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A Few Good Men is a 1992 American film revolving around the court-martial of two

U.S. Marines charged with the murder of a fellow Marine and the tribulations of their
lawyers as they prepare a case to defend their clients. During the court case there are
many set backs and questions of whether the men were simply following orders and in
which case should they still be responsible. The martial they supposedly murdered,
Santiago, was judged as almost less than his fellow marines and had even had
requested a transfer to another base. Colonel Nathan Jessup regards the transfer as
almost equivalent to surrender and demands Santiago’s commanding officer to train
him to be a better Marine. Dawson and Downey are the two Marine’s accused of
murdering Santiago and while Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway immediately
expects that they were simply carrying out a “code red” order (a command to carry out a
violent extrajudicial punishment) that went completely wrong. Unfortunately the case is
instead given to Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee who has a tendency to plea bargain
(something that Galloway resents). After the bargain negotiated is denied by Dawson
and Downey, the case finally goes to trail where Kaffee calls Jessup to the stand. As the
questioning goes on a Jessup begins to get more and more flustered, he finally reveals
that he did in fact issue a “code red” order on Santiago. Jessup is then arrested for the
murder while Dawson and Downey are cleared of the charge. The two Marines, however,
are still found guilty of “conduct unbecoming a United States Marine” and are
dishonorably discharged.

This movie touches on many topics that are often connected to the military. These
include the morality of simply following orders as well as problems that arise when the
military considers itself “better” than the population it serves. In this case, though the
men in question are technically the ones who committed the murder, they are found
innocent because they were simply following orders. When the military thinks that they
are better than the population it serves they may also come to believe that they are
above the law that governs that population as well. Originally Jessup believed that he
would be able to outsmart the defense and be able to pass the blame off onto the other
men because he is higher in rank than them. From the beginning of his testimony, he
attempted to make it seem as though he was simply looking out for the well-being of
Santiago when in reality, Santiago’s death was his fault. On the other hand, the two
Marines pretty much got away with murder, but I suppose that was made right by their
dishonorable discharge. Nothing good can come out of a military in which there are
people-especially high ranking officers- that believe that they are better than the
population they serve.

A Few Good Men (1992). Perf. Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore. Castle Rock
Entertainment/Columbia Pictures, 1992. Film.

Synopsis

The film covers the court-martial of two U.S. Marines, Lance Corporal Dawson and
Private Downey, who killed a fellow Marine, Private Santiago, at the Guantanamo Bay
Naval Base in Cuba. Santiago compared unfavorably to his fellow Marines, had poor
relations with them, and failed to respect the chain of command in attempts of being
transferred to another base. An argument evolves between base commander Colonel
Jessup and his officers: while Jessup’s executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Markinson
advocates that Santiago be transferred immediately, Jessup regards this as akin to
surrender and orders Santiago’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Kendrick, to train
Santiago into a better Marine.

When Dawson and Downey are later arrested for Santiago’s murder, naval investigator
and lawyer Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway suspects that they carried out a
“code red” order, a violent extrajudicial punishment. Galloway requests to defend them,
but instead the case is given to Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, an inexperienced and
unenthusiastic U.S. Navy lawyer. There is initial friction between Galloway, who resents
his tendencies to plea bargains, and Kaffee, who resents her interference. Kaffee and his
friend, Captain Jack Ross, who represents the prosecution, negotiate a bargain but
Dawson and Downey refuse to go along. They insist that they were ordered by
Lieutenant Kendrick to shave Santiago’s head, minutes after Kendrick publicly ordered
the platoon not to touch the would-be victim, and did not intend their victim to die.
Kaffee is finally won over by Galloway and takes the case to court.

In the course of the trial, the defense manages to establish the existence of “code red”
orders at Guantanamo and that Dawson specifically had learned not to disobey any
order, having been denied a promotion after helping out a fellow Marine who was under
what could be seen as a “code red”. However, the defense also suffers setbacks when a
cross-examination reveals that Private Downey wasn’t actually present when he and
Dawson supposedly received the “code red” order. Lieutenant Colonel Markinson reveals
to Kaffee that Jessup never intended to transfer Santiago off the base but commits
suicide rather than testify in court.

Without Markinson’s testimony, Kaffee believes the case lost and returns home in a
drunken stupor, having come to regret that he fought the case instead of arranging a
plea bargain. Galloway, however, convinces Kaffee to call Colonel Jessup as a witness
despite the risk of being court-martialled for smearing a high-ranking officer. Jessup
initially outsmarts Kaffee’s questioning but is unnerved when the lawyer points out a
contradiction in his testimony; Jessup had stated that he wanted to transfer Santiago
off the base for his own safety but if he ordered his men to leave Santiago alone and if
Marines always obey orders, Santiago would have been in no danger. Under heavy
pressure from Kaffee and unnerved by being caught in one of his own lies, Jessup
finally snaps, extols his own importance to national security and ultimately confesses to
ordering the “code red”. As he angrily justifies his actions, Jessup is arrested.

Soon afterwards, Dawson and Downey are cleared of the murder charge but found
guilty of “conduct unbecoming a United States Marine” and dishonorably discharged.
Dawson accepts the verdict but Downey does not understand what they had done
wrong. Dawson explains that they had failed to stand up for those too weak to fight for
themselves, like Santiago. As the two prepare to leave, Kaffee tells Dawson he does not
need a patch on his arm to have honor. Dawson, who had previously been reluctant to
respect Kaffee as an officer, barks, “Ten hut! There’s an officer on deck!” and salutes
Kaffee.