The individual and the tribe

From the movie A Few Good Men.

Jack Nicholson’s marine colonel Nathan Jessup is being cross-examined by Tom Cruise’s navy lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, who is defending two marines accused of accidentally killing a fellow soldier.

Kaffee wants individual justice for his clients even at the cost of group unity in the military. Jessup wants freedom and security for the nation even at the cost of individual liberty.

Kaffee thinks that he is ‘entitled’ to ‘the truth’, but Jessup suspects that Kaffee ‘can’t handle the truth’. And Jessup explains:

“Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s going to do it? You? … You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like honour, code, loyalty. We use these words as backbone to a life spent defending something. You use ’em as a punch line. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said ‘thank you’ and went on your way. Otherwise I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.”

– lifted from the book The Believing Brain


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