Anti-Hero Worship

Steven Taylor forwards Steve Benen‘s recent post “Right Movie, Wrong Lesson” in which he chides Joe Scarborough for his sympathy for Colonel Jessep, as played by Jack Nicolson in the movie version of “A Few Good Men,” noting that we’d had a similar conversation when I was at his house last weekend helping celebrate the publication of his new book.

Amusingly, I wrote almost the exact same post my very first day blogging at OTB — using almost the exact same title!

GOOD MOVIE, WRONG LESSON

Jonah Goldberg’s column today is an excellent example of how you can agree with someone’s conclusions but strongly object to their argument. Yes, the Tom Cruise character in “A Few Good Men” was a smart-aleck pretty boy (as he is in all of his watchable movies; he’s dreadful when he tries to go against type). Yes, the Jack Nicholson character (Colonel Jessep) had some great lines and it was easy to cheer for some of them. But Jessep was a villain in the flick. However well intentioned, he believed himself above the rules of his society and ordered his subordinates to break the law, with the tragic result of killing one of the men under his command. And then covering it up rather than taking responsibility. Not exactly heroic. I’d hate for Jessep to be the role model for American foreign policy. And, getting to Goldberg’s direct point, while it’s true that the US provides the lion’s share of the NATO defense burden, that doesn’t mean the Europeans have lost all right to dissent. They’re sometimes (okay, usually) annoying, but they aren’t our subordinates; they’re sovereign states with a rather different set of interests. Indeed, that’s the reason we need to preserve the option to act “unilaterally” rather than having all our actions subject to a NATO or UN veto.

The more things change . . .

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Hoodlumman says:

    A little off topic (maybe) but I found Tom Cruise’s roll in Collateral to be excellent. He wasn’t a smart-aleck pretty boy in that one.

    Then again… maybe you didn’t like that movie. Which would make your point valid.

  2. Wayne says:

    I thought it was a pretty lame movie. As for some of the conclusion such as the Colonel believing he was above the rules of his society. Is that the society with many that refused to take responsibility by saying that torture should not be allowed in any scenario but if the ticking time bomb scenario happens then agents should break the laws? This “society” don’t want to make the hard choices upfront but sweep the dirt under the rug. If it comes to light they become all shock that such thing would happen but still want the benefits of others doing it.

    Every death is tragic but it happens in training even in peacetime. The instance in the movie was over the line but why ruin many good men lives because of one scumbag that probably would have resulted in other good Marines killed if he didn’t get himself square away.

    In the ideal world anyone who speeds or run a red light would turn themselves in. In reality that is not going to happen especially if the mistake was made in an attempt to do what is right.

  3. Wayne says:

    Oh yeah, those who are willing to do the dirty work or put their lives, livelihood, and\or careers on line to do what is right and needed are Heroes in my book. Do they get it right all the time? No but at least they try. Others who set on their high pedestals and past judgments on others while they themselves never had to make those hard decisions don’t get much respect from me.

  4. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    People are always ignoring the substance of cultural artifacts and adopting the superficial parts. Recall that Reagan used “Born in the USA”, a distinctly downbeat song, as a campaign anthem.

  5. An Interested Party says:

    Yes we should torture because in the real world people don’t turn themselves in after they run a red light…it all makes so much sense…

  6. PD Shaw says:

    I’ve not seen the movie, but I have a similar reaction to the anarcho-libertarian fave, V for Vendetta. V is not a hero. He physically and psychologically tortures the Natalie Portman character so that she will see the world as V does. He too has great lines, but so did Milton’s Satan.

  7. G.A.Phillips says:

    Yes we should torture because in the real world people don’t turn themselves in after they run a red light…it all makes so much sense…

    feeling guilty An? lol.

  8. G.A.Phillips says:

    RED MEANS STOP, lol.

  9. Herb says:

    The brilliance of A Few Good Men is that even though Lt. Col. Jessup is undoubtedly the villain, he’s given some great points:

    “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 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.”

    Or the whole “You want me on that wall, you need me on that wall” stuff.

    It’s not as black and white as “Daniel Kaffee good, Nathan Jessup bad.” Instead it’s shades of gray, with no easy answers or interpretations.

  10. Brian Knapp says:

    A little off topic (maybe) but I found Tom Cruise’s roll in Collateral to be excellent. He wasn’t a smart-aleck pretty boy in that one.

    I love Collateral, and Tom Cruise is great in it. But he’s done others where he’s not smart-alecky and succeeded.

    I would argue that Jerry Maguire, The Last Samurai, Minority Report, and Magnolia all included good Tom Cruise performances where he was not portraying a smart-aleck pretty boy.

  11. James Joyner says:

    I would argue that Jerry Maguire, The Last Samurai, Minority Report, and Magnolia all included good Tom Cruise performances where he was not portraying a smart-aleck pretty boy.

    I’d say “Jerry Maguire” was a classic Cruise formula movie. But, yes, I amended that assessment in a subsequent post — he evolved into a much more wide-ranging actor.

  12. James Joyner says:

    It’s not as black and white as “Daniel Kaffee good, Nathan Jessup bad.” Instead it’s shades of gray, with no easy answers or interpretations.

    Jessep had some great lines and was obviously a superb leader who eventually went over the edge thinking he was above the rules he was there to defend. Surely, we can simultaneously be grateful for those who make important sacrifices for us and still question the manner in which they provide it. Teachers, cops, parents, and government leaders should be both lauded and held to some standards.

  13. Eric says:

    In the ideal world anyone who speeds or run a red light would turn themselves in. In reality that is not going to happen especially if the mistake was made in an attempt to do what is right.

    and

    Oh yeah, those who are willing to do the dirty work or put their lives, livelihood, and\or careers on line to do what is right and needed are Heroes in my book. Do they get it right all the time? No but at least they try.

    Hoo-boy, we can have some real fun with these doozies. Is Wayne really suggesting that it’s OK to break the law as long as you’ve really tried to be good in your heart of hearts reallio and trullio? That, it’s OK to be wrong as long as you meant it? On that logic, I suppose I’m a hero for getting busted doing that U-turn last year, because I was only trying to get my kids to the restaurant because they were so hungry. I mean, I did it for the children. It was a completely selfless act on my part.

    Wayne, I hate to be the first one to break it to you, but… “A Few Good Men” is only a movie and didn’t really happen. I suppose I should add that “24” isn’t reality either.

  14. Brian Knapp says:

    I’d say “Jerry Maguire” was a classic Cruise formula movie

    I will concede to an extent. But not quite to the point of Top Gun, Cocktail,Rain Man or Risky Business. These, I would say, are much more indicative of the early “Tom Cruise Formula” than Jerry Maguire. It’s a slight derivation, but one nonetheless.

  15. James Joyner says:

    Same template — cocky jerk gets life upended, epiphany ensues, demonstrates metamorphosis in climactic scene — but, yes, a derivation.

  16. Brian Knapp says:

    Same template — cocky jerk gets life upended, epiphany ensues, demonstrates metamorphosis in climactic scene — but, yes, a derivation.

    The difference is that in the case of say, Rain Man, the inciting incident is external (that’s where the cocky jerk gets his life upended). Whereas in Jerry Maguire, the cocky jerk upends his own life (“grows a conscience”).

    Again, slight derivation, but a significant one.

    Otherwise your template is spot-on.

  17. sam says:

    I’d say “Jerry Maguire” was a classic Cruise formula movie. But, yes, I amended that assessment in a subsequent post — he evolved into a much more wide-ranging actor.

    Magnolia

  18. Wayne says:

    Eric
    I’m quite aware of the difference between movies\T.V. and reality. However I doubt if you are aware that what goes on in your self-center world and what goes on in other parts of world vary greatly.

    Your kids being hungry doesn’t justify running a red light. Running a red light (in a safe manner and yes there is a safe manner) to rush a severely injure person to a hospital to save their life is. It happened at least once while the ambulance was stuck in a snowdrift in their driveway that I know of.

    I can think of many examples of breaking the law or doing something wrong for the greater good. If you can’t think of a few then the chance is pretty slim that you are a reasonable person.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    The brilliance of A Few Good Men is that even though Lt. Col. Jessup is undoubtedly the villain, he’s given some great points:

    “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 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.”

    Oh really? So we do not have the right to question those who protect us simply because they are performing that service?

    Your kids being hungry doesn’t justify running a red light. Running a red light (in a safe manner and yes there is a safe manner) to rush a severely injure person to a hospital to save their life is. It happened at least once while the ambulance was stuck in a snowdrift in their driveway that I know of.

    Umm, unlike Eric, I’m happy to break this to you…there is an enormous difference between running a red light because of a medical emergency and torturing someone because you think he/she might be able to provide you with some information which may or may not be critical…

  20. Wayne says:

    An
    Sounds like you are agreeing with me that sometimes it is necessary to do a “wrong” unlawful act for a greater good.

    I didn’t bring up torture directly but was talking in general terms and we were talking about a movie. However If you are willing to admit the above statement then we can go further on the torture discussion although that has been discuss many times before.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    re: Wayne | May 27, 2009 | 11:05 am

    You originally wrote:

    Is that the society with many that refused to take responsibility by saying that torture should not be allowed in any scenario but if the ticking time bomb scenario happens then agents should break the laws? This “society” don’t want to make the hard choices upfront but sweep the dirt under the rug. If it comes to light they become all shock that such thing would happen but still want the benefits of others doing it.

    …and then went on to talk about red lights and a perfect world, so that is where I connected the two…torture is wrong, period, end of story, no quotation marks needed…

  22. Wayne says:

    I miss my first post. So yes I did bring up torture, however you seem to ignore the rest of the sentence after “but”. I was pointing out the hypocrisy of many in our society.

    Yes torture is wrong as is running a red light. End of story? Nowhere close. We both agree that running the red light even though it is wrong is appropriate in certain scenarios. I’m saying that in extreme cases torture even though wrong could be appropriate. It sounds like you are saying that even if it cost thousands, millions or even billions of lives, it shouldn’t be used.

    The argument of “it is wrong therefore it should never be done” falls apart when it comes face to face with reality. One counter case proves the argument wrong and I have shown at least one case that we both agree on that shows the argument as being wrong. Is torture on the same level as running a red light? No but that wasn’t the point.

  23. An Interested Party says:

    I’m sure there is much evidence to prove that running red lights was necessary in many cases…how many real Jack Bauer scenarios can you find?

  24. Wayne says:

    I pointed one out already. Emergency personnel run them quite often. Being chase by someone who is trying to kill you would be another. I truck whose brakes just fail and is crushing cars behind you would be another which happen to me. As I stated above if someone can’t think of a few scenarios where it would be necessary to do something wrong for a greater good then their intelligence would be very questionable. It looks like you couldn’t think of any. Not even a valid reason for doing something as simple as running a red light. Are you now denying that running a red light which is wrong can be the right thing to do at times?

    FYI , I don’t watch 24.

  25. An Interested Party says:

    You misunderstand me…when I wrote “real Jack Bauer scenarios”, I meant can you point out any known instances where torturing someone saved lives…

  26. Wayne says:

    Once again we run into the problem of defining torture. There has been many interrogations that resulted in saving lives including a CNN story a few year past of a Army Captain pointing a gun to a capture insurgent head to find out information that saved some lives. Cheney has stated some of the harsh interrogation techniques used saved lives. Water boarding was use as a field espediant technique in WWII to gather quick battlefield intelligence to save lives. They sure didn’t use it because they were bored and had nothing else to do. Most intelligence gathering especially anything shady is seldom disclosed.

    Surely you are not one of those ignorant people that think harsh interrogation technique or torture can’t work in getting valid information?

  27. An Interested Party says:

    Cheney has stated…

    You will pardon me if I do not count the former vice-president as a reliable source…

    Water boarding was use as a field expedient technique in WWII to gather quick battlefield intelligence to save lives.

    Oh really? Would you care to provide evidence that American and/or other Allied forces used waterboarding?

    Surely you are not one of those ignorant people that think harsh interrogation technique or torture can’t work in getting valid information?

    Surely you can provide evidence that torture has worked in providing reliable information and/or saving lives…

  28. Wayne says:

    Here is one example for the history part.

    “The interrogation method was used by the Japanese in World War II, by U.S. troops in the Philippines and by the French in Algeria”
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15886834

    Here is a statement from a lift wing site. I had an example of a former Russian interrogator that said that torture can be an effective interrogation tool but can’t seem to find it. It doesn’t take much imagination to come up with methods to separate good information from bad.

    “ They had some success with it; they did undoubtedly get some intelligence from the use of torture.” That intelligence included information about future terrorist strikes and the infrastructure of terror networks in Algiers.”

    http://www.salon.com/opinion/kamiya/2009/04/23/torture/index.html?source=rss&aim=/opinion/kamiya

  29. Wayne says:

    Tell me why so many have used harsh and\or torture techniques to gain Intel if it doesn’t work?

    I understand why U.S. interrogation instructors tell their students that it doesn’t work. The US seldom ever wants them to use it. If you can convince them it doesn’t work then they are far less likely to use them. In reality if done right it can work.

  30. An Interested Party says:

    Interesting that the American government prosecuted a Japanese soldier for using waterboarding…I guess that was just the hypocrisy of a victor, huh? And that line about U.S. troops using it in the Philippines is a bit muddled…it doesn’t state directly that Americans used it in WW II…the fact that it was used in the past doesn’t justify its use…and despite the evidence that you found that it might sometimes work, there is no proof that any torture committed under the authority of the Bush Administration kept us safe…in the end, even if your opinion is right that it does work, torture is immoral and wrong…did 9/11 scare you that much that you think our country needs to resort to such a barbaric practice? Does this really make you feel safer?

  31. Wayne says:

    AIP
    Looks like you back peddling. You ask “
    Oh really? Would you care to provide evidence that American and/or other Allied forces used waterboarding” and “Surely you can provide evidence that torture has worked in providing reliable information and/or saving lives…”. Providing evidence on top secret activities is almost always hard?

    Were the Japanese prosecuted for simply wakeboarding? No and the term waterboarding covers a wide range of actions.

    For the most part I was shooting down lift wings arguments which don’t hold water. Ask a liberal if waterboarding should be use to save a thousand people and they won’t give a direct answer but give lame arguments. Man up and answer it one way or the other.

    In the end the lift asks for proof but even if it is given they ignore it or resort to name calling. I have always said that extreme measure should be done only in extreme cases even before 911. It the lift that are afraid to “man” up for their choices.

  32. An Interested Party says:

    Looks like you back peddling.

    Not really…I asked if could provide evidence that American and/or other Allied forces used waterboarding (during WWII) and if you could provide evidence that torture has worked in providing reliable information and/or saving lives…you didn’t find any evidence for the former and only spotty evidence for the latter (the French did appear to get some information from torturing Algerians)…

    Ask a liberal if waterboarding should be use to save a thousand people and they won’t give a direct answer but give lame arguments.

    Perhaps they give “lame” arguments because what is being asked is a lame hypothetical…there has never been a case were torturing someone would save a thousand people…but let us extend this a bit further…if torture is a necessary evil, how come the police can’t torture suspects they have in their custody? Surely, if it were so effective, law enforcement would have much to gain by waterboarding suspected rapists, murderers, and drug dealers…oh, and by the way, I don’t know who else you may be referring to, but you will note that I have not resorted to name-calling in this particular debate with you…

  33. Wayne says:

    The correct answer for the ticking time bomb scenario would be ”Yes\ no if it work but I don’t think it would work”.

    Is this where I claim that using torture won’t work in gaining confessions? Using torture to gain a confession is quite different from gaining Intel. You can make anyone confess guilty or not by use of torture. As many have pointed out many will give false Intel while being torture but they give false information when not being torture. Difference is Intel can be verified by various methods. Police have used it in the past and in many countries.

    Brazil
    “Torture is mainly used on the so called “war against drug dealers” in the city Rio de Janeiro, located on the state of Rio de Janeiro. In this case, the PM (Militar Police), BOPE (Elite Squad), and the drug dealers themselves use it in order to obtain information about simply everything. In some cases, one dealer may capture an associate of another dealer and torture him to obtain various information about the other dealer’s operations. The police also use torture against drug users and dealers’ subordinates to obtain information about the dealers themselves”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uses_of_torture_in_recent_times

    Just because something is effective doesn’t mean it should be widely used. Wire taps are effective but in the US law enforcement can’t use them anytime and anywhere they want. They need a court order and have to provide good probable cause.

    Torture to gain confession or for the so call “pleasure” of it are cases within themselves. Intel gathering is another and why would Intel gatherers law enforcement are not use it if it didn’t work? Should we ever do it, seldom do it, or make it a general practice is another argument altogether. However it hard to have a intelligent discussion with people who claim it doesn’t work.