Friday, May 26, 2017

Maryk was right

I’ve just finished The Caine Mutiny after being inspired to read it by Richard Cohen of The Washington Post who likened Trump to the World War Two novel’s key antagonist, Captain Queeg.

There is a court martial and though Maryk was found not guilty of mutiny for taking command in the middle of a typhoon when Captain Queeg was deemed to have suffered a momentary psychological paralysis the author and characters in the book support the notion that the result was unjust. That there is but one captain at a time and they are the Lord. That unless a captain had a psychotic break, as opposed to entering a disassociated state, they are in command even if their action could destroy a ship and kill its crew.

All of Queeg’s actions up until that point, from both a personnel manager and operator of a vessel, had shown his unfitness for command and duty. Then, in the middle of a crisis, the clearly more experienced seaman Maryk, the executive officer, relieves Queeg after he deems Queeg’s decision to go the turn the way as more likely to flounder the vessel. Queeg, until that point, having been paralyzed with indecision and Maryk effectively commanding the vessel.

The ship did not have a doctor. Maryk, a fisherman in real life who was a reservist who was called to duty on outbreak of war, kept a journal noting Queeg’s failures in command and mental normality which was used in evidence in Maryk’s trial. As the executive officer, on a ship without a doctor, this makes complete sense.

As a novel’s ending it was satisfying in that it was unsatisfying. The lawyer who defended Meryl admits he didn’t believe in the case and curses at his former client and his friend for their action in relieving Queeg. But you, as a reader, are convinced—because you were there, in the bridge, the moment it happened—that Maryk was right and Queeg had damned the ship.

Then the system—who needs Queegs to be obeyed and not questioned—kicks into gear and the other officer who was facing a court martial in supporting the mutiny is instead formally reprimanded; the best the system could do to condemn the decision given the mutiny was disproved.

There are 10 000 years of war distilled in us in listening to the chief, even when he is nuts, then getting killed as a result. The idea being that you need to follow the one in charge even if the one in charge is incapable of being in charge because otherwise the system breaks down.

Maryk was right. The captain was in that moment unable to effectively command the vessel. As the executive officer, superior seaman and, in that moment, the person best able to assess the captain’s mental state he had a duty to relieve his commander. The only reason a court martial could have been held was because the mutiny had occurred. The system had broken down in that it allowed Queeg to be in charge without redress and the individual, Maryk, stepped in to save everyone in spite of it.

The Caine Mutiny is a deeply engrossing, irritating and divinely written work. The book was written in 1951 and Incredibly the author Herman Wouk, a former executive officer on a destroyer minesweeper like the Caine, is still alive.


Herman, if you’re self-googling, my hat is tipped.

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