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Headscratchers: A Few Good Men
  • Why, of all the men in the unit, send Dawson and Downey to give Santiago a Code Red? Dawson is a model marine, but has shown a specific reluctance to administer this kind of punishment, and has specifically been protecting Santiago; while Downey's limited understanding and tendency to answer questions openly and innocently are less than ideal for a secret illegal order such as this. It's shown that the other marines were angry with Santiago and had been aching to give him a Code Red for a while, so there were plenty of other options. The choice of Dawson and Downey didn't prove problematic, but still, it doesn't strike me as wise.
    • The choice of Dawson is actually quite a good one. When Dawson carries out a punishment he finds distasteful on someone he's been trying to protect, it proves to Jessup and reiterates to Dawson himself that his ultimate loyalty is to the Marines and that his conscience comes a very distant second. It also emphasises to Santiago, when he suffers physical punishment delivered by someone who's previously looked after him, that nobody on the base is really on his side.
    • He's also the one who already has a motive (Santiago reporting him for the fenceline shooting), and since Dawson doesn't express that much remorse for Santiago until the end, he didn't have much of a problem with the Code Red on this occasion.
    • And Downey is a fine choice, until things go horribly wrong. There's no reason for Jessup or Kendrick to think Downey will ever be called to testify about a routine Code Red, and his innocence and trusting nature are pretty ideal for something such as this.
  • Why is Jessup so determined to make it clear that marines under his command DO NOT ignore orders, ever, full stop? The prosecution's case is that, after being ordered not to touch Santiago, Dawson and Downey broke into his room and murdered him. So it was essential to the case that under extreme circumstances a marine will not follow orders.
    • The easy answer is that Jessup didn't think his story through because he couldn't conceive that he would be questioned over the death of one of the Marines under his command. Nevertheless, Jessup does appear to be short-sighted and impulsive since he didn't take steps to try to cover up the incident until the case was in full swing. Of course, if he was smart, his testimony would have gone like this:
      Jessup: I requested that Santiago be transferred off the base and ordered that he not be touched.
      Kaffee: And why was that?
      Jessup: Santiago was a sub-standard Marine, and I didn't want the men taking matters into their own hands.
      Kaffee: Is it possible that Dawson ignored the order?
      Jessup: He obviously did ignore the order. Dawson did it before, as noted on his prior performance report. And now a Marine is dead due to his disregard for orders.
      Kaffee: Ermm...
    • Pride before reason. To say that a subordinate could have possibly disregarded his orders would be a sign of weakness that Jessup wouldn't stand for.
      • Not to mention a Colonel with private rank marines that didn't follow his orders without question would most certainly be pulled from his post. Think about it: the marines wouldn't see a Colonel with a discipline problem, they'd see a Colonel whose men didn't respect him, didn't listen to him, and had lost the authority of command. Boom. Instant retirement. It could be that, once Jessup established the story of ordering all men to keep their hands off Santiago, he had no choice but to stand by that fiction because to alter his story in any way would result in the Corps removing him as an ineffectual leader. Which answers the questions on this page so far: Jessup wasn't short-sighted and impulsive, he was calculating and devious, but once he started to lie, he had to continue to lie in order to maintain his professional career and personal integrity. Ironic.
      • Seems unlikely that a one-off incident of marines disobeying orders would be considered grounds for removing a colonel from command, rather than just a punishable incident for the marines in question.
      • Welcome to the United States Marine Corps.
      • Only going off Google here, but while it's fairly easy to find cases of USMC members convicted of disobeying orders, I don't see anything about their superiors being reassigned (let alone "instant retirement" for someone many many rungs up the ladder) as a result.
      • How many of those incidents involved the marines disobeying orders and killing someone?
      • It's not so much that they are relieved instantly (although the Navy has several instances in the past decade of ship captains and even commanding admirals having been relieved before the ship even got back to port, when 'lack of confidence in their ability to command' hit critical mass), but that they become instantly aware that their careers have ended. Once a colonel has it known to his superiors that privates are openly disobeying his orders to his face, that's it — his next officer efficiency report is going to contain phrases such as "this officer is not recommended for independent command", which is the polite military way of saying "this officer is a worthless fucking idiot". At this point any colonel with minimal self-awareness is going to apply for retirement anyway, because the alternative involves being assigned to an endless series of shit jobs until he finally gives up or hits mandatory retirement age, with zero point zero hope of ever being promoted again. After all, at least that way he can free up a marginally less incompetent warm body to be sent somewhere else.
    • Also, don't forget one key point: Kaffee had successfully bluffed Jessup into thinking that the two airmen, O'Malley and Rodriguez, were going to testify that there had been an earlier flight from Guantanamo that Jessup had erased the records of as part of his cover-up of his involvement in Santiago's death. As such, Jessup thought he had been caught in a lie, and therefore had to change his story to account for why Santiago, whose life Jessup feared was in danger, was not transferred off the base on the earliest possible flight. So he tried to change his story to say that Santiago was being transferred because he was a substandard marine, which wouldn't have been as urgent. And once he was changing his story on the stand, it was all over.
      • It should also be remembered that Jessup is extremely prideful to the point of being absolutely intolerant of any insubordination. In the scene where He, Markinson and Kendrick are discussing Santiago, He is incessed that Markinson would disagree with Him or question him like that, regardless of the fact that He and Markinson are old friends with the same amount of experience (Jessup has merely been luckier with promotions). The contrast can be seen with Kendrick who views Jessup's authority as second only to God and his assistant Tom who ends every answer with "Sir". In Jessup's mind, the ideal Marine asks no questions and is concerned only with following orders.
      • Speaking of insubordination, didn't the judge shrug off Jessup's comment, "I don't know what the hell kind of unit you're running here," a little more easily than you'd expect? Making that kind of comment to an officer in open court is distasteful in the extreme. Also, despite the fact that they both hold the rank of colonel, the presiding judge is the commanding officer of a court martial, and making such a comment to him while he is carrying out his duties is contempt at best, and insubordination at worst. I wouldn't expect him to throw Jessup in the brig, but surely a sterner response was called for.
      • Well until that point, the judge pretty much hated Kaffee, and sided with the prosecution and every witness against him; he wasn't expecting to have to turn on the witnesses for any reason. Also, Jessup was clearly more famous than the judge, had more de facto status. Those two things combined probably meant it took a bit more than the average instance of insubordination for the judge to rebuke him properly.
  • In the beginning, Lt Cdr Galloway is walking past the Drill Team, almost brushing one of them as she passes. Shouldn't someone have kept her off the parade field during a dress rehearsal? And her rank doesn't matter; even a General would know better than to just stroll across a parade field during a practice, and would be kicked off anyway if they didn't.
    • A lieutenant commander interfering (or at least coming into close porximity) with the rehearsal of the drill team is probably a little rude or disruptive, but she was in motion and wasn't just hanging around. If something like this happened in the real world, it would probably be in everyone's best interest to just let it go, unless it happened more than once and truly was disruptive.
  • This may just be a quibble, but it just bugs me the way they say, "Code Reds." The plural has to be "Codes Red."
    • Only if there are different codes, really. As it is, "Code Red" is a singular unit. That's the whole term. "Red" isn't a qualifier, it's part of the name.
  • As anybody that was in the Marine Corps (and the Army) can attest,you only refer to a firearm as a "gun" once. MAYBE twice. After that,you would find yourself in a position where you would never refer to a firearm as a "gun" ever again. Col. Jessup's famous speech about those "walls being guarded by men with GUNS" has always bugged me.
    • Not in the military here, but would a Marine call a mounted machine gun a "gun"? The guard towers at Gitmo have machine guns. Or what about naval guns, or heavy artillery? Are those "guns", too?
    • What? Then what the fuck do they call them then?
      • Rifles. They call their personal firearms rifles, semi-automatic firearms like the M14 are called rifles, fully automatic firearms like the M4, M16, etc. are called assault rifles, and what we call handguns are referred to as side-arms or pistols. The original Marines were sea-faring warriors who used rifles to shoot at invading forces who came on their ship so since as an organization they started out using rifles they prefer not to call their weapons by any other title. In regards to mounted machine guns, artillery, Naval Guns/Cannons, I would believe there is some leeway. In fact, the insistence on calling them rifles is probably to distinguish them from artillery guns.
      • The finicky, technical definition of a 'gun'—at least for the purposes of the US Navy and Marine Corps—is a, large-calibre weapon that fires a projectile in a shallow ballistic arc. A 105mm howitzer is not a gun, but the 16"/50 Iowa-class deck cannons, to pick an example at random, are. Very broadly speaking, 'gun' is used to describe artillery that isn't primarily designed for indirect fire.
    • I'm in the military, but I'm giving this a pass. It's true that they aren't called guns, but it's only used in that particular phrase by Jessup. Sure he's a Marine, but he's also an overdramatic type who looks for any excuse to launch into a speech. And "men with guns" simply rolls off the tongue better. It fits Jessup's character.
    • Perhaps some Fridge Brilliance, in that Jessup is using the colloquial civilian term because he is talking to Kaffee (and Weinberg), and so he's talking down to them and insinuating that they're not *real* military.
  • Could someone with military experience explain to me Jessup's reasoning in wanting Santiago to stay? It seems that there should be procedures to deal with soldiers who develop health conditions that interfere with their performance other than "haze him until he drops dead". Jessup actually forces the doctor to rescind a previous diagnosis saying "The kid can't take this. Give him a desk job." He then has that doctor perjure himself to frame the Marines he ordered to give Santiago the Code Red. Is it just to cover up the fenceline shooting? Then screw him till he bleeds, then let him bleed out.
    • The U.S Military is notorious for ignoring the physical and mental health problems in soldiers, the idea is that you are supposed to toughen up and bear your burden without mentioning it or asking for help.
      • A common slogan of the Marine Corps boasts that "Pain is weakness leaving the body," and the Corps takes that attitude pretty seriously. That said, it would actually be pretty surprising for someone with an undiagnosed heart disease to survive bootcamp and SOI.
    • Jessup didn't think that Santiago had a health problem. Nobody on the base, including the base physician, realized that Santiago had a real health problem. They all thought he had a bad attitude and were taking steps to try to correct that attitude.
      • A man like Jessup would not take kindly to having his operation in Cuba halted, the Marine Corp is a branch of the U.S Military the most powerful and prestigious Military on Earth and its structure needs to be filled with strong and capable men who can do their jobs once handed a rifle. You need to weed out the weak so the strong are not dragged down with him, this is why Colonel Jessup viewed things so personally with Private Santiago. This was the wrong point of view to take, Santiago fell behind in his training and when that happened his fellow Marines should have encouraged him and worked together with him to make him a more stand up soldier. No compassion was shown to Santiago and those that were supposed to protect him and uplift him failed. If there is no team work in the Military and we don't stand up for those that can't defend themselves then the entire reason for a Military even existing has failed.
      • There also seems to be an element of Social Darwinism involved as well; as far as Jessup is concerned, Santiago is inherently 'weak', and transferring such a man to another post is going to make that post weaker as well.
    • Santiago was also sending letters to everybody and their mother asking for a transfer, thus disrespecting the chain of command. Santiago was also offering to squeal about the fenceline shooting incident in exchange for a transfer, which Jessup would see as an attempt to blackmail him and undermine his authority. That's what made it personal.
    • Again, no one knew about Santiago's health problem. The film never clearly established what his health problem was: the defense speculated that it was a heart condition of some kind while cross-examining the doctor, but that was it.
  • Here's my problem: at one point in the film, when Sam suggests that Dawson and Downey's defense was the same one that failed for the Nazis at Nuremburg, Kaffee defends them by saying that these guys were carrying out a routine training exercise that they had no way of knowing would really hurt Santiago, much less kill him. But isn't the same true of Jessup? He didn't order the code red on Santiago because he wanted to hurt him; he just wanted to train him to be a good marine. Granted, Jessup also acted to cover up the situation afterwards, but consider his predicament: he's been told by a pencil-pushing time-server that a training method that he knows from years of experience to be irreplaceably effective is no longer permitted. He decides that rather than just do the easy thing, pass along a substandard marine to another command where he'll be some other commander's problem, he's going to train this man to be a proper marine. Bear in mind that Jessup had no way of knowing about any health problems that Santiago had. So Jessup orders a training exercise, a code red, that has been used repeatedly in the past to effectively whip marines into shape, with no intention to do Santiago any harm. When the exercise goes wrong, Jessup is looking at the end of his military career and prison time if he takes responsibility. So he works behind the scenes to make sure that Dawson and Downey will be offered a sweetheart plea deal by the prosecution, so that nothing really bad would happen to them. Now, I'm not saying that Jessup should be up for sainthood, but it really seems to me that the film has no sympathy for him whatsoever, and wants the audience to have no sympathy for him either. But is he really such a monster?
    • In all honesty Colonel Jessup should not have been considered by the court to be put on the stand. To begin with the dealings of what occurred with the death of some lowly private would be way below his pay-grade and would be exempt from having to investigate it or give the story a second thought. The Lieutenant under Jessup's command would be the right pay-grade to be bothered with this case (and he is). Furthermore it is more or less figured out by the Defense that it was the Lieutenant who directly made the order of the code red so it should have been his responsibility to deal with the consequences making the Colonel free from the guilt of paying for any crimes. The only reason Colonel Jessup would feel the need to let himself be put on the stand is to avoid a Congressional investigation which would legally require the commander of the base to be put on the stand and this would seriously stifle any plans he might have to rank up to being a General Officer, this was just Jessup trying to get the problem out of the way so he can get back to his career. It is not that Jessup is to be admired as a saintly commanding officer but under the law he shouldn't have had anything to worry about.
      • OP here: you are wrong on both counts. First of all, regardless of Jessup's pay-grade, he was the one who ordered Lt. Kendrick to order Dawson and Downey to give Santiago the code red, an order that was illegal, as he had been ordered by his superior officer to discontinue the practice of giving codes red. As such, he, Jessup, is legally culpable for the consequences, i.e., Santiago's death. Kendrick is also culpable, which is why he also gets arrested at the end, but that does not negate Jessup's culpability. Second of all, under the U.S. Constitution, the defense can call any witness, by subpoena if necessary, to testify, so long as that testimony is itself admissible. That applies to courts civil and martial alike, and it does not matter if the victim and the accused in the case are both privates, and the witness is the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff himself. That's what that whole "equality under the law" thing is all about. If a general has relevant testimony to give in a case against a private, that private can subpoena that general to testify, and he must come before the court. And in any case, I wasn't talking about Jessup's legal culpability, which is without question: the man is clearly legally guilty. I was talking about his moral culpability, and that the film seems to have no sympathy for him, and seems to expect us, the audience, to have no sympathy for him either. That I don't understand, since his goal, after all, was to train Santiago, not to hurt him; that's what Dawson justifies himself in his own testimony, but the same thing is just as true for Jessup.
    • The problem is that Code Reds are, from the get-go, immoral whether or not Jessup believes they are irreplaceably effective. Hazing, in all branches of the US military, is illegal for multiple reasons. Even setting aside the possibility of physical injury, it demoralizes the victims and hurts unit cohesion. Soldiers need to trust and depend upon one another to be an effective unit. How are you going to put your life in the hands of the guys who just beat the shit out of you last night? As someone at the top of the page pointed out, even if he'd survived the incident, Santiago would know he has no allies on the base. Speaking with 10 years' military experience, the last thing you want to do to a struggling soldier is to isolate him.
      • Be that as it may, that would just mean that Jessup was mistaken, not evil. Moreover, the film itself never argues, or even suggests, that codes red don't work; quite the contrary, in fact. I think we sort of have to say that in the world of the film, they are effective. But even if not, it's clear that Jessup sincerely believes that they work, and that this will train Santiago. Dawson's statement on the stand, when asked why he gave Santiago the code red, "To train him, sir," could just as easily be uttered by Jessup at his own trial. Again, I'm not saying that Jessup ought to be up for sainthood, only that I don't see why the movie treats him like the devil.
      • The film seems to be saying that Santiago was simply someone who shouldn't have been on the receiving end of such brutality. He may have been a substandard Marine but We are arguably supposed to be appalled at Jessup's callousness in keeping on a man whom he knows is being pushed to breaking point. Jessup knows Santiago can't cut it in training and that he is at a very high risk of reprisal from other Marines. This can be seen in the way Jessup orders Lowden and Downey to administer the beating, reminding Santiago that he truly doesn't have a friend in the world. That is arguably when Jessup's motives change from the good of the corps to utter Sadism.
      • But how would Jessup have known that? He had no way of knowing about Santiago's heart condition. As far as he knew, Santiago just needed to be motivated to get his act together; to be trained, in other words. And did the film even establish that it was Jessup who specified that Dawson and Downey should have been the ones ordered to give the code red? He ordered Kendrick to have Santiago given a code red, but did he specify who specifically should do it? Isn't it possible that it was Kendrick who selected Dawson and Downey? Why assume sadism on Jessup's part at all?
      • Part of why Jessup is such a bastard is how cowardly he acts throughout. If he really believed in the righteousness of his actions, he would have just confessed. When things go bad, he lets two young marines, one of whom is painfully naive, take the fall for his crime. Jessup is meant to represent the absolute worst of the U.S. Military: Lying, brutal, callous, cowardly, indifferent, motivated by self interest and completely unwilling to accept blame or criticism. Men like Markinson represent the preferable alternative and a better side of the armed forces.
      • How is Markinson's suicide not cowardly? Also, Jessup doesn't just cut Dawson and Downey loose. Remember the beginning of the film: he pulls strings behind the scenes to make sure that the prosecutor offers them a sweetheart deal that would let them go home in six months. They are the ones who insist on going to trial. And again, it's easy to say that Jessup should have just confessed from the very beginning, but put yourself in his shoes: a training exercise of a kind that had been used repeatedly for years to good effect results, in a completely unforeseeable way, in Santiago's death, and if Jessup confesses his role, his military career, which has been pretty much his life, is over. Is he really such a monster because he doesn't want to see his entire career go down the tubes because of a training accident?
      • Jessup gave an order that, effective or not, was illegal. He knew it was illegal and he gave the order anyways. Jessup was right when he talked about the virtues of honor and trust when it comes to the chain of command, but he violated both. The moment he gave an order that he violated USMC regulations, his superiors could no longer rely on him, and Marines he commanded could no longer trust him. Even before he lied, falsified records, and threw his own men under the bus, his actions made it impossible for him to function as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.
      • Speaking of applicable things that Jessup said: "We follow orders, son. We follow orders or people die. Its that simple." When Jessup ordered the code red, he violated orders, and someone died.
      • Consider also that Jessup shows very little remorse for the fact that a man essentially died as a result of his orders and actions (or if we were being generous, shows perfunctory remorse at best), and indeed seems to consider it almost a good thing in that it 'saved lives'. The crux of his climactic speech, the one that's so famous, is essentially him bragging that Santiago's death as a consequence of his orders was perfectly justified, and that pretty much anything he does is ultimately justifiable because he's standing at a post defending his country. Whether he knew that his orders would lead to Santiago's death might be something we can go back and forth on, but it's his callousness and arrogance in face of the result of them that makes him unsympathetic as much as anything else. Ultimately, though, like Weinstein says, once all the martial justifications and codes of conduct and everything else is cut through, this is essentially a glorified case of a bunch of tough guys picking on someone weaker than them and then trying to cover it up when it goes south. Jessup is essentially a bully in a uniform with some very nice medals.
      • Right. Jessup seems to think that because he occupies what in his mind is a very important post, that somehow he has absolute authority to do whatever he wants to "protect the country". But he ignores the simple fact that everybody is accountable to somebody higher up. Jessup has a superior officer, who has a superior officer, and so on up to the President. And above the President is the law and rules governing the military. Jessup didn't do his job; he broke the law.
      • Yes, except that everything you are saying about Jessup is equally true of Dawson and Downey. Dawson and Downey didn't do their jobs; they broke the law. Dawson and Downey are essentially bullies in uniform with some very nice medals. Remember, after all, that Weinberg's (not Weinstein) speech about how, once you cut through all the martial justifications and codes of conduct and everything else, this is essentially a glorified case, etc., is about Dawson and Downey. Weinberg was talking about their own clients, not about Jessup. If what he says is true of Jessup, it is also true of Dawson and Downey. Which is precisely my point, that no one seems to want to respond to directly: the film seems to want us to have some sympathy for Dawson and Downey, but not for Jessup, even though Dawson and Downey's defense applies equally well to Jessup.
      • What makes Dawson and Downey's situation different from Jessup is that they were doing what they were ordered to do. It was an unlawful order, which is why they are convicted with Conduct Unbecoming, but it takes a lot of moral fortitude to openly disobey a direct order that comes down from the base commander. The law would, and should, be harder on the one who gave the order in the first place than on the one who carries it out. With a colonel's far higher rank and pay grade comes a lot more responsibility than a corporal. A corporal or private is expected to follow orders without question or hesitation. When an order comes down that's illegal, the corporal is already conditioned to obey it, so he needs to trust that the officer giving the order knows what he's doing and has his back. Jessup violated that trust. Dawson was willing to take responsibility for obeying an unlawful order, but his commander refused to take responsibility for issuing that order, instead letting his underlings take the fall, sweetheart plea bargain notwithstanding. Jessup also deserves no credit for the plea bargain, because the motivation for it was purely selfish. He thought if he gave Dawson and Downey a good plea bargain deal, they'd be less likely to take the case to trial and expose him.
      • I must have gotten a different impression than the troper above. Dawson and Downey were, perhaps, pitiable for the fact they got stuck with that order, but they still got what they deserved for following it. It was just important that justice came around and saw that Jessup went down with them.
      • I'd also point out that they got off extraordinarily easy; the actions of everybody involved fit squarely into the UCMJ's definition of manslaughter.

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