A classic problem for a soldier or a law enforcement official: When can you disobey a lawful order?
Is there a higher law or a natural law that we ought to abide by? If the war that one is charged to fight is an unjust war, must the soldier obey the lawful orders directed at him to participate in that war? If a soldier is ordered to kill innocent civilians, must he obey those orders? The Neuremburg trials and the Japanese war crimes trials reveal that as far as international law goes, it is not a defence for a soldier to claim that he was merely following orders.

20 years ago, soldiers and commanders from several Beijing divisions of the Peoples Liberation Army were faced with the dilemma of obeying orders to ’empty the square of demonstrators’ towards which end they were given orders to use all means necessary. Given the reluctance of some Beijing divisions, the Chinese government had to bring in troops from other areas.

On this 20th Anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, it is perhaps worth honouring those brave individuals who could still differentiate between right and wrong even though they were in uniform. The following is from an article this week in Epoch Times:

According to an article published in the March issue of Open Magazine, at a public speech in Yunnan province, General Liu Yazhou [1] said that 38th Army Commander Xu Qianxian had refused to follow orders to lead his troops into Beijing on the eve of the June Fourth Tianamen Square Massacre.

Liu said that General Xu was a real military talent and related some of his experiences with General Xu during a military exercise. “He was sitting in a relaxed attitude, or lying in a tent when he was commanding his troops in good order. That is, he is able to direct and determine the outcome of a battle which may be thousands of miles away.”

During the June Fourth Movement, the Commander of Beijing Military Area Command Zhou Yibing met General Xu personally and requested him to lead his troops into Beijing. General Xu asked Zhou whether he had orders from the Military Commission of the Central Committee. Zhou answered “Yes.”

Then Xu asked again whether Zhou had orders from Deng Xiaoping. Zhou again answered “Yes.” Xu asked whether Zhou had orders from Yang Shangkun, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission. Zhou answered “Yes.” Then Xu asked whether Zhou had orders from Zhao Ziyang, first vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission. This time Zhou answered “No.”

General Xu then said I cannot follow the orders. (Note: Zhao Ziyang was ousted from power on the afternoon of the proclamation of martial law. General Xu knew well the answer to the question asked.) Zhou then hurled his accusation in Xu’s face, “Your wife is a judge. Your two sons are protesting in the Tiananmen Square! I know it.”

Liu said the 38th Army sympathized with the student demonstrators and so did the 28th Army because they were stationed in Beijing.

The 28th Army was marching into Tiananmen Square on the morning of June 4, 1989. Protesters and many citizens of Beijing constructed roadblocks to stop the military’s progress. On the way to Tiananmen Square, army commander He Yanran looked around and said, “Everywhere there is a green curtain of tall crops.” The implication of his remarks was that the PLA had become like the enemy of the people and the Chinese people were the real protectors of China. The phrase referred to the anti-Japanese war, when a lot of ordinary people were fighting against the Japanese army, hiding in the crops and coming out to fight. The political commissar replied to him, “One hundred thousand youths stand for one hundred thousand soldiers.” Meaning the students and young people were playing the role of soldiers in the army defending against invaders. The 28th Army did not move against the blockade of Chinese citizens.
Vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, Liu Huaqing requested Air Force Commander Wang Hai to send a helicopter to shout propaganda to the 28th Army such as “Move forward! Move forward regardless of anything!” But the army commander had no ear for this order.

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