Regular readers will know my affinity for the movie A Few Good Men, which is a sort of simplistic microcosm of the dichotomy between a civilian versus a martial worldview. These opposing positions are represented by extreme avatars: Jack Nicholson plays Col. Nathan Jessup, the hardened and politically incorrect military man who sees the world as a simple power struggle between good and evil: “We live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns,” he avers. Tom Cruise plays Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, the cosmopolitan Navy JAG lawyer who goes after him.
Jessup obviously sees Kaffee as effete, but there’s a line I never noticed until recently.
After Jessup gives his speech about protecting Americans with guns, he asks: “Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom.”
But why did Jessup, apropos of nothing, call out Weinberg?
Granted, Lt. Sam Weinberg (played by Kevin Pollak) was—behind closed doors—even less fond of the strict code GITMO Marines observed. But Jessup has no way of knowing that. Calling out Lt. Weinberg (instead of Kaffee) seemed like a non sequitur, and one might speculate that it was meant to suggest some sort of anti-Semitism.
In any event, the Manichean representation from the film’s two main characters (in some ways, the dichotomy presented was complex and nuanced; in other ways, it presented a simplistic dualism where you’re either a pencil pusher or a warrior) seems to be playing out in real life, as President Obama’s administration gives way to President-elect Trump’s administration.
We should fully expect cabinet posts and staff positions to reflect the worldview of the principal, and in this regard, at least two of president-elect Trump’s national security announcements today (Jeff Sessions for Attorney General and Retired Army three-star general Mike Flynn for National Security Advisor) are decidedly more akin to Nicholson’s character than they are to Cruise’s.
A Few Good Men was so compelling because as viewers, we could sympathize with the motives of both characters’ viewpoints. And for that reason, it was difficult to choose a “winner.” We want fairness and kindness and compassion and we also want to kill the bad guys before they kill us. I suspect the reason a lot of voters could do what seems inconsistent—go from voting for President Obama to voting for President Trump—is because we are also ambivalent about these questions pitting ethical and moral values against security.
The pendulum has swung in the safety and security direction. And the kinds of men who prioritize such things tend to be a little rough around the edges. Like the fictional Col. Jessup, Sessions and Flynn are decidedly old school in their worldview and temperaments. Early media reports indicate that these nominees have made controversial (and, in some cases, racially insensitive) comments. While Flynn’s comments seem to have coincided with his recent support for Trump, Sessions was reportedly blocked from a judgeship appointment in the 1980s over such alleged remarks.
And both men (and here, we might as well throw in Rep. Mike Pompeo, who is likely to lead the C.I.A., too) are decidedly hawkish. As Roll Call’s John T. Bennett writes, “The hawkish Flynn’s own words show a career military officer who wants the United States to throw everything its military, intelligence and national security apparatus has at groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida. That approach will provide a clear contrast to the Obama administration’s more measured strategy, which it contends ‘is destroying’ ISIS.”
Elections have consequences.I’m generally of the opinion that presidents should get to pick their advisors, and the American public has indicated that they do, in fact, want Sessions and Flynn on that wall. (And now they are getting an actual wall thrown into the deal, as well.)
For now, at least, we want them on that wall. We NEED them on that wall.