A Few Good Men/Headscratchers

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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  • 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 Jessep 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 Jessep 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, Jessep 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:

Jessep: I requested that Santiago be transferred off the base and ordered that he not be touched.
Kaffee: And why was that?
Jessep: 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?
Jessep: 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 Jessep wouldn't stand for.
      • Not to mention a Colonel (or was he a general?) 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 Jessep 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: Jessep 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?
          • For that matter, how many of them involve privates disobeying orders given to them directly by a colonel? The vast majority of time, the only people that a colonel is talking to directly on any subject more important than 'Get me a cup of coffee' are majors, captains, and his seniormost NCOs.
    • Also, don't forget one key point: Kaffee had successfully bluffed Jessep into thinking that the two airmen, O'Malley and Rodriguez, were going to testify that there had been an earlier flight from Guantanamo that Jessep had erased the records of as part of his cover-up of his involvement in Santiago's death. As such, Jessep thought he had been caught in a lie, and therefore had to change his story to account for why Santiago, whose life Jessep 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 Jessep 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 (Jessep has merely been luckier with promotions). The contrast can be seen with Kendrick who views Jessep's authority as second only to God and his assistant Tom who ends every answer with "Sir". In Jessep's mind, the ideal Marine asks no questions and is concerned only with following orders.
  • 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.
        • There is such leeway for crew-served weapons, yes, as those are "guns". But no one graduates Marine boot camp, let alone officer training, without having been very thoroughly and painfully educated that a Marine never ever ever refers to his rifle as a "gun". It's like why Army guys salute indoors but Navy & Marine personnel don't -- the different services have their different quirks, which they take very very seriously even if no one else does.
  • 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.
      • Also, seriously, he's one private. How can he halt the operation by failing? If he fell off a ladder and broke his neck it would take maybe one or two weeks to ship in a replacement. If he consistently fails his PT test there is an established procedure for this -- administrative separation. It's no major loss of face to the CO if he has one guy who can't run, in any unit of battalion size or larger you're going to average several bad conduct or administrative discharges a year.
    • 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 Jessep? 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, Jessep 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 Jessep had no way of knowing about any health problems that Santiago had. So Jessep 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, Jessep 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 Jessep 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 Jessep 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 Jessep'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 Jessep 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 Jessep trying to get the problem out of the way so he can get back to his career. It is not that Jessep 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 Jessep'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, Jessep, 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 Jessep'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 Jessep'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 Jessep.
    • The problem is that Code Reds are, from the get-go, immoral whether or not Jessep 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 Jessep 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 Jessep 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 Jessep at his own trial. Again, I'm not saying that Jessep 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 Jessep's callousness in keeping on a man whom he knows is being pushed to breaking point. Jessep 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 Jessep 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 Jessep's motives change from the good of the corps to utter Sadism.
        • But how would Jessep 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 Jessep 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 Jessep's part at all?
        • Part of why Jessep 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. Jessep 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, Jessep 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 Jessep 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 Jessep 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?
            • By US military values, any officer who dumps the blame for something that is actually his fault onto a subordinate is acting very badly, and that's if the penalties involved are trivial. In a situation where the subordinate is facing months in prison, the end of their military career, and a felony conviction on their permanent record, the guilty officer in question has forfeited any right to be an officer. 'Sweetheart deal' or not, Jessep is being a complete piece of shit here.
          • Jessep gave an order that, effective or not, was illegal. He knew it was illegal and he gave the order anyways. Jessep 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.
            • Emphasis on this. The one thing expected from an officer above all else is integrity. If you ever lie, officially and on the record, right then and there you don't deserve your rank. And yes, in practice it doesn't always work out this way. That gap between theory and practice is where the system is failing, not where its succeeding.
          • Speaking of applicable things that Jessep said: "We follow orders, son. We follow orders or people die. Its that simple." When Jessep ordered the code red, he violated orders, and someone died.