[lit-ideas] Re: The Importance of Being Only

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 25 May 2010 16:13:56 -0700


In a message dated 5/25/2010 6:15:08 P.M., rpaul@xxxxxxxx  writes:
I'd think though that those who said, as they were saying goodbye to their families, that they were only doing their jobs meant it in the sense we've already agreed upon, viz., that they shouldn't be thought of as heroes ready to sacrifice themselves for a cause.


I  disgress.

You don't think that's what they meant? What did they mean, then? One can hear paramedics, firefighters, members of mountain rescue groups (well, I actually haven't heard of any of them doing it), and Boy Scouts, waving off praise, deprecating the risks they took, the danger they were in by saying—all together now:—'I was only doing my job!'

JL encore

I think it's all in the importance of being  'only':


This may involve metalinguistic negation (or  something).

No idea what you're talking about.

-- I was only following orders.
-- I was merely  following orders
-- I was just following orders

versus the  unqualified

--- I was following orders.

You've jumped, or fallen, into a different discussion. 'I was only following orders,' and 'I was only doing my job.' are not synonymous. This has been explored in earlier posts. Calley was not self-deprecating ('Aw, shucks, ma'am, I was only doing my job'), and the fireman who's just rescued a child from a burning building does not need to defend his having saved the child, by saying ('I'm not to blame; I was only following orders.').

I think that if Veronica  can bring in the exact quote that would help.

Veronica has already said she can provide no actual quotes, although she says she knows she's heard such things being said. I believe she and I agree about one interpretation of 'I was only doing my job,' namely, the one which means what we took it to mean in my earlier paragraph regarding the boy Scouts. There are other interpretations.

What Eichmann said,  apparently, was tautologous:

An order is an order

(Befehl ist  befehl)

He said, many times, according to all reports, 'I was only following orders.' Even if he did say. 'an order is an order,' he did not /just/ say that. How this alleged tautology got into the discussion escapes me.

Robert Paul

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