Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Rules of Engagement (movie)
It is a military and legal drama exploring but not definitively answering the question of how much force may legitimately be used by US troops in self-defense.
- "The situation arises when Colonel Terry Childers is ordered to protect the US Embassy in Yemen after a large group of demonstrators surround the building. Childers’ orders are to evacuate the ambassador and his family if the situation turns violent. During the mission the ambassador's security remains intact, but results in the loss of three soldiers, and more than 80 Yemeni men, women and children. When he returns home, he faces a court- martial for violating the rules of engagement by killing unarmed men. Childers contends that the protesters were armed and had opened fire on the Embassy. Problems arise when the prosecution team and the people in the President's cabinet withhold evidence. This leaves no witnesses to prove Childers's case." 
- "The question of Childers's guilt or innocence turns on the specific "rules of engagement" that apply to the military situation in play. According to these rules, Childers has committed no crime if there were indeed a few armed terrorists in the crowd firing on his men. This would seem to present the opportunity for exploring an area of moral ambiguity: can a man be innocent of murder even if he has killed unarmed civilians, including women and children? The script by Stephen Gaghan neatly sidesteps that question ..." 
The key incident takes place in Yemen, where an unruly crowd of men, women and children demonstrate outside the US Embassy. Everything hinges on whether the crowd (a) was armed and (b) fired first.
Western conceptions of military ethics judge the following acts:
- unacceptable: for uniformed troops to fire indiscriminately at unarmed civilians.
- justifiable: for uniformed troops to return fire on armed attackers regardless of attire
The film's suspense and drama stemmed chiefly from the clash between these two ethical principles, in the dim light of uncertain knowledge about the number and type of weapons possessed and used by the demonstrators.
According to US military law, Childers could be found guilty of murder for killing 87 "unarmed, peaceful" people. But if enough of them were carrying weapons and they opened fire, he would be found innocent.
Sparking the drama was the Yemeni government's claim that no weapons were found with the bodies of the dead and injured. So it initially looks like Childers snapped and ordered a senseless massacre.
Later on, we find out that a videotape recording everything was deliberately destroyed and (tantalizingly) the audience is shown a flashback indicating that the crowd was indeed heavily armed and had opened fire first.
A similar incident actually occurred in Fallujah. US troops using a school building as a headquarters were confronted by demonstrators. Reports varied as to what happened then. By one account, US troops opened fire without provocation. According to another account, US troops took fire from a dozen armed men and returned fire.
The publicity around the real-world Fallujah incident inflamed anti-US sentiment in a way mirroring the dynamics of the film.
The murdering of Vietcong soldier
In the beginning of the film Terry Childers murders a POW he has just taken. It should be noted that Childers doesn't receive any punishment for this war crime. Some people have claimed this ruins the movie, as it is clear from the very beginning that Childers is a war criminal.
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