By Travis Trombley - originally published in full on our new website: HeroMonitor.org
In the third act of the film, when Cap’s rag-tag team assaults the Hellicariers to stop HYDRA’s launch of Project Insight, Cap hijacks the com system and delivers what has become known as the “Captain’s Orders” speech, during which he reveals the HYDRA conspiracy and calls to action any who defy their bid for "absolute control."
Following this speech, Rumlow - who becomes Cap’s longtime nemesis in the comics called Crossbones - struts into the command room and orders one of the computer technicians to launch the Insight ships. Kline - the technician in question - is a pale, skinny fellow with curly hair. He lacks Steve’s classic handsome and superhero jaw, yet he refuses nonetheless. When he doesn’t immediately respond, Rumlow bellows, “Is there a problem?” The camera zips to the standers by, all waiting for the young man’s decision. “I’m not going to launch those ships,” he eventually says, raising his head in determination and - sure - gulping in understandable fear. “Captain’s orders.”
While many of us would like to believe we would do the same, social psychology suggests otherwise, positing instead the existence of social forces that pressure individuals towards compliance.
One such pressure would be the one to rationalize an action by displacing blame. This phenomenon was famously studied by Stanley Milgram in his famous 1963 “Shock Experiment” at Yale University. After the Nuremberg Trials, during which many Nazi officers like Adolf Eichmann justified their atrocities by claiming that they were only following orders, Milgram sought to study the actual influence authority played in decision making, especially of an ethical sort.