Thursday, October 17, 2013
In the short story “The Anatomy of Desire,” Hanley is an unlucky military man that gets captured by the enemy. The soldiers were given orders to bring back an enemy to serve as an example of what is done to infiltrators. While Hanley is sleeping in his trench he is captured and taken back to the general in charge. Upon examining Hanley, the general says that Hanley has a beautiful face and that “This young man could be my own son” (L’Heureux 340). The general then ordered his men to strip the skin off Hanley. He is later rescued and when a ceasefire is reached, the general sends Hanley a letter. In the letter, the general states “What we do in war is what we have to do. We do not choose cruelty or violence. I did only what was my duty” (L’Heureux 342). The general believed that he was following orders, therefore, his actions were justified. The issue of carrying out orders from an authoritative figure has been a highly controversial topic during the past century. During World War II, a scientist named Dr. Stanley Milgram wondered how ordinary german soldiers could torture and kill Jewish prisoners. Twenty years after the conclusion of the war, Milgram proceeded by conducting a series of experiments in order to determine if these men should be held accountable for their actions.
The Milgram experiment was a series of experiments conducted at Yale University. The goal of the study was to observe the test subjects and their willingness to obey an authoritative figure. During the experiment, the test subject would deliver a shock to a student every time he or she would answer a question incorrectly. The shocks ranged from “slight shock” to “danger:sever shock”. The level of obedience was measured by the level of shock the participant was willing to administer. Of the 40 participants in the study, more then half delivered the maximum shock.
The Milgrim experiment may explain the general’s compliance with orders to perform such a sadistic act towards Hanley--the general received orders from an authoritative figure and he felt compelled to carry out the act to the best of his ability. While I do not believe that following orders from a figure of authority justifies skinning someone alive, it can help illuminate the general’s rationale behind following the order. Milgram once explicated “even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.” Perhaps the general felt obliged to follow orders because not carrying out the command was not an option.
Romero, Librado. "Stanley Milgram." News. New York Times, 18 Oct. 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.
Posted by ChrisGanson at 9:14 PM