Ethics: The Price of Obedience

Should East German border guards have followed the law and their orders or listened to their conscience?

When East German border guard Ingo Heinrich killed a man fleeing toward the freedom of West Berlin in February 1989, Heinrich was just following orders. "Shoot to kill" was the command for dealing with people who tried to escape across the border, and in the eyes of Heinrich's supervisors his actions were not merely legal but commendable. Three years later, Heinrich, 27, lives in the same Berlin, but a different government holds sway and new laws prevail. Now he is, retroactively, a felon. Last week he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison -- specifically, the...

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