Guantanamo Bay: Was it ever as dangerous as portrayed in A Few Good Men?

Seems lately there’s been a ton of questions inspired by this movie. Here’s another one.

In A Few Good Men, Col. Jessup is constantly making allusions to the supposed fact that serving duty at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is inherently dangerous – he calls it “serving in a forward area,” refers to “eating breakfast 300 yards away from 4000 Cubans trained to kill me,” and makes a big deal out of how “Santiago’s death, while tragic, may have saved lives.” My question is: in reality, or even within the movie’s logic, was Guantanamo Bay ever that dangerous?

It’s my opinion that Col. Jessup was basically a cult of personality. He’s a megalomaniac sociopath who’s secretly pissed off that he rose to power during such a peaceful time in U.S. history – Vietnam was long over, the Cold War was quickly thawing out, and Desert Storm hadn’t happened yet. Perhaps Guantanamo’s not as cushy a location as Okinawa or Mannheim, but I have a hard time believing it was ever so dangerous as places like, Fallujah, Kabul, or even Saigon. Am I right to believe this?

From what I have read, Cuban nationals were employed by the US military until very recently [1] and the families of US military personnel always lived and still live there (and were only evacuated once during the Cuban missile crisis [2]). This doesn’t give the impression of an extremely hostile environment (unlike the border between North Korea and South Korea).

And there was/is a minefield in the no man’s land:

I have thought about this. I assume it would only become remotely dangerous in the event of a shooting war breaking out between the US and Cuba. As at that point the troops there are suddenly surrounded and completely out numbered by a large hostile army intent on their destruction.

But in that case (for most of the Guantanamo’s history as a cold war hotspot) being alive on the planet earth becomes a pretty dangerous assignment, as it would mean the US and the USSR had gone to war.

Yeah, the possibility of a hot war breaking out could cause some tensions. Although the threat of that happening during the movie’s time period (late '80s, early '90s) was very low.

Also, the event that sets the movie’s plot in motion is a Marine who fires his weapon at a Cuban sniper who (supposedly) had trained his weapon on him. It seems to me that such an event, even if there’s no injury, would spark an international incident, wouldn’t it?

The article even says that the main purpose of the minefield was to keep out Cubans seeking asylum.

Another thing to remember is that, in the event of the cold war turning into a proper shooting war, US troops in Guantanamo would not be that much worse off, tactically speaking, than those facing the Soviet steamroller in Western Europe (particularly those in West Berlin).

This is something I think about when I see some post-apocalyptic movie where the US army swiftly collapsed as the zombies/virus/disaster takes hold. Whatever fictional calamity they are facing, the chances are it is less catastrophic than the real life calamity of a soviet attack on Western Europe. And the entire US war machine was basically designed to from the ground up to the cope with that exact calamity. The battle plan for the defense of Western Europe was based on the expectation of 90% casualty rates in front line units.

I was stationed there from 1969 to 1970. US Navy. The only danger I saw was from a few barroom/barracks fistfights. The Cubans were non threatening although I suppose they could have been if the bearded guy in Havana decided to get hostile. We did have a Marine contingent permanently stationed on the base and once a month there was an all hands defense exercise.

Officers and Enlisted Men E-5 and above were allowed to bring their families on base. Housing was provided. There were schools, recreational activities, clubs for dependents as well as a library, church, and the Navy Exchange (aka PX). There was a movie shown every night at the outdoor theater and often there were shows for the troops, a la Bob Hope.

The worst part of the duty was being stuck on the base. Before Castro the gates were open and Guantanamo City was heaven on earth according to some of the old salts.

So as far as danger. Nope.

Nitpick: Desert Storm had taken place. When the three lawyers were meeting Jessup down in Gitmo, he shared an anecdote about a group of enemy soldiers surrendering to a CNN crew, which based on the context would have been Iraqi soldiers in Desert Storm.

Hmm, this is interesting. I’m re-watching the movie with DVD commentary on, and during the scene where Tom Cruise interviews Dawson & Downey about the fenceline shooting, Rob Reiner mentions that he’d visited Gitmo during pre-production, stood at the Marine sentry post, and could see another Cuban soldier standing post 500 yards beyond the fence. (“So there you are,” he says.) He doesn’t say anything about whether the Marines felt threatened by them, though.

They must have added that line for the movie, as the original stage play was written in 1989. I was curious about the timeline.

I was there in the mid 2000s. The Cuban workforce was mostly symbolic, I seem to remember that there were 4 that came through the Northeast Gate every day. They stopped hiring new workers from Cuba during the 60s. Some were allowed to continue to work and obviously that number dwindled over the decades. From what I was told they were closely watched but there really wasn’t much to spy on. The base is mainly a refueling and refitting depot for ships. There were also Cuban families who had been living on post since the Cuban Missile Crisis that could not return to Cuba.

You also have to look at the geography. The base consists of a windward and leeward side of the mouth of the bay. The bay continues into Cuba. The treaty says that Cuban boat traffic can not be impeded. Cuban fishing boats and barges go straight through the middle of the base every day.

As I mentioned in the CS thread, the commander of the Marine Security Forces did used to be a full bird colonel. The fence line and observation posts were manned by a large contingent of Marines. There were even tanks and artillery, Once on a hash run we found some track pads and a tank road wheel from decades before. Over the years the security forces were reduced to the point where they were commanded by a major.

Yes Cuban observation towers are within clear sight of much of the base. The minefields on the American side of the fence have been removed but the mines on the Cuban side remain. No one knows how many mines are still active after several brush fires and decades of banana rats running through them. I don’t think either side was scared of the other at all.

By “such an event”, do you mean a sniper being seen aiming at somebody on the other side, or somebody on one side shooting at the other side, regardless of whether they hit something / somebody?

Governments can create an international incident out of darn near nothing, or mostly bury a pretty big insult if that suits the larger situation.

Obviously it’s easier for Castro to ignore a dead Cuban & a grieving mamacita at home in her village than it is for the US Prez to ignore a dead Marine & a grieving soccer mom on CNN.

But whether the response is a sternly worded speech at the UN or an unscheduled regime change is still pretty much at the discretion of the leadership.

Obviously the more physical evidence there is, even if it’s fabricated, the more easily one can justify a disproportionately larger reaction. The public prefers smoking guns to “he said she said”.

Over the years the NKs have killed a few Americans across the DMZ. The response has been not much beyond sternly worded speeches. Which is probably wise.

While not stationed there, I’ve spent time in Gitmo as well on ships since 1987. I never felt threatened there, and I never got the impression that the Cubans were coming over the wire. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the U.S. might have welcomed that, as it would have given the U.S. a pretext to remove Castro. Since then, I don’t think either wide really cared.

In short, I don’t think it’s dangerous.

In the movie it showed them walking across the airfield that was packed with F-14s. I never saw anything other than cargo and passenger aircraft land there.

Also the perimeter fence is chain link. Not the fortress wall that they showed in Bad Boys 2.

Yeah. What keeps the US & Cuban forces on their respective sides is not some wire and some mines.

It’s the international politics of the relationship. Which though not chummy is also not at daggers drawn. And even if it were, stability with bared teeth has a lot going for it over the barely controlled chaos of actual war.
We have snipers shooting at the freeway every few months here in Miami. Rogue soldiers are always a risk. If you actually issue them bullets and not just empty guns for show.

Interestingly, it turns out the movie itself was based on an actual event. The main differences were that the victim of the “Code Red” survived, and no higher-up muckety-mucks were implicated (the commanding officer, Col. Sam Adams, was transferred off the base, but never had to face down questioning from Tom Cruise AFAIK.) Also, one of the Marines threatened to sue the movie producers, due to liberties taken with the Corporal Dawson character – and he mysteriously turned up murdered a few years later. :dubious:

Aaron Sorkin’s sister was part of their defense team.

One time we did cut down a tree.

Marines serve as security on Guantanamo, there are going to be more paranoid about the security of the base than is probably warranted. Also the Marines in Santiago’s platoon are not going to spend their whole service in Cuba, if they are serving in an actual battle they will need to disciplined and hardcore.

From what I recall reading, the essence of the Cuban Missile crisis settlement was “the USA will not try to invade Cuba again and the USSR will not try to put missiles in Cuba/the Americas”.(So the USA resorted to a 5 decade blockade instead, which probably helped Cuba propaganda-wise; they blamed all their economic failings on the embargo.) so really, there was no upside to either side trying to start something. The USA risked missiles ending up in the next puppet (Nicaragua, Venezuela?). The Cubans were not about to provoke an invasion that Russia could not stop. It was a convenient stalemate.

I believe an additional, unpublished part of the settlement was that the US agreed to remove missiles that it had in Turkey, much closer than 90 miles from the southern part of the Soviet Union.