You Can’t Handle The Truth

This is a quote from “A Few Good Men” which is a 1992 film featuring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore, among others. It was a low budget film – $40 Million – but which grossed more than $243 million and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film didn’t win an Oscar; though it won more than a few other awards elsewhere. In the film, Tom Cruise played a Judge Advocate General’s Corps Lieutenant who was assigned as defence attorney for a Lance Corporal and a Private First Class accused of murdering a Private of the US Marine. Cruise was known to be a callow lawyer infamous for plea bargains, but eventually was motivated to dig deep into the case to prove that it was the Base Commander Colonel – played by Jack Nicholson – who gave the “code red” order which is a violent extrajudicial punishment that had precipitated in the death of the Private, such that the two defendants were simply carrying out a military order. To cut the long story short, at the risk of being court-martialed for accusing a superior officer, Cruise exercised such pressure and questioning skills on Nicholson that finally led to the Colonel extolling the virtues of the militaries and his own and of their importance to national security, culminating in Nicholson telling Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth” before admitting with contempt that he ordered the “code red”.

Somehow, the quote has stayed with me all these years, through my Rotary career and later my Masonic career, both of which are founded in Truth, amongst other virtues.

In the small hours today, a friend – who is also a Rotarian – forwarded me a video from YouTube propagated by a seasoned YouTuber Danny Haiphong (DH) who had an interview with Norman Finkelstein on the current Israel-Hamas war. Now DH is an author and a self-proclaimed YouTuber with independent views that are different from the mainstream media. He values his audience and never stops asking them for patronage and support. The interview on Scott Ritter I mentioned in the last blog was also from him. On the other hand, Dr. Finkelstein, 69, is an American political scientist and activist whose primary fields of research are the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust. He was an assistant professor of DePaul University from 2001 to 2007 and was voted for tenure, but not granted; and separately, in 2008, he was denied entry to Israel and banned from entering the country for ten years.

DH prefaced the interview with a clip from Barack Obama during which the former President said that “understanding the complexities of the lead-up to the Israel-Hamas war is required in discussing the conflict” adding that, “You have to admit that nobody’s hands are clean, that all of us are complicit to some degree.” It was a Pod Interview by Obama’s aides who have yet to release the full interview, but so far, we have the following quotes. “If there’s any chance of us being able to act constructively, to do something, it will require an admission of complexity and maintaining what on the surface may seem contradictory ideas. Obama acknowledged “that what Hamas did was horrific and there’s no justification for it. And what is also true is that the occupation and what’s happened to Palestinians is unbearable.” Obama also touched on the significance of recognizing anti-Semitism in the response to this conflict, as well as the Palestinians without any connection to Hamas’ actions who are dying as a result of the war. He also urged Americans to speak to people whose opinions differ from their own, especially outside of social media.

Back to the interview of DH with Finkelstein, when asked for his reaction to the Obama clip, Finkelstein’s first response was that he wished Obama had not rolled up his sleeves in the interview. It was an image of him as a Community Organizer 40 years ago before entering politics and which job he had only held for 2.5 years. The professor then went on trying to destroy his image and perhaps his credentials, trotting out such facts that Obama had successfully caused a ceasefire at Gaza for three days on 17 January 2009, three days before his inauguration, which implied that the POTUS had the power to stop the war if he wanted and when he wanted it. The professor went on with so many horrendous facts and details, describing the systematic elimination by Israel of the Gaza strip, which measured about 25 miles – length of a marathon run – by 5 miles – the distance between two famous universities in NYC. He ended up by referring to Obama that, “He is a zero; or a minus one.”

As I had alluded to before, there is little point in referring to the past. One must look forward. Obama himself said something similar. He recalled the days when he was POTUS and questioned himself what he could have done or not done to change the situation. He said the past had left scars on him which still haunted him. It was in that context he urged Americans to find out what the truth was. “I would rather see you out there talking to people, including people who you disagree with” and “if you genuinely want to change this, then you’ve got to figure out how to speak to somebody on the other side and listen to them and understand what they’re talking about.” Obama had earlier said, in October, that an Israeli ground operation in Gaza could backfire, affecting Israel’s security in the future and eroding global support for the country, and if civilians aren’t protected.

In Rotary, we profess our signature Four-Way Test, which is normally displayed as follows –


of the things we think, say or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

The SCMP, to which I have subscribed in all my adult life, possibly through force of habits, celebrates its 120 year of publishing in Hong Kong. I wish it would continue to seek to bring us the Truth and try to be fair to all concerned.

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