A Few Good Men

You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. 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 honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. 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.
RHETORICAL ANALYSIS A Few Good Men is a film that was released in 1992, a time when the United States was between military conflicts in the Persian Gulf and Kosovo. The film investigates the notions of absolute power, particularly in the military. Along with that, it also is about the legal investigation into the mysterious death of a marine at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. At the film’s climax, Col. Nathan Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson, is cross-examined by JAG lawyer, Lt. Daniel Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise.

Accused of playing a role in the torture and death of a marine, Jessup is put in a position where he has to defend his actions and articulate his role of importance in the preservation of American freedom. The audience in the film which Jessup is trying to convince that he is absolved of any wrong doing is a jury made up of military officers. It is this group of people who decide the fate of Jessup. Through and interesting mixture of ethos, logos and pathos, Jessup employs a short, but well-rendered monologue to appeal to the jurors.
When establishing a sense of ethos with his audience, Jessup does so simply by stating his name. As a Colonel in the United States Marine Corp. , his audience, also made up of military personnel would recognize that he is a high-ranking officer whose words and character should carry prestige. He also establishes ethos with a series of rhetorical questions: “Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? When using rhetorical questions referring to whether or not Kaffee or his partner Weinburg would be up for the task of doing his job, Jessup is also asking these questions of the jurors. The strategy is to get one to ask one’s self if they could handle the tremendous responsibility that comes along with Col. Jessup’s role of defending America’s freedom at Guantanamo Bay. Chances are that given these questions, the members of the jury would recognize, if anything, that Jessup’s job and title are demanding and that he is a man of honor.
Similarly, when Jessup states, “We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. ” What he his doing is attempting to persuade his audience by using the inclusive pronoun “we” and the exclusive “you. ” By “we” Jessup is implying we the true members of the United States military, we who protect the freedoms of our country and we who live by the credo: honor, code and loyalty. “You,” on the other hand, is referring to Kaffee who has the gaul to challenge Jessup’s role in a marine’s death.
By implementing a we/you dialogue, Jessup is trying to appeal to his sense of credibility with the audience. Jessup also refers to the marine’s death as “tragic. ” Using this type of word is important. By calling the death “tragic” his is exhibiting to his audience, the jury, that he is sympathetic to the loss of life—even when he is being accused of causing it. Showing his audience that he can be compassionate is also a way of establishing ethos with the jury Along with ethos, Jessup uses a good amount of emotional appeal, or pathos, in this monologue.
The first line, for example, is “You can’t handle the truth! ” This type of emotionally charged declaration is meant to inspire the emotions of the jury. By having established that he is not a man who will be pushed around on the witness stand, that he is a person who will fight back against his accusers, Jessup opens with an emotionally-loaded punch. Soon after, Jessup refers to his interrogator a “son. ” While this may seem like a casual and unremarkable word, it is not. By calling Kaffee “son,” Jessup is again showing his contempt for the people who have the nerve to question his authority.
In short, it is an insult. Using diminutive language to refer to someone who is in most regards Jessup’s peer emphasizes that while both people in this scene are men, Jessup holds rank over Kaffee. Jessup’s use of the word “son” to mark Kaffee is an attempt to persuade the jury’s view of the lawyer. In fact, may members of the audience probably out-ranked Kaffee. If they would see him also in this light, they would side with Jessup. Finally, toward the end of the monologue, Jessup states, “Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to. Listening to the words spoken, these lines are the most emotionally impactful. Jessup personally attacks Kaffee’s assertion that he felt he was entitled to the truth. By this and the previous examples, Jessup uses pathos to try to persuade his audience. Effectively, he is exhibiting his anger and passion to the audience, the jury, to counter act any argument or evidence presented against him. By trying to appeal to the emotions of the jury, Jessup hopes he can “out-bully” his opponent. While ethos and pathos are evident in Jessup’s monologue, he appeal to the audience’s intellect, or logos, is also present.
While logos is most commonly exhibited through the usage of statistical data, expert testimony and survey findings, Jessup appeals to the jury’s sense of logos by constructing logical arguments. In the middle of Jessup’s monologue, he states, “ 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. ” Here, Jessup is appealing to his jury’s sense of logic.
He is accusing Kaffee of engaging in hypocritical behavior. Jessup sees himself as almost a god-like figure, someone who “provides” America with safety and freedom with his actions. In Kaffee, he sees a beneficiary of that freedom who questions his authority. By trying to make Kaffee look like a hypocrite, he is attempting to persuade his audience with a logical argument. Jessup is effectively saying, “all of your luxuries and freedoms are granted to you by me… who are you to bite the hand that feeds you? In trying to make the jury see this logical argument, Jessup hopes he can persuade them to see things his way. Through an interesting mix of appeals to credibility, emotions and intellect, Jessup tried to persuade the jury to understand his point of view. By using his military clout, choosing aggressive language and constructing logical arguments, Jessup defended his actions to the jury. Though it is at times effective, it was all for naught as moments after delivering this monologue, he succumbs to all the pathos built up in his speech and admits he is guilty.

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