Ji’ark Diary: Freely

I talked with Quinn today, and he told me the story of why he was sent to a backwater outpost with no hope of promotion. It seems that he was involved in a fleet action with a certain Moff, and the Moff had made a critical error in his battle plans. Quinn determined the error and disobeyed orders to correct it, saving the fleet and the lives of many good soldiers. However, as is common for Moffs this one decided that his own personal ego and feelings of self-worth were worth far more than the lives of his men and punished Quinn for saving them.

Just another Imperial idiot with too much power and not enough brains, a spoiled brat who thinks that all that matters is themselves.

Now, I don’t advocate the wanton disobedience of orders. Chains of command and obligation are important. I recall a general who commanded a bomber wing telling me a story once about the time he spent at the same outpost as one of the elite fighter squadrons in the Empire. They were, for the most part, undisciplined and would be willing to disobey orders if they thought it necessary, but it caused problems among his squadrons. His pilots were not elite pilots, and had a job that didn’t allow for flashy independence. No, his wing required the steady and predictable behaviour that can only come from strict discipline and adherence to orders, but when his pilots saw these people get away with breaking discipline it made them think that they could do it as well. And that would get them killed.

So the first recourse can never be to simply disobey orders. However, all commanders should be willing to listen to advice and counsel from those who serve under them, particularly the competent ones. Ultimately, the commander must make the choice and those under that commander must follow it, but it is a foolish commander who does not take their concerns into account. Sometimes, the commander knows more than the officer, but sometimes the officer sees things the commander has missed. A good working relationship takes all of the qualities of the individuals and combines them into something greater than the mere sum of the parts. However, there may still be room for a good officer to disobey or … reinterpret orders when doing so will avoid disaster. And they can do so as long as they are correct.

And this is what needs to be encouraged: you can disobey orders only when you are competent enough to know that the orders don’t make sense in a particular case and when you end up being right. Anything else must be punished harshly; we cannot encourage incompetents to disobey orders because they believe that they are far smarter than they really are.

And so, to that end, all disobeying of orders must be punished … even the ones that work out for the best. But the ones that work out must also be rewarded. I remember another story where a captain took up arms against a Sector Governor who had thrown in with the enemies of the Empire and was going to slaughter the entire population of the planet. When the new political head was assessing what to do with him, she commented that half of the people wanted to give him a medal, and the other half wanted him to be taken out and shot. She suggested that a reasonable compromise would be to give him a medal and then have him taken out and shot.

She was, of course, joking, but this is the attitude that we must apply to disobeying orders. When someone is right to disobey orders, we must reward and punish them, but the reward must be slightly higher than the punishment. So, for example, you can promote the young officer … and then throw him in the brig for a month. Coupling that with an even harsher punishment if they are unsuccessful means that people will disobey orders … but only when they are sure that it will work out. This should weed out even the incompetents eventually, while preserving the ability of competent officers and elite soldiers to act on their own initiative when required.

In the meantime, I always insist that all my officers feel able to speak their minds freely. Vette, of course, has never had a problem with that, and I believe that Quinn is on his way there.

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