“You Can’t Handle the Truth”

One of the most impactful and important elements of this speech is the audience. Col. Jessup sits in a military courtroom and defends his actions in front of his inferiors, in terms of military status, because Lt. Kaffee openly questions his account of events. Jessup is used to being the man in charge of his base in Guantanamo Bay, so being in a position where his authority is questioned riles him up. Because of that, his “speech” in response to Kaffee’s questions is filled with passion and anger at this show of disrespect.

“You can’t handle the truth,” while it is one of the most famous lines in cinema history, it is also directed at Kaffee specifically, as are many of Jessup’s other remarks. Jessup recognizes the vast difference between himself and everyone else in the court, especially Kaffee, in terms of age, experience, rank, and respect, and he makes that the basis of his argument. He continuously makes pointed statements and rhetorical questions, that Kaffee can’t do his job, Kaffee can’t stand and defend that wall, Kaffee doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a marine. He knows his audience, a room full of military personnel, and the affect his presence has on them, and he tries to win them over by defaming Kaffee in front of them. Instead of answering Kaffee’s question, Jessup employs the ad hominem strategy and attempts to dismantle the argument by defaming Kaffee.

Throughout his speech, he also takes every opportunity to build his ethos by promoting his character and responsibilities. He makes it very apparent that he provides the freedom everyone in the room enjoys, that his existence saves lives, that they need him defending that wall. He’s faced with an argument he can’t explain or defend against, so he takes the time to highlight his accomplishments and his importance in hopes of rising above the need to explain himself. His passion and words make a strong case for dismissing the need to investigate such a small action in light of the bigger picture, but they do not address the actual question or the problem as a whole.


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