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The latter seems like the likely answer. If your unit is pulling back, then you have to decide on an individual level if you're going to follow the herd or go AWOL. Pretty easy groupthink situation.

That's exactly how leadership manipulated soldiers during the Tiananmen Square massacre [0]. They weren't given clear orders and were basically only told where to go and when. With that much force and tension anything can set it off.

But... As a counter argument, that could be exactly why law enforcement were pulled away this time. If they started cracking down on violent anti-protestors the peaceful protestors could have gotten caught in the mix and it could have escalated rapidly. I'm not defending Honk Kong leadership, but hopefully they're aware of the risk of concentrating armed forces amidst this tension.

If shots are fired it turns into a chain reaction.

[0] https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/06/02/317996805/...

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