjects. When the last one escapes as an incorporeal spirit and eventually comes back for revenge, they try to use this excuse by claiming they had no choice in the matter. He calls them out on how weak it is, as they didn't even attempt to object to the order.
- The Traffic Wardens featured in Parking Wars are just ticketing cars parked illegally. One could make a Drinking Game out of how often this line is uttered.
- Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak sometimes reacts this way tongue-in-cheek when a contestant hits Bankrupt while holding onto an extra such as a Prize wedge, Wild Card, etc., usually by lightheartedly saying that removing said items upon hitting Bankrupt is just part of the game's rules.
- Frontier Circus: The former union officer who is the target of Cato's obsession in "Coals of Fire" gives this justification for his actions (murdering Cato's master and burning the plantation to the ground during Sherman's March to the Sea) during his Villainous Breakdown.
- An extraordinarily rare, non-villainous example in Parks and Recreation when Chris prosecutes Leslie and Ben for their secret love affair. Chris, being Ben's best friend, obviously doesn't WANT to do it, but he must since Ben is Leslie's superior and it presents a violation of ethics.
- Luke Cage (2016): Zip, acting on Diamondback's orders, tries to strangle Shades to death in a freight elevator. Shades fights back, kills both of Zip's backup men, then marches Zip onto a building roof at gunpoint.
Zip: I was just following orders! [Shades walks around Zip and points his gun at Zip's head]
Shades: You're a goddamn puppet! Who gave you the order?! [pistol-whips Zip] WHO?!
Zip: Diamondback! You stopped playing your position, asked too many questions. Diamondback said you needed to be dealt with!
Shades: Romeo would be ashamed of you. You're such a disappointment.
Zip: You're the second person who's told me that today!* I'm my own man, Shades!
Shades: [raises gun] Tell him yourself. [shoots Zip in the head]
- Spitting Image: "We Were Only Obeying Orders" is a song sung by John Major and other Conservative Party members, about the Thatcher era.
- The Tunnel: A French police officer who killed a little boy during a riot defense himself to his wife with this.
- An episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has a man (played by Robin Williams) demonstrate this trope by calling a fast food joint's manager, introducing himself as an NYPD detective named Milgram (reference to the Milgram Experiment), and having him tie up and strip-search one of his female employees, claiming he's doing his civic duty. After the truth is discovered and "Milgram" is arrested, he manages to get away. It's eventually revealed that the reason he's doing all this is because, when his wife was in labor, he saw that something was wrong and asked the doctor to do something, only for the doctor to brush him off and say that everything was fine. His wife and their unborn child died from complications, resulting in the man blaming both the doctor (naturally) and himself (for obeying someone just because he was in a position of authority). He has become determined to get people to start thinking for themselves.
- Derren Brown's Pushed to the Edge is designed to demonstrate how people succumb to peer pressure and the desire to follow an authority figure's instructions. The opener shows a man abducting a woman's baby just because a voice on the phone introduced himself as a cop and told him she was the one who had abducted the child. The rest of the show is structured to make people get in so deep that, in the end, most end up committing a heinous act due to peer pressure. Out of four subjects, three ended up pushing a man off a ledge to avoid jail time. The viewers are, at first, only shown the one, who refused to do it. Then, after a Hope Spot, we're shown shots of three other people going through with the "murder".
- Battlestar Galactica (2003) runs into this during the Cylon occupation of New Caprica when the Cylons start recruiting humans to police the colony. Jammer joins the police in hopes of making life a little better for his fellow humans, only to be ordered to round up relatives of La Résistance for what turns out to be a mass execution. He follows his orders reluctantly but sets Callie free before the Centurions arrive and are shot to pieces by La Résistance. After the escape, he's Thrown Out the Airlock by Resistance members acting as a secret Kangaroo Court.
- The Wire:
Jimmy McNulty: [seeing Baker writing up a ticket on a parked car] What's the violation?
- Up-and-coming Western District beat cop Brian Baker initially goes along with Burrell's "quality of life" arrest hikes, which include ticketing every illegally parked car in the city. Jimmy McNulty sets him straight and gives him a few new things to think about.
Brian Baker: Parking in a bus stop, expired registration.
Jimmy McNulty: First class police work there, Baker.
Brian Baker: Yeah, well, this is the word we got from up on high. Straight from the 8th floor downtown. I know you think it's bullshit, but I spend my shift where they tell me.
Jimmy McNulty: Baker, let me tell you a little secret. A patrolling officer on his beat is the one true dictatorship in America. We can lock a guy up on a humble, lock him up for real, or say "Fuck it, let's pull under the expressway and drink ourselves to death", and our side partners will cover it. So no-one... and I mean no-one tells us how to waste our shift.
- When Major Colvin's Hamsterstam experiment goes public and inevitably becomes a scandal, Commissioner Burrell threatens Mayor Royce with invoking this publicly, and it's very effective. Generally speaking, Burrell has internalized this line of thinking and attributes some degree of dysfunction to doing what he is told.
- Barksdale soldier Savino Bratton tacitly admits this would be his response to being told to torture or kill an innocent.
- Gilmore Girls: When Max sends Lorelai flowers at the inn without telling her:
Kirk: That's right. There's exactly one a thousand of them. Order states that there's to be exactly a thousand — not a thousand and one, not nine hundred and ninety nine, but a thousand. You ask for a thousand, I bring a thousand. I don't question the orders. I merely fill them.
Michel: A job well done, Mr. Adolph Eichmann.
- "Trail of Tears" by Heather Dale is from the point of view of a soldier ordered to aid in said forced relocation. He's obviously uncomfortable with it, but is too afraid to say anything after another soldier is shot for standing up to the commanding officer.
- "Wehrmacht" by Sabaton asks whether the German armed forces during World War II were Ax-Crazy Blood Knights or young men misled and dominated by their superiors, seemingly settling on "a little bit of both".
Were they the victims of the time
Or proud parts of larger goals?
Propaganda of the Reich, masterful machine...
Crazy madmen on a leash
Or young men who lost their way?
Grand illusions of the Reich
May seem real at times
- A subversion in the Traveller volume Alien Races 4. The Bwaps are a race whose hat is being Badass Bureaucrats. In one side story a Bwap starport official is processing incoming passengers. The Bwap stopped a mother and her baby, claiming a petty technicality and caused the whole line behind her to become indignant at his supposed stupidity. But as it turned out the passengers behind were terrorists and the Bwap was pretending to be Just Following Orders as a Batman Gambit to delay them so that Swat could get into place — using stereotypes to divert suspicion. After the incident the Bwap insisted that the mother he was delaying share in the reward.
- Heinrich von Kleist's play The Prince of Homburg is about a cavalry general put on trial and condemned to death for disobeying an order not to charge in a battle.
- Franz Liebkind (author of "Springtime for Hitler") in The Producers:
Franz Liebkind: I vas never a member of the Nazi party. I only followed orders. I had nossing to do with the war. I didn't even know there vas a war on. Ve lived in the back. Right across from Svitzerland. All ve heard vas yodeling.
- In The Time of Your Life, the cop Krupp enters arguing with his longshoreman friend McCarthy, protesting that all he's doing is carrying out his orders to keep the peace on the waterfront. McCarthy asks Krupp if keeping the peace means hitting him over the head with a club if he's on duty and standing on the opposite side.
- Subverted in The Devil's Disciple. When the hero Richard Dudgeon tries to rebuke General Burgoyne by saying "because you are paid to do it," Burgoyne retorts "Ah, I am really sorry that you should think that, Mr. Dudgeon. If you knew what my commission cost me, and what my pay is, you would think better of me. I should be glad to part from you on friendly terms."
- Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty's Raiden was a victim of this. He is not, in fact, working for the special ops group FOXHOUND, but is just another Patriot agent, like Ames and Johnson. This is why most characters react to the player with suspicion.
- In The Punisher video game:
- One mook yells out "I was just following orders!" when you torture him to his breaking point.
Punisher: (Kill) Orders are no excuse.
Punisher: (Mercy) Think for yourself next time.
- There's also another variation: "I'm just a soldier!"
The Punisher: (Kill) That's no excuse.
The Punisher: (Mercy) You're in the wrong army.
- One mook yells out "I was just following orders!" when you torture him to his breaking point.
- 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...
- Syphon Filter 2
Thomas Holman: I was just following orders.
Lian Xing: Yeah? Well, we were all just following orders.
- Ninety-Nine Nights. In Tyurru's story, Yesperratt justifies killing civilians by saying that she's just following orders.
- In Alpha Protocol, Parker and Westridge uses this as their defense for their complicity in the whole Halbech fiasco and for sending Mike to Saudi Arabia with the intention of having him killed once he'd completed his mission.
- Sunset Riders does this after one of the boss fights. After the beaten but still alive Chief Scalpem falls to the ground, his sister suddenly runs up and says "please don't shoot my brother. He was just following orders." Ever the chivalrous gentleman cowboy, your character can't turn down a request from a lady and agrees to spare him. Note that this is the only time you spare a boss; every other one gets a bullet between the eyes, even if he was just following orders.
- Mega Man 8 features Sword Man, the one robot master who doesn't seem to have any problem with Mega Man; in fact, he seems to respect him quite a bit. He invokes this trope (along with Nothing Personal) right before you fight him.
- Assassin Blue uses this as an excuse for killing at least initially.
- Mass Effect:
- If you take The Paragon option, Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 2 can get two prison guards to avert this trope when beating up a prisoner.
Shepard: This degrades you as much as him.
Guard: We have orders.
Shepard: You're not important enough to make your own decisions?
Guard: I admit... I sometimes get tired of this. Does this really get us anything useful?
Shepard: Stop this. For your own sake.
Guard: Yeah, you're right. [to the other guard] Call it off. At least for now.
- The positive version also gets used in the first game, in response to Paragon Shepard resolving a hostage situation with zero casualties.
Shepard: Just doing my job, Admiral.
Admiral Hackett: I wish every soldier had your definition of "just doing your job." You're a credit to the uniform.
- The Turians are implied to have tried to use this defence as justification for performing a pre-emptive strike on Pre-Contact Humanity, stating that were merely acting in accordance with Galactic Law to prevent tampering and activation of a dormant Mass Relay. Given how they are still paying reparations for the brief War that ensued, its clear that the Council didn't let them off the hook for this.
- This is Thane's philosophy about killing: as an assassin, he is basically a weapon with hands and feet, and only feels moral responsibility for those he kills on his own initiative (such as his wife's murderers). He's also one of your most moral teammates, striving to avoid civilian casualties wherever possible.
- If you take The Paragon option, Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 2 can get two prison guards to avert this trope when beating up a prisoner.
- Inverted in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Blackwall / Thom Rainier reveals his deception and risks his life to stop the hanging of a soldier who helped commit a war crime on his orders.
"This man is innocent of the crimes lain before him. Orders were given, and he followed them like any good soldier. He should not die for that mistake."
- This is the excuse for the soldiers in The Last of Us. They're not killing civilians for kicks; they're following their superiors' orders and trying to protect what's left of humanity from the Zombie Apocalypse.
- Trish from Devil May Cry tried to tell Dante this is the reason for her betrayal, but he interrupts it with "The Reason You Suck" Speech to her about it.
- The Machina Vanguard from Baten Kaitos Origins are all three pretty decent people despite working for The Empire. Valara even goes out of her way to be nice to Sagi while he's still in the Dark Service, and references this trope verbatim during one of the battles against her.
- Fallout: New Vegas has Boone saying this to justify why he participated at Bitter Springs. It turns out to be a deconstruction in that Boone can no longer live with himself after participating in the massacre and leaves the military, after which the orders seem an incredibly hollow justification, even to him.
- Enforced in Dragon Quest IX: One of the cardinal rules of the Celestrians (the guardian angels the protagonist is part of) is that they cannot disobey a direct order from their superior or rebel against him. So when it turns out the Big Bad is a Fallen Angel and thus cannot be fought, the main character willingly becomes a mortal.
- In Kingdom Hearts I, after you defeat Lock, Shock and Barrel, Barrel whines as their defeat quote that they were "just following orders." (Oogie Boogie's orders.) He says it again if you talk to him after the battle.
- In Telltale's Game of Thrones three soldiers murder Gared's family, including his 8-year-old sister. After being left disarmed and helpless, one of the soldiers asks for mercy because he was "just following orders".
- Subverted in the Star Trek Online mission "Cold Comfort". Tran, a captured Breen Combat Medic, was ordered on an attack against a Deferi civilian freighter to gather intelligence about the Preserver Archive that Thot Trel is trying to find. He followed his orders, but tells the Player Character that he regrets doing so because attacking civilians is dishonorable, and then tries to make it up to the Deferi by telling them how to safely remove the brain implant he installed in a crew member.
- In Disgaea 5, the Lost run on the recruitment policy of "Obey or die", and wholly live up to those words, with officials executing any who resist them (and this is the best outcome — right, Void Dark?). However, in two instances in story mode, Lost mooks will use this excuse to try to worm their way out of whatever punishment Red Magnus has lined up for them; in neither instance does he listen to any of it, explicitly referencing the people they hurt as the reason he's punishing them in the first place.
- In Dead Rising 3, Adam Kane is a villain due to this trope. His last words are the trope name.
- In Tyranny, Barik runs on this trope. Once he's assigned to the Fatebinder he'll stick to you, even if you end up fighting his former unit, because his assignment is to be "your shield". If you try to fight Graven Ashe without Barik having sufficient Loyalty or Fear to you, Graven Ashe will throw this attitude back in his face when Barik tries to defect back to him, claiming that his moral cowardice has already cost numerous Disfavoured their lives.
- This is a plot point in Super Danganronpa 2: Pekoyama claims that she was just "Fuyuhiko's tool", with no will of her own, after she has been already voted as the culprit. Therefore, Monokuma could rule that Fuyuhiko was the real mastermind behind the murder, and thus allow him to "graduate" and get away scot-free while everyone else gets executed.
- In Juathuur, this is the main source of conflict between Sojueilo (who follows orders) and Thomil (who doesn't).
- Gen. William Howe of The Dreamer.
- Florence is well aware of the problems that can arise from blindly following orders.
- Florence accuses an Ecosystems Unlimited guard of this with great passion when she thought he was aware of the effects of Gardener in the Dark.
- Schlock Mercenary had the eponymous amorph explain fine details of "I'm just doing my job" to a bureaucrat who was going to take advantage of a strip search of Dr. Bunnigus, required of all doctors arriving in Haven Hive.
- In Escape from Terra a UW gunner who incinerated a defenseless Cerean homestead tried to use this excuse, after the superior who ordered the attack had assured the gunner he'd be taking full responsibility. The court did not see it that way-he and the ordering officer were both executed, though his death is a bit quicker than the officer's.
- In Jack, Todd, who was a soldier in WWI, was ordered to kill one hundred and thirty-two children. Not only does he blame that he was just following orders, but as a strong believer in fate, he insists that he never had a choice to begin with. So naturally, his punishment in Hopkin's Ironic Hell is to be a character in a pre-destined comic strip drawn by the devil.
- Stand Still, Stay Silent: In the prologue, Iceland, that found an excuse to close its borders several days before the Apocalyptic Gag Order downplaying the seriousness of the Rash was lifted, eventually resorts to a form of Quarantine with Extreme Prejudice in which the rest of the world is considered a contaminated area and the country itself is safe. Circumstances also mean they are getting a lot of refugee boats that they have no other choice but to bomb. The Iceland segment of the prologue focuses on a coast guard ship and on a low-ranking radar reader who decides to quit and become a sheep herder due to having Bad Dreams.
- After being defeated in a water balloon war, one of Nelson's goons says this in The Simpsons episode "Bart the General." Bart spares them and pelts Nelson with the extra balloons instead.
- In one episode of Johnny Test, Johnny, his friends and enemies start to have a drag race but are stopped by the sheriff. The General tries to fast-talk their way through before yelling, "GO around him! The general rules!" The two secret agents call this trope as they do just that.
- In Gravity Falls, Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durland don't want to lock Dipper and Mabel up in a government facility in Washington, but they had orders.
- Justice League:
- In "The Enemy Below", one of Orm's followers tried to offer the "just following orders" excuse to Aquaman. He was not impressed.
- In "Flashpoint", Captain Atom is ordered by his Air Force superiors to keep Superman and Huntress from taking the Question from the Cadmus facility where he was being held. He even justifies his action to Superman by saying that he has his orders, "legal and proper." He ignores the obvious signs of torture on the Question's body, clear evidence that Atom's orders were not legal and that his military oaths actually require him to refuse those orders (see "Real Life," below).
- In Rick and Morty, when Morty got injected with the blood of a warrior's arm, Morty's arm was possessed by the memories of the severed arm's owner, which by random coincidence, also remembered the guy who killed him when he was alive and unfortunately was there watching Morty's matches. In a pathetic attempt to save his life, the guy tried to blame his boss for his actions, but Morty's arm went to burn him for revenge anyway.
- In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, when Clone trooper Tup’s mental conditioning malfunctions, his “Order 66” programming activates, forcing him to kill a Jedi commander and constantly repeat the phrase “Good soldiers follow orders”.
- Famously used by Nazi defendants during the post World War 2 Nuremberg Trials. A.k.a. the "Nuremberg Defense".
- At the Nuremberg trials, it was established that "just following orders" is a valid defense, but only below the rank of lieutenant, and only if the orders in question are not clearly illegal. Many times the accused said that they followed orders because it was either work in the camps or the front line.
- In a subversion, the Nazis who gave birth to this trope weren't the ones who were Just Following Orders but the ones who impressed their superiors enough with their enthusiasm to be assigned to running concentration camps. The ones who were just following orders ended up at the Russian Front, and usually didn't survive to reach Nuremberg in the first place.
- Some historians who have interviewed ex-Nazis, or supporters or collaborators of the regime, have reported that the subjects are very often proud of what was done and either don't use this defence or only used it as an excuse if they don't want to attract bad attention. Notably, some of those same historians have also interviewed former Soviet and Japanese soldiers who also took part in atrocities and generally conclude that this trope suits them better, since in the former case you could be sent to the Gulag or shot if you were suspected of being "un-revolutionary", and in the latter case one's superiors savagely beating their subordinates and treating them like dirt was the rule rather than the exception. In contrast, while in some cases not following orders could get you sent to the very dangerous Eastern Front, the majority of SS and Wehrmacht killers were often not severely punished and very usually had no problem with what they were doing; indeed, in many, many cases, they exceeded their orders and many atrocities were initiated at ground-level by officers. Since conquered Jews, Poles and other victims were forbidden to work (slave labour aside) yet were now part of the Greater German Reich, they became an economic burden, and since deportation was increasingly impractical, mass murder was often seen as cheaper and easier. The majority of Holocaust victims were shot, in thousands of separate instances; roughly half of its millions of victims were dead before Auschwitz opened its gas chambers.
- As it happens, Adolf Hitler hated giving orders and liked to keep them as vague as possible, leading to what historian Ian Kershaw called "working towards the Fuhrer", i.e. doing what you think Hitler wants, which as it happens was usually just anything that made the problem go away. A common problem, even in the early days of the regime, was that the SA, the SS and the more ideological members of the Party and the army would assault or kill more people than the leaders intended and had to be reined in (this was one of the reasons the SA was purged on the Night of the Long Knives, as they were considered too unruly compared to the "disciplined" SS). The initial plan for the occupation of Poland — then Eastern Europe — was to kill a certain percentage of various Polish social groups (e.g. Jews, academics, officers, lawyers etc.) and have the rest either deported or kept as slave labour (and/or held as hostages) while their land would be given to "ethnic" Germans, but the SS and sections of the German army ended up killing so much that even Himmler protested to Hitler (albeit on the grounds that it showed a lack of discipline). Eventually, for many, committing genocide simply became normal.
- Older Than They Think: Henry Wirz, commandant of the notorious Andersonville POW camp during The American Civil War, claimed that he was only following orders when the victorious Union finally put him on trial. It didn't work any better for him than it did for the Nazi officers at Nuremberg eighty years later; he was hanged after a trial whose probable unfairness was made a moot point by the fact that he probably wasn't under orders to be that nasty anyway. Critics have also pointed out a hypocrisy in this, as many Union prison camps were also hell holes, but naturally the commanders there were never punished for mistreating POWs.
- The US Military specifically states that following an order you know to be illegal (such as shooting civilians) denies you the use of this defense: you knew it was wrong and failed to refuse the order. It's failure to follow lawful orders that gets you punished—if an officer has to use a gun to make the troops follow orders, it's clearly not lawful.
- The Canadian Forces have a very similar law as the US example above about only following lawful orders. They also practice "Due Diligence", which requires a soldier to understand what would and wouldn't be a lawful order, and said soldier will be punished for following an unlawful order even if he believed 100% that it was a lawful one.
- A soldier given an illegal order is basically put in a no-win situation: they can follow orders and get punished by a military court later, or disobey and get punished by their superior officer right now.
- Well, this used to be the case, and occasionally is in some third-world nations, still. For most UN member nations and all NATO countries without exception, soldiers refusing an order can't be punished beyond being suspended with pay until a tribunal actually rules on the legality of the order. Superior officer retaliation is often functionally impossible and usually illegal under national-level law, too. Essentially, modern law is specifically designed with averting this situation in mind.
- If a soldier does injure or kill the commanding officer in charge though, they can usually be cleared simply because those orders don't put you in a good position, and doing the right thing helps everybody else when the military court will agree it was the right thing.
- A cynic might observe that war criminals aren't really punished for what they did; they are punished for losing the war.
- When top SS officer and Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann was brought to trial in Israel in 1961 after 15 years on the lam, he used the Nuremberg defense. Depositions from other SS officers, however, shot holes through even that defense.
- The Christmas Truces in World Wars I and II were proof that many soldiers on both sides had no interest in killing each other outside of being ordered to do so. Many of these truces actually had the armies from both sides venturing out into No-Man's Land together to bury fallen comrades, exchange gifts, play football, and even sing carols.
- The New York City Police Department (NYPD) marched to protest a few of their fellow cops being charged with sweeping crimes under the rug. The slogan on their sign was the name of this very trope. Analogues to Nazi Germany were not far behind.
- Stanley Milgram's infamous psychological experiment in obedience, which tested whether people would willingly administer what they thought were painful or even harmful electrical shocks to another person if ordered to do so by an apparently knowledgeable authority. Over and over again, the majority of subjects were seen to follow the experimenter's instructions through to the end, although the "victim" voiced their protests, and even claimed to have a heart condition that could kill them if the shocks got too strong.
"Our desire to be good subjects is stronger than our desire to be subjects who do good."
- It was originally thought that obedience to authority led the participants in said experiment to act the way they did, however newer evidence suggests that identification with the experimenter and his research goals led them to continue with the experiment. Or to quote the authors of this essay:
- This can be an even stronger motivation for immoral behavior than just being forced into obedience. Also, the belief that it is for a higher good, be it science or an ideology, motivates people to transgress moral norms.
- Those Wacky Nazis were particularly good at setting up a system that rewards ideological fellowship over blind obedience: In the Nazi bureaucracy, orders often weren't formulated explicitly. Instead they vaguely formulated goals and had their subordinates do what is necessary to achieve them.
- Another famous experiment, the Stanford Prison Experiment, appeared to demonstrate that even ordinary people given authority over their peers can become Drunk On Power, even when they go back to normal lives outside of the prison. More recent experiments have shown that one is more likely to abuse authority if the position involves power without respect and/or prestige (e.g. traffic cops, the DMV, staff managers). This means they won't get in trouble if caught and are unlikely to lose much even if they do. Or they hate the job so much they just don't care.
- Anyone who has ever worked in any of the positions just listed will tell you that this cuts both ways. Because, say, a traffic warden, a staff manager, a low-level security guard at an airport, or a DMV teller is held in contempt by the public, this sometimes gives members of the public the idea that they can order you around or that normal rules don't apply to them.
- In places where the business owners hire all sort of illiterate goons as bouncers or security guards, they quickly become textbook examples of this. Usually the patron or client is a guy or girl with money, schooling and appropriate appearance (rednecks hardly go to nightclubs and luxury shops) and knows he or she faces a semi-literate goon, so consciously or not will treat him with contempt. When the said bouncer or guard has reasons to employ his power, things get ugly.
- The job doesn't even need any kind of power or prestige. This is the only real defense bottom-rung employees such as cashiers, waiters, and the like have against rude customers. If a customer starts berating them for something completely out of their control (prices, the room temperature, a policy they don't like), the only thing the completely-powerless employee can say is "It's store policy/management's decision/up to the boss."
- Jiang Qing, wife of Chairman Mao Zedong, attempted this defense when the Gang of Four was put on trial after Mao's death. It didn't work.
"I was Chairman Mao's dog. I bit whomever he asked me to bite."
- The entire Romanian political police got away with everything they did after '89, because they were just following orders. Interestingly, the people whose orders they followed suddenly turned out to be Good All Along, and promptly executed the Ceausescu couple as an act of justice. It worked. Nobody else was brought to trial for their atrocities.
- Many of the torturers in S-21 prison were brainwashed teenage boys whose families were being held hostage by Pol Pot. They were told to either follow orders or they and their whole families would have the same fate as the prisoners. In later interviews, this trope is their justification, saying that they too were prisoners. It falls apart when one of the few survivors confronts his captor.
- James Fred Blake was only a bus driver in Alabama. One day in 1943, a black woman called Parks boarded the bus and paid the fare. She then moved to her seat, but Blake told her to follow city rules and enter the bus again from the back door. Parks exited the bus, but before she could re-board at the rear door, Blake drove off, leaving her to walk home in the rain. Understandably, Parks didn't like it. On December 1, 1955 they encountered each other again when Blake ordered Rosa Parks and three other black people to move from the middle to the back of his Cleveland Avenue bus in order to make room for a white passenger. Rosa Parks defied his orders, prompting the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Commenting on the event afterwards, Blake stated:
"I wasn't trying to do anything to that Parks woman except do my job. She was in violation of the city codes, so what was I supposed to do? That damn bus was full and she wouldn't move back. I had my orders."
- The whole idea of buses forcing black passengers to the back was an example as well, and more sympathetically. Most riders were black and the bus companies didn't want to offend their primary ridership. They only started enforcing the rules once Alabama police began boarding buses and arresting drivers for ignoring it.
- There was at least one incident of an employee cutting off some branches from a couple of trees, damaging the cars parked underneath them in the process. The employee claimed he was ordered to cut the branches and had no other choice but to follow the orders, and his boss is responsible for everything.
- The employee might have been charged with cutting the branches, but he also had a responsibility to do his job in a manner that avoids harming his boss/organization.
- Lawyers by law and ethical norm are required to use a version of this. While lawyers can resign from service (usually) of any particular client, an attorney is expected, within certain outer limits, to engage in whatever morally-questionable-but-legal tactics will best serve his clients' interests. This could include making a child witness cry so as to convince prosecutors to give your client a better deal to protect them from you or it could include burying the other side in discovery to make pursuing a case against your client extremely time consuming. The justification is built into the ethical norms of the profession: you are your clients' advocate, and therefore must help them to the greatest legal extent possible. This ethical weirdness is the origin of the Amoral Attorney trope.
- This was the defense line of the soldiers and officers implicated in the Malet coup of 1812. For instance, Captain Borderieux stated:
"Adjutant Limouzin gave us a series of actions to carry out (...) and brought orders, not from Malet, but from Colonel Rabbe, to follow his instructions. At once, I gathered my company and marched it to the Luxembourg. One hour later, I was told that the orders given to my colonel were illegal and I was told to go back to my barracks; I did so at once. How am I responsible?"
- It should be noted that more than one century before Nuremberg, the military court took the defendants' age, experience and degree of information into account, thus acquitting all those under the rank of lieutenant while giving a death sentence to the senior officers who should have known better.
- The first recorded instance of a "just following orders" defense being used by US military personnel was relatively mundane but still legally important. In 1799 the US was involved in an undeclared war with the French Republic, and Congress passed a law allowing the Navy to seize ships bound for any French port. President John Adams issued an executive order to the Navy that exceeded this authority, telling them to seize vessels traveling to or from French ports. Under these orders the Navy seized a Danish merchant ship, the Flying Fish, whose owners then sued the Navy in US court and won. The Supreme Court even weighed in, declaring that Navy officers "act at their own peril" when obeying illegal orders, even when those orders come from the President.
- In the aftermath of the My Lai Massacre, one of the most heinous atrocities during the Vietnam War where between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians were butchered by US forces, Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader, pleaded he was just following the orders of his commanding officer, Captain Medina. This defense was rejected and he was sentenced to life in prison for 22 counts of murder. Then the sentence was commuted to three and a half years under house arrest at Fort Benning, and no-one else was convicted of any charges in relation to the massacre.
- John Oliver never comes out and says the exact words, but this is the heart of he defense of the IRS on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: everyone hates the Intimidating Revenue Service for being Obstructive Bureaucrats who take everyone's money, but he sees them as an underfunded, understaffed, overworked group of Beleaguered Bureaucrats who are Just Following Orders — and not orders from their superiors in the IRS, but orders given to them by Congress; orders that they are constantly changing. It still makes for an interesting examination of the trope; though Oliver decries calling the IRS "Gestapo", one can see the similarity; most of the people who made the Nazi regime work were overworked bureaucrats. IBM even sold them the computers they used.
- Speaking of computers, this trope is the cause of almost all programming/user errors. Computers follow their orders To. The. Letter. They have no common sense at all and so rely entirely upon their given orders. If those orders end up causing a system freeze or loss of data, it's not the computer's fault as it is just following the directions given. This is also why developing A.I. is not just a case of Instant A.I.: Just Add Water!: turns out that giving a computer foolproof orders which boil down to "learn from experience" is actually really hard. As Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal put it:
Myth: Computers suck because they don't do what you say.
Reality: Computers suck because they do exactly what you say.