“Code red” is a military slang term for a type of punishment that is done without a court’s supervision or any kind of legal approval. In the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men,” one of the main characters dies after getting a “code red.” But does the term “code red” really mean that the military is doing something wrong, or is it more of a Hollywood story? Let’s dig a little deeper as we try to figure out what’s true and what’s not.
“A Few Good Men” has a “Code Red.”
Many people think of the movie A Few Good Men as soon as they hear the phrase “code red.” To figure out what the term meant in the movie, we need to look at it in the bigger picture of the plot. The movie was based on a real-life event that happened in 1986 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Ten Marines were found guilty of hazing a fellow Marine, and they were sent to court-martial.
In the movie’s version of what happened, hazing leads to the death of a Marine named William Santiago, which makes the situation even worse. A character named Lt. Commander Jo Galloway, played by Demi Moore, thinks that the officer died because Colonel Jessup gave a “code red” order (Jack Nicholson).
In the movie A Few Good Men, a “code red” is a type of illegal order that causes a marine’s fellow officers to beat him up or kill him. As the movie goes on, the case is given to Lt. Dan Kaffee (Tom Cruise), a lawyer who likes to argue his cases in a quiet way. Galloway tells Kaffee to find out if Jessup gave the code red order, and Kaffee does so.
In an explosive scene where the truth is finally revealed, Jessup says his famous line, “You can’t handle the truth!” After a few more lines, the conversation goes on:
LT JG Kaffee: Did you ask for a Code Red?
Col. Jessup: I did what I had to do—
LT JG Kaffee: Did you ask for a Code Red?
Colonel Jessup, You’re damn right that I did!
What Does a Marine Code Red Mean?
In reality, the meaning of “code red” in the military, and especially in the Marine Corps, is much less sinister. At Marine Corps Base Quantico, a “code red” or “status red” means that school is closed because of snow. Here, military personnel use a color-coded system to warn people on the base when storms, snow, or other types of bad weather could be dangerous. By 4 a.m. each day, one of four colours is updated live on the Quantico website, Facebook page, and secure hotline to let everyone know what to expect for the day based on the weather.
Some of these colour statuses are:
Green: There are no problems, so everyone should go to work on time.
Yellow: Things are a little less clear, but everyone should still be able to get to work. Reasonable tardiness will be okay.
Blue: This usually means that it snowed the night before and that the base will open late so that there is more time to clear the snow.
Red: The weather has become very bad and dangerous, so only people who are needed for emergencies should come to work.
At the United States Military Academy, West Point, code reds mean the same thing, but there are only two extreme weather codes to choose from:
Code White: Under a code white, everyone can go on leave until further notice, except for people who are essential to the mission.
Code Red: All employees who aren’t essential to the mission are allowed to be absent without penalty until the given time or for the whole day.
The Color Codes of Awareness by Cooper
In real combat situations, the colour red is not often used as a code word, but it does show up in a system called Cooper’s Color Code. Jeff Cooper, the founder of what is now called the Gunsite Academy, came up with the code. Since then, it has been used to train military and police officers and for general self-defense.
Cooper’s Color Code uses colours to show four different levels of awareness of the situation, mental state, and willingness to act. The idea is that if you check in with yourself at any time, you can make sure you’re in the right frame of mind to act in the right way. Here are the names of the four colours:
Condition White: Not being aware
Far too many of us live and work at this level on a regular basis. Condition white means you are blissfully unaware of what’s going on around you. Anyone who is so focused on their phone screen that they don’t notice what’s going on around them and could run into things is a great example of condition white in action. Another common but more subtle example is getting lost in your own thoughts.
Condition Yellow: Awareness with no rush
Condition yellow means that you should be aware of your surroundings and alert, but not tense or ready to act right away. Officers in the military and the police work hard every day to keep things like this from happening. Because of what they do for a living, they have to know that their lives could be in danger at any time. Unlike regular people, these officers have to train themselves to live in the present and be aware of their surroundings all the time. They can get into dangerous situations if they get “lost in thought.”
Condition Orange: Alertness with focus
When you’re in condition orange, you’ve seen something that might or might not be a threat, and you’re ready to defend yourself. Usually, something out of the ordinary that seems “wrong” sets off condition orange. People or events could set off these triggers. For example, if a woman is walking alone at night, she might immediately go into condition orange if she sees a man following her, even if he keeps doing it even after she makes a few random turns. Another example is coming home and finding the lights on even though you were sure you turned them off before you left. During condition orange, you pay close attention to the trigger as you try to figure out if it really is a threat or not.
Condition Red: We’re ready to move.
If condition orange ends up showing that you are in danger, you should switch to condition red right away. During condition red, the thing you’re watching goes from being a possible threat to being a real threat and a possible target. This is the stage where you have to get ready to defend yourself. You can do this by drawing a weapon, getting into the best possible position, or calling for help. Even though you should be ready to deal with the threat in condition red, you should only defend yourself if your target makes it clear that they are going to attack.