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Case Studies

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The Museum has developed a variety of educational approaches for examining a historical case study in which three company commanders responded differently to the same illegal order to shoot the Jewish population in their areas of operations.

The two approaches below, A Wehrmacht Battalion and its Orders, Fall 1941 and Ordinary Soldiers: A Study in Ethics, Law, and Leadership, examine the case study through the lenses of leadership and decision making on the Eastern Front and related issues for the military today.

The case study provides an important empirical example of how officers making command decisions during armed conflict will define their duty in different ways. Their decisions reflect a variety of different factors including command climate, situational factors, individual experiences, leadership style, moral and ethical compasses, and social and cultural values.

A Wehrmacht Battalion and its Orders, Fall 1941

Contains: Case study, historical resources, classroom handouts

Topics covered: Leadership, ethical decision-making, professional military values, pressures and motivations affecting command decision-making

This approach is designed to focus on leadership philosophy and how that philosophy is put into action. The historical case study reveals the dynamic relationship between command climate, obedience to orders, discipline, and the protection of civilians in armed conflict. It is well-suited for discussions of leadership and ethical decision-making. This model has been used on-site at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with officers-in-training, non-commissioned officers, and other active duty officers.

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

Contains: Case study, three lesson options, primary sources (including Wehrmacht orders and trial documents)

Topics covered: Command responsibility, LOAC, professional military values, pressures and motivations affecting command decision-making

Ordinary Soldiers is a more technical examination of the case study that pairs well with instruction on the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It has three teaching options.

Option A enables participants to practice the Army Regulation 15–6 format for conducting investigations. This approach allows participants to put themselves in the position of investigating officers tasked not just with explaining what happened but also with why it happened and how it might be prevented in the future.

The study questions in Option B consider Rules of Engagement and the Law of Armed Conflict, and they lend themselves to small-group work. These questions are designed to allow participants to approach ethical and legal aspects of the case study from specific perspectives, thereby providing a platform for discussions on leadership.

Option C’s peer-to-peer format provides the opportunity for participants to engage in high levels of simultaneous communication simulating the challenges of leadership and conflict in a cyber environment.

Ordinary Soldiers is a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Center for Holocaust Studies at West Point joint publication.


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