MovieChat Forums > A Few Good Men (1992) Discussion > What were the Marines supposed to do?

What were the Marines supposed to do?


I have never been in the military. But, my understanding is, you can't disobey an order or you can be court martialed. If the Marines had refused to code red the dead marine, wouldn't they be in serious trouble?

At the end, one marine says, "They were suppose to protect Willie (the dead marine)". How could they do that without disobeying an order?

If any marines or military personnel could answer . . .


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I've never been in the military, but couldn't they be a little more conscientious about what the code red's method would be? Jamming a rag down someone's throat and forcing him/her to keep it there is liable to have serious consequences. The other code reds mentioned had to do with depriving the target marine food, other than bread and water, and monitoring their condition. I agree with you not following Jessup's explicit order to perform a code red, would have serious consequences for any marine refusing said order.

Rest in peace, Roger Ebert. You were the best.

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Your reply is impeccable. I've argued the same thing a number of times. There's no evidence that Jessop, through Kendrick, specified precisely by what means the code red should be administered. OK gagging a tattle tale's mouth is symbolic but I repeat we don't know if the rag was by way of Kendricks order or by D&D's own volition and I expect Kendrick would have argued the latter.

24/04/1916

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According to wlp, djewell, captain-bryce, and Doc80 they had a responsibility to refuse an unlawful order. Regardless of any perceived or feared consequences. Being that the code red was unlawful, they had every right to refuse. 

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Okay, thanks wlp.

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According to wlp, djewell, captain-bryce, and Doc80 they had a responsibility to refuse an unlawful order. Regardless of any perceived or feared consequences. Being that the code red was unlawful, they had every right to refuse.

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Thank you djewell.

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I have never been in the military. But, my understanding is, you can't disobey an order or you can be court martialed.
It is the duty of every soldier, sailor, airman, marine, and coast guardsman to obey the lawful orders of their superiors. Failure to obey a lawful order is a violation of one of several articles (article 90, article 92) of the Uniformed Code of Military Justince, and may result in a court martial.

If the Marines had refused to code red the dead marine, wouldn't they be in serious trouble?
No. They key word in the law is the word "lawful". We have an obligation to follow all lawful orders. However, there is no such obligation to follow an illegal order. And depending on what the order is, it would be your duty to disobey that order. Otherwise you could be held legally accountable for the commission of a crime. In military law, there is something known as the "Nuremberg defense", which is a case in which a soldier claims to be innocent of a crime because "he was only following orders". This defense NEVER works because it ignores the law, which specifically states that there is no obligation to obey an illegal order. The order that Kendrick gave Dawson was illegal. Code red's were illegal, thus LT Kendrick had no legal authority to order one. You cannot order someone else to commit a crime! Consequently, the correct course of action would have been for Dawson to ignore the order, then to submit a complaint to Inspector General if he had received any reprisal for disobeying an illegal order. Then Kendrick (and eventually Jessup) would be in legal trouble, while Dawson would be exonerated.

At the end, one marine says, "They were suppose to protect Willie (the dead marine)". How could they do that without disobeying an order?
They couldn't. That's why they had to disobey the order. It was fear of reprisal which compelled Dawson to follow Kendrick's order. So he failed to protect Santiago because he was more concerned about protecting himself. That's not what being a marine is about. A marine's job is to risk their own lives to protect the innocent, not vice versa.

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Okay thanks captain bryce.

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No problem! 

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I think wlp and djewell gave me similar answers. I wonder why the administrator deleted their posts.

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Not true at all.

Dawson carried out the order because he believed it was the right thing to do. As for avoiding prosecution, “I’ll accept whatever punishment they see fit” was his answer.

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You are not required to follow illegal orders though and cannot be punished for not following them.

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This doesn't and wouldn't hold weight in the real world. People are punished all the time on the job for things they technically they shouldn't be.

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According to wlp, djewell, and captain-bryce, and Doc80 they had a responsibility to refuse an unlawful order. Regardless of any perceived or feared consequences. Being that the code red was unlawful, they had every right to refuse. 

There might very well have been consequences. But as marines, they should have been tough enough to endure said consequences. And in the end, the military would have exonerated them for doing the right thing.


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In reality Dawson and Downey may have felt that, illegal or not, they themselves may have been ostracised for not carrying out the order on Santiago since he was already a clear outcast. They were stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place!

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According to wlp, djewell, captain-bryce, and Doc80 they had a responsibility to refuse an unlawful order. Regardless of any perceived or feared consequences. Being that the code red was unlawful, they had every right to refuse. 

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I did not suggest (or mean to suggest) they disobey a direct order from Col. Jessup. If they had any latitude in determining the code red's method, that's where I believe they failed -- their method being so severe -- given the victim's medical precondition, they killed him.

Rest in peace, Roger Ebert. You were the best.

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If they had any latitude in determining the code red's method, that's where I believe they failed ...


You have touched on why code reds are prohibited. These were junior enlisted Marines, a private and a lance corporal. Discipline is the purview of leadership and command. This is because senior enlisted and officers are trained in these issues. Junior enlisted are not.

A code red is essentially an order to a platoon to administer an ass kicking to someone within the platoon without supervision. The enlisted men are, without training, expected to know what to do and how far to take it. Can you see where this could turn out badly?

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You have touched on why code reds are prohibited. These were junior enlisted Marines, a private and a lance corporal. Discipline is the purview of leadership and command. This is because senior enlisted and officers are trained in these issues. Junior enlisted are not.

A code red is essentially an order to a platoon to administer an ass kicking to someone within the platoon without supervision. The enlisted men are, without training, expected to know what to do and how far to take it. Can you see where this could turn out badly?


This exactly. And I find it bizarre how Jessup stands by this so fervently. It's the very definition of indiscipline. But Jessup contends that without this anarchic practice, the US would be in mortal peril. It boggles the mind.

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I think you make a good point wlp. If they had just gone lighter on the target of the code red, maybe nothing bad would have happened. But all things being considered, Jessup and company were taking a chance. And eventually, if you keep breaking the rules, you are bound to pay sooner or later.

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It was kind of anticlimactic imo to get the colonel to admit to the code red then have them be found guilty of something anyway.

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I would never obey an order to bully, assault, torture, or endanger the life of another Marine. Any officer who would give such an order would end up on the wrong end of a court-martial himself, with me as a witness against him.

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