Just Following Orders

“In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.” (Joseph de Maistre)

The President recently reversed his own decision to separate children from their parents after crossing into the United States, an action that the United Nations office of human rights condemned as a violation of basic human rights of children. They weren’t alone. The Pope spoke out citing such a disgraceful policy as contrary to Catholic values, and immoral. The Methodist Church called it child abuse and racism. Other religious leaders echoed this sentiment. Business leaders spoke out publicly condemning it. All five living first ladies spoke out against it. It was clear to the world that the United States, under the direction of the Trump administration, was committing violations of human rights of children. Yes, it was disgusting and disgraceful, and the world was ashamed of us. Yes, I blame the Trump administration as the root cause of it. I also blame the people that carried it out, who all too often get away with no accountability for “just following orders”.

Such a mandate to violate human rights should have never gotten past the terrible leadership call; the orders should have been outright refused by the people who were tasked with handing them down, and ultimately by the ICE agents carrying them out. But they weren’t refused. They were carried out. From many reports, some agents enjoyed what they did. There are many horrors beyond family separation being reported, and what’s most disturbing is that these were done by Americans. Not faceless machines, but by members of our society. Yet refusing inhumane orders is what separates us from a history of atrocities. Why didn’t these orders get refused on a large scale? We should consider this very seriously. There are only two possibilities: either the agents who carried these orders out didn’t realize they were abusing the children as they were removing them from their parents’ care and putting them in cages, or they were willing to commit acts they knew to be immoral and inhumane. If even a small portion of lawsuits about living conditions are to be believed, there is no question that agents knew what they were doing. In either case, we are dealing with a very dark part of humanity that would do such a thing, even under orders.

Most of the time, agents that are just following orders are rarely ever prosecuted, and it’s unlikely there will be any disciplinary action over this given the support of the White House. Digging deeper, though, we also need to look in the mirror and ask what is so deeply wrong with our country that this was done. At the end of the day, a government is a reflection of society. In the US and other democratic nations, it is society that shapes the government. We are all guilty for the acts that were committed, some guiltier than others. The racism, the hate, and the ignorance that we see happening in this country trickles up just as much into government as it does any other representative sampling of a population. You cannot answer the question, “what is wrong with our government”, without also asking, “what is wrong with society?” We should be wearing sackcloth and ashes as a nation over this. Something is very ill in our country and it needs to be rooted out.

We’ll likely never see the individuals that carried out these orders prosecuted, jailed, or even named, and with the President’s executive order to reverse this policy, the bleeding is beginning to stop, although there is a lot left to fix this. This series of events should give us pause to not only examine the moral compass of our government, but who we are as a people, and whether we will stand for such actions. I don’t doubt that there are many great people working in our government, however there are clearly also those willing to violate the human rights of others, including children.  It begs the question of what other crimes against human rights are they willing to commit if given the order? Again – these are not faceless robots, they are our neighbors; people living down the street. Very disturbed people in my opinion.

The child separation policy was a test of our grit as Americans. I’m proud that so many stood up against it, and it has become obvious that there are many good men and women in law enforcement who did too – many others we will probably never hear about. It was, however,  also a sobering message about how far certain people in authority are willing to go. Those that complied with the orders failed an important test of their character, and have no business serving the people. Next time, such orders could be even more inhumane. Those that follow such orders and keep telling themselves, “next time” will always follow those orders: the line just keeps moving until it is no longer visible.

The people who removed children from their parents and locked them in cages don’t deserve to serve the people. Those people should, in my opinion, be charged and prosecuted for crimes against children, to set an example that America won’t stand for this kind of behavior. We should all take this as a serious warning that there are those in positions of authority who are capable of such things, and push our government to identify and remove them from service before things get worse. America should not be capable of this. We should be better than this. If we sweep this under the rug, as we have many other inhumane acts, we may one day find ourselves on the wrong side of history.