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Basic Trope: A person defends their actions as having been lawfully ordered by superiors.

  • Straight: Soldier Bob is ordered to level a building with terrorists in it, nearby civilians be damned. When asked why he did it, he insists he was "just following orders" and had no say in the matter.
  • Exaggerated: Bob uses this excuse to justify his participation in The Holocaust.
  • Downplayed:
    • Bob's incompetent officer micromanages the soldier's repair of an old jeep, resulting in it being improperly repaired. When it breaks down and the general they were escorting demands to know why the job wasn't done right, Bob indicates the officer and says, "Just following orders."
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    • The orders looked innocuous given a lack of other information.
  • Justified:
    • If the orders aren't followed, the person in question will be summarily executed and replaced with someone who can do it.
    • The soldiers are trained to obey first and think later; this is legitimately useful in a battle, when quick response is needed.
  • Inverted:
  • Subverted:
    • Bob goes off to obey morally heinous orders; when asked why he did it, he says he was "just following orders". It's later found that, off-screen, he disobeyed those orders.
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    • This comes off as an excuse and gets the standard condemnations until it is revealed that soldiers are forced by supernatural means to obey. Bob is acutely aware that what he did was wrong and even the harshest of critics cannot find him responsible.
  • Double Subverted: ...in spirit. When Bob's officer tries to get him disciplined for not obeying orders, he reveals he used Loophole Abuse rather than outright disobey, and dryly defends his actions as "just following orders."
  • Parodied: Bob is ordered to walk off a cliff. He gives a brisk salute and does so.
  • Zig-Zagged: Bob excuses his participation in an irregular sortie by saying he was just following orders. He's open about simple greed being the motivation for his looting but, on the other hand, says he had to imprison the local Reasonable Authority Figure because he feared he could pull a Face–Heel Turn at any moment.
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  • Averted: When asked why he butchered a civilian town under orders from his superior, Bob the Sociopathic Soldier doesn't think to defend himself with "just following orders" — he simply says his victims were scum and had it coming.
  • Enforced: It was Truth in Television.
  • Lampshaded: "'Just following orders' didn't work in Nuremberg; don't think it'll help you here."
  • Implied: A regiment is known for three things: their obedience, their war crimes, and their high post-war suicide rate.
  • Invoked: Horrific orders are used as a Secret Test of Character. Either to find those who will or won't be corruptible.
  • Exploited: The Sociopathic Soldier gently nudges his officer into ordering him to do something he'd happily do of his accord, so the soldier has (flimsy) legal cover for his deeds.
  • Defied: A soldier given a horrible order point-blank refuses, preferring the risk of court martial to the stain on his conscience.
  • Discussed: ???
  • Conversed: ???
  • Played for Laughs: Officer Charlie unthinkingly orders young, handsome, red-blooded soldier Bob to serve as bodyguard to Alice, an attractive woman who Really Gets Around, and to "make her comfortable". This is Bob's excuse when Alice and Bob are inevitably found together in bed.
  • Played for Drama: Bob is a Sociopathic Soldier under an oppressive regime who has committed countless atrocities. When captured and put on trial, he is asked why he did such awful things. His response is "I was ordered to." It's not an attempt to shift blame: he's simply establishing his motive when asked to and proving he has no remorse for doing what he did.


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