In the movie, “A Few Good Men,” Jack Nicholson plays Marine Corps colonel Nathan R. Jessup, commanding officer of Guantánamo Bay Cuba. Tom Cruise portrays Navy officer Daniel “Danny” Kaffee. Danny is a lawyer tasked with defending a pair of Marines who are charged with murder in the death of another young Marine, Private William T. “Willie” Santiago.
Santiago was seen by his unit as a subpar troop and the two Marines were accused of conducting a “Code Red”. Code Red is a term used in the movie to indicate unofficial disciplinary action used to encourage inferior Marines to improve their performance. In other words, the men held him down and beat him.
During the Code Red, the two Marines stuffed a rag in Santiago’s mouth to keep him quiet.
Santiago died. His post mortem indicated the possibility of poison on the rag leading to his death.
The movie takes its name from a Marine Corps recruiting poster which said, “The Marines are looking for a few good men.” That poster indicated the Marine Corps’ desire to enlist only the highest quality people, those capable and willing of performing well above the norm.
When I served in the Marines, there was something that amounted to the same thing as the Code Red, called a “Blanket Party.” A group of Marines would assemble and go to the room of another jarhead who wasn’t pulling his weight, for whatever reason. They would throw a blanket over the sleeping serviceman and some would use the blanket to hold him so that he couldn’t resist, while others would beat him in an attempt to impart a desire to improve his performance. Blanket parties were done differently depending on the seriousness of the leatherneck’s offence. Some would hit the incapacitated man with their fists. Others would use something like a bar of soap in a sock. Others were more serious.
When I gained enough rank to be a leader, I made it clear to the Marines in my charge that blanket parties would NOT be allowed by me. My reasoning was that some individuals always carry things too far. I could use other methods to discipline a young Marine that carried less possibility of physical damage. My resolve was reinforced when a friend of mine was the recipient of a blanket party. His perpetrators chose to use baseball bats, and my friend was left permanently disabled, including brain damage.
I told you all that so that I could tell you this.
In probably the most famous exchange in the movie, “A Few Good Men” Colonel Jessup is on the stand and Kaffee is questioning him.
Col. Jessup: “You want answers?”
Kaffee: “I think I’m entitled to.”
Col. Jessup: “You want answers?”
Kaffee: “I WANT THE TRUTH!”
Col. Jessup: “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”
Jessup pauses for a moment, then continues, “ Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg?” (indicating another lawyer) “I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know; that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said ‘thank you’ and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a d— what you think you are entitled to!”
Those who have never served in the United States military have the luxury of not knowing what grave danger we are all in. They can go through their day-to-day lives in blissful ignorance, eating good meals and watching television before going to sleep in a comfortable bed. Men and women in the service eat what the government calls food, when they can get it. Then they may watch television if it is available. Many times it is not. When they go to bed, if they go to bed, it might be comfortable, or maybe just passable, but it could just be a hollowed out place in the dirt.
Wherever it is they lay down their heads, they have to be ready to fight at a moment’s notice. They have to be prepared to go to war whenever and wherever they are called.
They fight, not because they hate what is in front of them, but because they love what is behind them.
To the men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard who stand on that wall…the wall between us and danger; between us and horror, I’d like to say one simple thing. I assure you it is heartfelt.
I believe that we live in the land of the free because it is the home of the brave…you.
Thank you. I don’t take your commitment and sacrifices for granted.
(above) This young soldier shows that every branch of the U.S. military has their elite members. Army sergeant Ruth Hanks is the sergeant of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Washington, DC. Notice how she commands that the watchers show respect for her charge. This soldier makes me proud.
(below) The Marine III Marine Expeditionary Force Band takes on the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army Band in an unofficial drumline contest. I’m just saying.