Ordinary Soldiers: A Study in Ethics, Law and Leadership

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Department of History: Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Commanders often confront complex situations in which the imperatives of leadership intertwine with considerations of personal and professional ethics and the law. Using the case study of one Wehrmacht battalion—1st Battalion, 691st Infantry Regiment—on the eastern front in World War II, this lesson examines the chain of events that led to the mass killings of Jewish civilians in the battalion’s area of operations (AO) in October 1941. These events, when considered within the context of the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), provide a platform for today’s military professionals to think critically about their obligations as members of the military. The aim of this study is to provide military personnel an opportunity to weave understandings of ethics and law into their own developing leadership styles and to understand how, in the context of a particular war and particular military culture, protected civilians were transformed into military targets.
Military Leadership, World War II, Wehrmacht
Beorn, Waitman, David Frey, COL (R) Jody Prescott, Gretchen Skidmore & Jennifer Ciardelli, “Ordinary Soldiers: A Study in Ethics, Law and Leadership.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2014. https://www.ushmm.org/m/pdfs/20140830-ordinary-soldiers-case-study.pdf