Sunday, December 6, 2015

"You can't handle the truth!"

Benito Almaguer is a student in this semester's introduction to sociology course. 

"A Few Good Men" well illustrates the completely authoritarian hierarchy embodied in the U,S, Marine Corps. In particular, sociological concepts relevant to military socialization and culture abound in the movie's courtroom scene, "You can't handle the truth!". In this finale, Col. Nathan R. Jessup, played spot on by Jack Nicholson, is being cross-examined by defense lawyer, Lt. Daniel Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise, during the court martial of two U.S. Marines who inadvertently killed Private William Santiago. Prior to the case going to trial, Lt. Kaffee negotiates a plea bargain on behalf of the two, but they refuse to take it, insisting they were only following the order of a superior, one Col. Jessup. In this case, the order is a "Code Red," the Marine term for hazing, which in sociological terms involves a degradation ceremony that incorporates identity assault and mortification, and reduces the victim to complete humiliation. The specific order was to shave Santiago's head, but during its execution, the rag shoved into his mouth to prevent him from screaming, chokes and kills him.

The scene effectively dramatizes how successful the Marine Corps is in resocializing its members, officers and non-coms alike, to ensure total obedience. To "Disobey a Direct Order" carries grave consequences. The Corps redefines morality to suit the "Needs of The Corps," meaning that full compliance is obligatory, regardless of the fact that doing so may seriously deviate from precepts of conventional morality and civilian law. On the witness stand, Jessup contemptuously declares to Kaffee that "You want me on that wall! You need me on that wall!" reflecting the boastful pride that comes from the esprit de corps engrained in every Marine. He embodies the complete transformation that occurs with Corps resocialization. Indeed, in the climactic end, his arrogance trumps self-preservation, as he proudly screams out his response to the question of ordering the Code Red: "YOU'RE GODDAMN RIGHT I DID!”

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