“You still have a life, Jack. You wanna be a real hero, here’s what you do. You get back down there and you put the pieces together. You find a way to forgive yourself for what happened to your wife. You make things right with your daughter, and you go on serving your country. That’d take some real guts.”
Now for those who didn’t watch this show religiously you might be under the impression that it is only about every terrorist in the world being methodically slaughtered by a man who makes Chuck Norris look like a cowering wimp. And it certainly is that. And for those who did watch it, it might have occurred to you that at a far deeper level this is a study in how much can even the strongest person take before they finally break (the answer is apparently a lot).
But for all the corrupt politicians and traitors, there is a core of patriotism at the center of this show.
Part of this patriotism comes in showing that many people who like to wrap themselves in the flag (politicians especially) are not always patriotic. That it’s action not merely words that define a person. And this is a very American theme…we don’t care for genealogy, or family history, or “storied pomp” what do you personally do? This partly is shown by the fact that Jack Bauer is related to and trained by traitors and it still does not corrupt him.
“You took an oath. You made a promise to uphold the law. When you cross that line, it always starts off with a small step. Before you know it, you’re running as fast as you can in the wrong direction just to justify why you started in the first place. These laws were written by much smarter men than me. And in the end, I know that these laws have to be more important than the 15 people on the bus. I know that’s right. In my mind, I know that’s right. I just don’t think my heart could ever have lived with that. I guess the only advice I can give you is… try to make choices that you can live with.”
But of course the real patriotism is shown by Jack Bauer and the members of CTU who give repeatedly everything they have (their lives sometimes being the least of what they give, especially in Bauer’s case for whom the writers invent whole new meanings for the phrase “last full measure of devotion”) so that others may live and their nation remains safe. Also as the quote above shows, unlike most of the world (not all but there certainly is a spirit of servile following in the behavior of a lot of nations) which simpers and looks to bureaucrats in the U.N. for treaties, sanctions, and rules…Americans for we tend to care more about what’s right and act on it than what others say we can and cannot do (again there are exceptions, a lot of them, but the ideal of America is a country that does do what’s right and one that will act unilaterally to stop tyranny if we have to). Bauer’s motives are hardly shortsighted selfishness, though they are selfish (anytime you act because you could not live with yourself to do otherwise, is, inherently caring about yourself, and that’s a good thing…long term thinking leads to selfishness like that and that leads to happy people and societies that work)…his motives are for justice and for country (though certainly not for governments that betray both…and you’ll notice his fury is often the worst when directed at traitors). And even with all he has given up for this country, he never seems to say it wasn’t worth it…which suggests what the true value of this nation’s ideals are worth.
Finally as with my point in Iron Man 2, there are few things quite so American as insulting our elected leaders on the floor of the legislature and call them out as the cowards they are (which is probably why we use the scene so often) as we see in this conversation…
Senator: Did you torture Mr. Haddad?
Jack: According to the definition set forth by the Geneva Convention, yes, I did.
Jack: Senator, why don’t I save you some time. It’s obvious your agenda is to discredit CTU—
Senator: My only agenda is to get to the truth!
Jack: I don’t think it is, sir.
Senator: Excuse me?!
Jack: Ibrahim Haddad had targeted a bus carrying 45 people, 10 of which were children. The truth, Senator, is that I stopped that attack from happening.
Senator: By torturing Mr. Haddad!
Jack: By doing what I deemed necessary to Protect innocent lives.
Senator: So basically, what you’re saying, Mr. Bauer, is that the ends justify the means, and that you are above the law!
Jack: For a combat soldier the difference between success and failure is your ability to adapt to your enemy. The people that I deal with, they don’t care about your rules. All they care about is a result. My job is to stop them from accomplishing their objectives. Am I above the law? No, sir. I am more than willing to be judged by the people you claim to represent. I will let them decide what price I should pay. But please, do not sit there with that smug look on your face and expect me to regret the decisions I have made. Because, sir, the truth is, I don’t.