“Ordinary Soldiers: A Study in Ethics, Law and Leadership"

In September 2014, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at West Point and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum published Ordinary Soldiers: A Study in Ethics, Law and Leadership. This instructional compendium draws upon the actions of the German Army's 691st infantry regiment in Belarusia [Byelorussia] in the fall of 1941. Using this historical case study, the authors of Ordinary Soldiers designed materials for the purposes of educating, training, and inspiring future officers and students of genocide studies. Packaged with US Holocaust Memorial Museum resources about causes and course of the Holocaust, including the rise of the Nazis, the development of antisemitism in Germany, and the changing nature of the German Army between the mid-1930s and early 1940s, Ordinary Soldiers provides innovative and superb lesson plans designed to prompt discussion of the legal and ethical standards U.S. military professionals are expected to meet, the challenges all military leaders face in making consistently legal decisions in combat theaters, and the consequences of failure to meet these standards. To enhance the applicability of the case study, the project designers have developed a modular format that can be adapted depending upon time available, [and] lesson objectives, and class sizes ranging from just a few students to over 85.

“Ordinary Soldiers: A Study in Ethics, Law and Leadership” 

Dr. Waitman Beorn, COL (R) Jody Prescott, Dr. David Frey, Ms. Gretchen Skidmore & Ms. Jennifer Ciardelli. This article, lesson, and packet of supplemental materials is specifically designed for military audiences. It uses the actions and experiences of the 1st Battalion, 691st Infantry Regiment, of the German Wehrmacht, performing rear area security duties in the first week of October 1941, in occupied Belarus. By examining responses of specific company commanders to eliminate Jews in their respective areas of operations, “Ordinary Soldiers” raises a host of legal, ethical, psychological, and historical questions of immediate relevance to today’s officers. 

In August 2016, Cadet Command, which oversees the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), adopted "Ordinary Soldiers" as part of its national curriculum.

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Ordinary Soldiers book cover