Leave a comment

Now don’t mistake me. I’m not advising cruelty or brutality with no purpose. My point is that cruelty with purpose is not cruelty – it’s efficiency. Then a man will never disobey once he’s watched his mate’s backbone laid bare. He’ll see the flesh jump, hear the whistle of the whip for the rest of his life… William Bligh

somers2001

A hanging offense : the strange affair of the warship Somers  Buckner F. Melton, Jr.  New York : Free Press, c 2003  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 301 p. : map ; 24 cm.     Includes bibliographical references (p. [264]-291) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

somers2003

In 1842, the brig-of-war Somers set out on a training cruise for apprentice seamen, commanded by rising star Alexander Mackenzie. Somers was crammed with young sailors. Among them was Acting Midshipman Philip Spencer, a troublemaker who happened to be a son of the U.S. Secretary of War. Buying other crew members’ loyalty with stolen tobacco and alcohol, Spencer dreamed up a scheme to kill the officers and turn Somers into a pirate ship.

In the isolated world of a warship, a single man can threaten the crew’s discipline and the captain’s authority. But one of Spencer’s followers warned Mackenzie, who arrested the midshipman and chained him and other ringleaders to the quarterdeck. Fearing efforts to rescue the prisoners, officers had to stay awake in round-the-clock watches. Steering desperately for land, sleep-deprived and armed to the teeth, battling efforts to liberate Spencer, Somers’s captain and officers finally faced a fateful choice: somehow keep control of the vessel until reaching port – still hundreds of miles away – or hang the midshipman and his two leading henchmen before they could take over the ship.

somers2004

The results shook the nation. A naval investigation of the affair turned into a court-martial and a state trial and led to the founding of the Naval Academy to provide better officers for the still-young republic. Mackenzie’s controversial decision may have inspired Herman Melville‘s great work Billy Budd. The story of Somers raises timeless questions still disturbing in twenty-first-century America: the relationship between civil and military law, the hazy line between peace and war, the battle between individual rights and national security, and the ultimate challenge of command at sea.

somers2002

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: