Lance Corporal Dawson, Private First Class Downey: On the charge of murder, the members find the accused not guilty. On the charge of conspiracy to commit murder, the members find the accused not guilty. On the charge of conduct unbecoming a United States Marine, the members find the accused guilty as charged. The accused are hereby sentenced to time already served, and you are ordered to be dishonorably discharged from the Marine Corps. This court martial is adjourned.
–Judge Randolph, A Few Good Men
In the illustrious courtroom drama, A Few Good Men, it is the character of Lieutenant Kaffee played by Tom Cruise who wrestles with his personal convictions, risking both his dignity and future while pursuing the truth from senior ranking official, Col. Nathan R. Jessep.
The fictional Col. Jessep is the highest ranking official at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, the setting for the unfortunate death of Private First Class William Santiago, or as known to his unit, Willie. Charged with the alleged murder of Santiago are two members of the unit, Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson and Private First Class Louden Downey who are suspected of carrying out a “code red”, a euphemism for a violent extrajudicial punishment.
The film approaches a climax when, under Kaffee’s cross-examination Jessep is caught in one of his own lies. In a moment of belief that he is above the law, he angrily spouts out the signature line of the movie: “You can’t handle the truth!”. Within a matter of minutes, Jessep’s pride takes over causing him to completely lose control of his otherwise copacetic demeanor. He succumbs to his rage, producing an unintentional admission of guilt reinforced by expletives that he had, indeed, ordered the code red that killed a weaker Marine–a move that, in his opinion, probably saved lives.
For a brief instant following the subsequent arrest of Col. Jessep, there seems to be a sigh of relief over the fate of the two defendants, Dawson and Downey; but, when presiding Judge Randolph presents a sentence that includes a dishonorable discharge from the Marine Corps, along with their not guilty sentence, Downey questions it.
“What did we do? We did nothing wrong,” to which Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson answers: “Yeah, we did. We were supposed to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. We were supposed to fight for Willie.”
No matter how many times I watch this movie, or even as I write about it now, I get goose bumps remembering the final words of Dawson as he makes his final exit out of the courtroom to his new civilian life. Kaffee reminds him that he doesn’t have to wear a patch on his arm to have honor.
Finally coming to the realization of the personal risk incurred by Kaffee on his behalf, Dawson authoritatively salutes: “Ten hut! There’s an officer on deck!”
The timeless movie comes to a close, as do the military careers of Dawson and Downey.
Though he was only regurgitating the lines given him by award-winning American screenwriter Aaron Benjamin Sorkin, Tom Cr
uise spoke a certain truth about honor being unrelated to any patch, uniform, career calling, or brotherhood of man.
There are 211 recorded accounts in scripture that mention honor. A culture of honor preceded a culture of law in our country, when there was an unwritten code for practicing virtues such as courtesy toward others, standing for righteousness even when it comes at great personal risk, and respect for social order. Today our society is so fast and sleek that we don’t think about honor much anymore, let alone talk about it, unless ordering wine on the “honor” system at Macaroni Grill. Even then, it’s easy to be derailed to a glass half full or glass half empty discussion. The quest for honor is fading.
In recent days, one of the greatest tragedies in the annals of American football history was the situation that led to the dismissal of beloved football legend Joe Paterno, still affectionately known as JoePa. “This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more,” he stated with sincere regret, as alleged accounts of sexual abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky surfaced to shake to the core one of the foundations of Americana, the Penn State football program that has been under JoePa’s leadership since 1966. Seeing this situation unfold, even Ohio State fans wish that he had strenuously objected in a more right place-right time fashion.
Concealing knowledge about the molestation of children is certainly more disturbing an offense than the existence of the dysfunctional relationship between deceased King of Pop Michael Jackson and his now convicted personal physician Conrad Murray; but, failure to protect and guard those who were unable to help themselves at precisely the right time is at the root of both scenarios.
Unlike the victims of the Penn State sex abuse scandal, it is obvious that Michael Jackson likely contributed either directly or indirectly to his own demise, though in my heart the works of the soul-stirring artist will forever be. I believe Conrad Murray would now share JoePa’s sentiments in saying that he, too, should have done more. Like the fictional characters Dawson and Downey, Murray failed to protect someone during the most vulnerable moment of need, forsaking his Hippocratic oath. Now sentenced to four years in jail, stripped of all he has ever worked to be, Murray exemplifies a man in need of deliverance and a new start.
Failures like these in life are the reason we need Christmas, an event that is often mistakenly identified solely by family ties, gifts, traditions, snow, glowing lights, and over-fed bearded men in red suits. Even secularists recognize and celebrate the accounts of the first Christmas as recorded in scripture, a source of truth proven over and over by the prophecies fulfilled through the ages; this same scripture tells us that there is no one righteous, not even one.
But the good news of Christmas is simply this: We have a Deliverer who wants to show Himself strong on our behalf. We honor Jesus, we become His honor. We wear His righteousness like a patch. That is the secret miracle of Christmas that is only discovered by the few wise men who will seek His face. This Christmas, maybe it’s your time to say ‘Yes’ and offer up the gift of your heart, your life, at the foot of the manger—junk and all.
And as always, Dear Reader, enjoy the presents, the merriment, your family time….but know that deep in the night there is One Who freely offered His innocence so that we may become His honor once and for all.
Merry Christmas, from my desk to yours!