Wednesday, March 3, 2010
© 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
Several weeks ago, the movie A Few Good Men aired on a TV channel.
In the movie, a young Marine dies during a disciplinary session which is prohibited by regulations. The discipline was administered by two low ranking fellow Marines. The question is whether the Marines were following orders issued by higher ranking officers, or acting on their own accord.
Most recall the exchange between Tom Cruise, who represents the two Marines on trial, and the base’s commanding officer, Colonel Jessup portrayed by Jack Nicholson, resulting in the explosive, “You can’t handle the truth!”
But there is another exchange, prior to Nicholson’s outburst, which merits some consideration. It is between Cruise in his capacity as defense attorney, and one of his clients, the more senior and clear headed of the two Marines on trial.
Kaffee (Cruise): “Did you assault Santiago with the intent of killing him?”
Dawson: “No sir.”
Kaffee: “What was your intent?”
Dawson: “To train him, sir.”
Kaffee: “To train him to do what?”
Dawson: “To train him to think of the unit before himself. To respect the Code.”
Kaffee: “What’s the Code?”
Dawson: “Unit. Corps. God. Country.”
Co-Defense Counsel Weinberg: “I beg your pardon?”
Dawson: “Unit. Corps. God. Country. Sir.
In reciting this “Code,” the issue of the order of importance, or priority of the components, becomes apparent. The Marines seem to have it down to a science.
Prior to the airing of the movie, C-Span2 Book TV aired a program during which they discussed the priorities of politicians. There were allusions to (1) doing what they thought best for their constituents; (2) addressing issues as expressed by their constituents; (3) adherence to Constitutional principles; and (4) pursuit of religious goals. Some would argue that advancing their own financial interests should be somewhere in the mix.
However, when a politician declares that he or she will no longer run for office, or resigns from office, they almost universally claim that they want to “spend more time with their families.”
How do we decide what is more important in the grand scheme of things? Who decided that family is more important than other societal units? Why should more attention be devoted to family as opposed to other societal pursuits?
The son of legendary United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez criticized his Father for not spending enough time with his family, and yet millions of farm workers view Chavez as a hero who improved their lives dramatically.
Who decides? What’s right? What’s wrong? What’s the appropriate balance?
In the case of the Marines, it appears to be a somewhat rigid, well thought out prioritization, which is drilled into them. Former Senator Robert Dole, a WWII hero and winner of the Bronze Star, when asked why he risked his life to save that of a fellow soldier, remarked (paraphrasing), “Because you’d like to think that they would do the same for you under the same circumstances.”
According to Colonel Jessup, adherence to the Code by Marines “saves lives,” and permits those of us not on the front line, but who derive the benefit of their protection, to sleep peacefully at night. And anyone who has ever known a Marine, even if just briefly, or socially, knows how deeply this Code runs….
Marines become Marines because of those in whose hands they want to put their lives. It is not a matter of who you want to follow into combat so much as who you want to follow you, over the hill, or through the door.
Which brings us to Senators Ensign and Edwards, and Governors Spitzer and Sanford, and Presidents Kennedy and Clinton, and most recently Tiger Woods (although not an elected official with specifically outlined responsibilities to the public) who seem to have muddled the line of acceptable prioritization.
Or did they?
If these public figures had not been married, and had children, would we feel any differently about their societal contributions?
On the other hand, none of the above (with the possible exception of Tiger) seems to have had any qualms about using their marriages in any and every way possible to persuade the public to view them as individuals who would not behave in the manner is which they were obviously behaving.
For those contemplating public life and being in the public eye, it might prove prudent to get the applicable code down pat before becoming famous. A failure to do so could have dramatic negative consequences.
And the folks who are sending our Marines into harm’s way seem to be telling the rest of us that in a closed political society, where everybody is guilty, the only crime is in getting caught, and the only sin is stupidity.
With all due respect to our elected officials, the adaptation of some variation of “Unit. Corps. God. Country.” might prove to be the better approach.
And who would have thunk that society might benefit from emulating principles espoused by an entity run by the government….
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