To honor is “to regard or treat with admiration and respect.”1 To dishonor is “to reduce to a lower standing in one’s own eyes or in others’ eyes.”2 If we treat someone with disrespect or contempt, we are dishonoring them. In Robert Wise’s Run Silent Run Deep (1958) Lt. Jim Bledsoe (Burt Lancaster) honors Cmdr. Rich Richardson (Clark Gable) in front of the crew, but he dishonors him when speaking to him privately.
When Bledsoe first meets Richardson, he is disrespectful and contemptuous. He calls the Captain “the poor desk commander with a tear in his eye”, asks if he got promoted by having “a qualified commander for a backstop”, and wants to be reassigned to another submarine. Bledsoe is angry that Richardson (who failed in a previous mission) was given command instead of him. Disrespecting him is a way to deal with his wounded pride.
Although Bledsoe dishonors Richardson in their first meeting, he honors him in front of the crew by treating him with respect and following his orders. He also honors him in his absence. When Jerry Cartright (Brad Dexter) mocks the Captain for his caution and focus on drills, Bledsoe rebukes him. Later, several crew members urge Bledsoe to relieve Richardson of command, but he reaffirms the Captain’s authority. He honors Richardson in front of the crew because it is his duty as an officer.
However, when the crew is not present, Bledsoe continues to dishonor the Captain. Frustrated that Richardson did not attack a Japanese sub, he subtly suggests that it was an act of cowardice. After learning that Richardson wants to go to the Bongo Straights, he is hostile toward him, saying, “Surely you’ve got guts enough” to tell the crew. Bledsoe questions the Captain’s courage because it increases his self-worth as an officer. In harshly criticizing the Captain, he feels assured that he could have done better if he were in charge.
The individual who treats people with disrespect or contempt often feels justified if what they are saying is true. But this is a rationalization. If we are disrespectful toward someone, we are diminishing them as a human being. If we disagree, we should express our viewpoint without being condescending, treating the person as an equal, never as an inferior. Treating a person with contempt is the moral equivalent of being a racist. Whereas a racist believes his race is superior to another race, a contemptuous person believes he is superior to another person.
Bledsoe treated Richardson with disrespect and contempt because of his pride: He believed he was a superior officer. He gained respect for Richardson when his innovative missile tactics enabled them to sink the Japanese sub in the Bongo Straights. In the final scene, when the Captain is buried at sea, Bledsoe honors him sincerely, saying before all the crew, “Let no one … ever say we didn’t have a Captain.” Bledsoe realized that Richardson (an older man) had knowledge, wisdom, and experience he did not have. He overcame his pride and learned humility.
- Merriam Webster, s.v. “honor,” accessed September 28, 2015, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/honor
- Merriam Webster, s.v. “dishonor,” accessed November 10, 2015, http://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/dishonor%5Bverb%5D