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Classic Literature

The Caine Mutiny 2019: #NavyLegality

in Classic Literature

This post originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

Following the death of Herman Wouk last week, authorities reportedly discovered that he had recently completed a modern update to his 1951 classic, The Caine Mutiny.  The new story follows Ensign Keith and Lieutenant Maryk as they try to survive the tormenting command of Commander Queeg aboard the brand new DDG, USS Caine, in 2019.  Rumor has it DeNiro is already signed on to reprise Humphrey Bogart’s iconic portrayal of Queeg in the movie version.

The Salty Herald managed to obtain an exclusive copy of the manuscript and I’d like to share an excerpt with my best friends. The following is an excerpt from the Court Martial of Lieutenant Maryk for his attempted mutiny on USS Caine, this time reimagined for how it might unfold in 2019:

(The courtroom stands as Judge Blakely enters and silently proceeds to his place)

Judge Blakely: All right, let’s get started. Lieutenant Maryk, you are charged with mutiny under Article 94 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with intent to usurp or override lawful military authori-

Lieutenant Commander Challee (Judge Advocate): <interrupting> Your honor, the government would also like to add a charge of treason against the United States!

Blakely: <becoming visibly frustrated> Uh, that’s not how this works, and you haven’t presented any evidence to support such a charge.  There is no historical precedent.  You haven’t even identified a unique article or specification to apply.  If anything, you seem to be equating acts of mutiny and sedition with treason.

Challee: We know, but we’re really mad at him, and <whispering> we were going to offer to drop the treason charge if he accepts a plea deal!

Blakely: I’m just going to ignore that.  Lieutenant Maryk, how do you plead on the charge that you committed mutiny in USS Caine?

Lieutenant Greenwald (Defense Counsel): Your honor, we move to dismiss the charge of mutiny on grounds of unlawful command influence! <gasps from the gallery>

Blakely: <sighs> Continue…

Greenwald: Your honor, I argue my client has been robbed of the opportunity to receive a fair trial due to comments made by senior Navy leaders.  On more than one occasion, admirals who have influence over this court made public statements implicating Lieutenant Maryk’s culpability in the incident.  For example, one said, and I quote “He’s guilty.  He’s stupid, crazy guilty.  He’s more guilty than Bill Cosby after a night at the disco in 1978.  I’d expect the judge to sentence him to 20 years at least!”

Blakely: Judge Advocate, do you have a response?

Challee: Sir, to be fair, I believe those remarks were made by the admiral’s PAO.

Greenwald: <interjecting> Your honor, one more thing…

Blakely: <sarcastically> By all means, continue!

Greenwald: I further allege the government engaged in illegal surveillance of my correspondence. I discovered a data recording software embedded in an email from Lieutenant Challee. 


Greenwald: Your honor, I also found this camera hidden in my office fern, clearly stenciled “PROPERTY OF U.S. NAVY. IF FOUND, PLEASE RETURN TO LCDR JOHN CHALLEE, JAG CORPS”

Challee: <nervously> I’ve never seen that before in my life!  Besides, it is common practice in today’s Navy to secretly record your shipmates!

<Judge Blakely buries his head into his hands and sighs>

Blakely: Be that as it may, I have no choice but to grant the motion.  All charges are dismissed.  This trial is concluded.

<Challee and Greenwald walk out of the courtroom>

Challee: That’s fine, we’re just going to write him a strongly worded letter and be done with it.

Greenwald: Yeah well, the President would’ve pardoned him anyway, so there!

Blakely: <back in his chambers, slumping in his chair, speaking to himself> Well, I guess this is what naval justice looks like today.  Amazingly, that still wasn’t the most disappointing ending of 2019.

R.I.P. Herman Wouk (Author’s Note: I have no idea whether Herman Wouk would have found this funny, but I’m quite sure he wouldn’t be laughing at the state of the naval justice system today.)

A Tale of Two Ceremonies

in Classic Literature

This article originally appeared on the U.S. Naval Institute blog here.

3 May 2017

It was the best of crimes, it was the worst of crimes (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). Actually, it wasn’t a crime at all, at least according to a navy judge. I’m talking, of course, about Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer (SOC) Eddie Gallagher’s decision to conduct his reenlistment ceremony over the dead body of a slain ISIS combatant, whom he is accused of murdering post-surrender.

On 3 May 2017, Captain Aaron Rugh ruled that reenlisting over the body of an unarmed detainee you just killed is not a “prohibited act” under UCMJ Article 134. You know, that glorious “catch-all” article covers conduct prejudicial “to good order and discipline,” and that which could “bring discredit upon the armed forces.”

I am a millennial so, naturally, I am confused. I’m only a sea lawyer, but I read Article 134, and the “General Article” pretty clearly covers acts that represent a “breach of custom of the service.” The whole point is to allow commanders discretion in disciplining service members whose conduct goes against our military standard of conduct. Standard . . . such a tricky word. What is our standard for good order and discipline? How is it applied?

I’ve seen the social media comments. I’m sure many of you are going to tell me “shut it, you whiny snowflake, and let these heroes do their jobs . . . defending America is dirty business . . . so what if they have to break a few eggs. . . our boys need to be given the freedom and support to . . .” blah, blah, blah. I’ve heard this speech before. I’m not even questioning what happened before the ISIS fighter died. War is hell, enough said. But the postmortem re-enlistment ceremony is what got my attention, and I’m not saying it should be a war crime. But to say it’s not a violation of Article 134 because it’s not a “prohibited act?” You lost me. Interestingly, SOC Gallagher still stands accused of committing premeditated murder. So, Captain Rugh has created a situation where if he convicts Gallagher, he is saying that re-enlisting over the body of the person you just extra-judicially murdered is simply a matter of “extremely bad taste.” Say again, over?

Getting back to this idea of a standard of conduct, let’s fast forward a year.

13 April 2018

This is the day that Master Sergeant Robin Brown took her oath of enlistment using a dinosaur hand puppet. The video of her reenlistment ceremony went viral and, well, the rest is history. Within five days, Master Sergeant Brown was fired. The officer administering the oath, Colonel Kevin Blaser, was forced to retire. Even the cameraman was fired and given a letter of reprimand.

I, like many of you I’m sure, didn’t particularly like the optic of a hand puppet in a reenlistment ceremony. I would say it’s . . . what are the words . . . ”extremely bad taste.” It’s a mistake I’d expect to result in a one-sided conversation in my CO’s cabin. It would be like if I wore my ribbons upside down to the Capitol building for the State of the Union Address. Own up to it and move on. But Major General Terry Haston, Tennessee Air National Guard Adjutant General, didn’t think that was enough so he FIRED EVERYONE INVOLVED. He said “I am absolutely embarrassed that a senior officer and a senior NCO took such liberties with a time-honored military tradition. The Tennessee National Guard holds the Oath of Enlistment in the highest esteem because that oath signifies every service member’s commitment to defend our state, nation and the freedoms we all enjoy. Not taking this oath solemnly and with the utmost respect is firmly against the traditions and sanctity of our military family and will not be tolerated.”

Lieutenant General Scott Rice, Director of the Air National Guard, also weighed in: “Let me say, I’m equally shocked and dismayed by this event that mocks such a cherished and honorable occasion. The oath of office or enlistment not only signifies our commitment to our nation, but pays respect to our fellow service members and to those who came before us.”

Wise words, gentlemen. I couldn’t agree more. Or could I? I’m so confused.

What are the differences between the two ceremonies? Well, for starters, SOC Gallagher is on trial for war crimes so it’s not like he’s getting away scott-free, but as far as I know neither he, nor anyone else involved (Lieutenant Portier courts martial pending), was disciplined for the reenlistment ceremony. The Tennessee Air National Guard killed three careers for Master Sergeant Brown’s ceremony. Still confused . . .

Second, the video of Master Sergeant Brown’s reenlistment ceremony went viral. Media scrutiny followed. Listen, I grew up in a military family. I get the concept of “perception is reality,” but, people, we need to get a hold of ourselves. This is the age of social media and lighting fast mass communication. We can’t keep wielding a career-killing butcher knife every time we see an unflattering headline. OR . . . if we truly believe in the “sanctity” of “such a cherished and honorable occasion” then shouldn’t we react with the same discipline even there’s no video all over the internet? STILL confused . . .

Third, SOC Gallagher is Special Forces. Master Sergeant Brown is no. I know this really shouldn’t matter, but to some people, clearly it does. Just look at the tone of comments following the news of each event. Overwhelming condemnation for Master Sergeant Brown, and overwhelming support for SOC Gallagher. Of course, we have to take public opinion with a grain of salt, but official decisions appear to reflect these opinions. Part of it, I think, is an element of “hero worship” for our special warfare operators. Don’t get me wrong, these people are patriots who sacrifice more than most of us will ever know, and deserve our utmost respect, but they do not deserve—nor do they want—to be worshipped. Hero worship, fueled by Hollywood fiction, fosters a culture of infallibility that threatens to damage the SOF community. Maybe the best we can do is hold them to the same standard of “good order and discipline” that we hold everybody else. I don’t know, I’m still confused . . .

Didn’t hear a peep about these ceremonies.

Finally, thanks to the intrepid reporting of the military blog, Task & Purpose, we have several other examples of goofy, strange, and irreverent reenlistment ceremonies that did not result in public condemnation and discipline. From what I can tell, our “standard” for good order and discipline is about as standard as our uniforms are uniform. Oh, and there’s one last difference between Master Sergeant Brown and all the people reenlisting in the above linked T&P article (and SOC Gallagher). I’ll let you think about it. Maybe there were two different standards all along?

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