From the Navy Regulations;

Article 184.


It is conceivable that most unusual and extraordinary circumstances may arise in which the relief from duty of a commanding officer by a subordinate becomes necessary, either by placing him under arrest or on the sick list; but such action shall never be taken without the approval of the Navy Department or other appropriate higher authority, except when reference to such higher authority is undoubtedly impracticable because of the delay involved or for other clearly obvious reason. Such reference must set forth all facts in the case, and the reasons for the recommendation, with particular regard to the degree of urgency involved.

Article 185.


In order that a subordinate officer, acting upon his own initiative, may be vindicated for relieving a commanding officer from duty, the situation must be obvious and clear, and must admit of the single conclusion that the retention of command by such commanding officer will seriously and irretrievably prejudice the public interests. The subordinate officer so acting must be next in lawful succession to command; must be unable to refer the matter to a common superior for one of the reasons set down in Article 184; must be certain that the prejudicial actions of his commanding officer are not caused by secret instructions unknown to the subordinate; must have given the matter such careful consideration, and must have made such exhaustive investigation of all the circumstances, as may be practicable; and finally must be thoroughly convinced that the conclusion to relieve his commanding officer is one which a reasonable, prudent, and experienced officer would regard as a necessary consequence from the facts thus determined to exist.

Article 186.


Intelligently fearless initiative is an important trait of military character, and it is not the purpose to discourage its employment in cases of this nature. However, as the action of relieving a superior from command involves most serious possibilities, a decision so to do or so to recommend should be based upon facts established by substantial evidence, and upon the official views of others in a position to form valuable opinions, particularly of a technical character. An officer relieving his commanding officer or recommending such action, together with all others who so counsel, must bear the legitimate responsibility for, and must be prepared to justify, such action.

“This life is slow suicide, unless you read.” – Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny

The Caine Mutiny started with a caveat, like a loose seam in a parchment of rigid rules. If you were straining for the main gist in the book with a psychic’s lens, you’d have it right there on the first page without a hassle. But really, you’d be selling yourself short on an incredible novel if you think this book is all about Naval Regulations and bureaucratic rules.

And you can take that to the bank!

As the author tried to explain himself, “It was not a mutiny in the old-time sense, of course, with flashing of cutlasses, a captain in chains, and desperate sailors turning outlaws. After all, it happened in 1944 in the United States Navy. But the court of inquiry recommended trial for mutiny, and the episode became known as “the Caine mutiny” throughout the service.The story begins with Willie Keith because the event turned on his personality as the massive door of a vault turns on a small jewel bearing.

Before I fell under the spell of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, it was The Caine Mutiny that first had me, and still has me for an entirely different reason. Herman Wouk won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for this book in 1952. The book has since then be adapted into a broad-way play written by the author and into a successful feature length movie starring the iconic Humphrey Bogart. The successes of these adaptations are so popular that they are often mistaken as parallel originals when it all started with this brilliant book.

So how about we start with the source, the real McCoy.

In The Caine Mutiny, there were bold, well rounded characters that really made this novel fly. There was the sadistically rabid Captain Queeg; Commander of the navy minesweeper, the impressionable swashbuckling second-officer, Lieutenant Stephen Maryk; and the narrator through whose eyes the story is told, Willis Keith. Other supporting characters prop these centerpieces to such glowing plaudits. The story reached a climax when Stephen Maryk upset the chain of command by challenging the sanity of the Commanding Officer on the USS Caine at a very critical moment. Through the participation of the other members of the crew, Maryk was able to oust his Commanding Officer in a clever ploy that was soon to explode in all their faces. In the aftermath of the attending Court Marshall, all judgments pronounced, the rest was left to every single witness in this grand spectacle of calumny to re-examine the veracity of their earlier claims and to carefully examine the roles they played in the final analysis.

Beyond reasonable doubt is a powerful phrase, and reason in the rigid structure of naval discipline had always been a contentious one, thorny for Willis, and especially unwarranted for Maryk in the context of military leadership. How then could reason hold forte with such a shaky foreground in the trial of a contemptible superior, with an arm- long log of patterned exhibit?

“The Navy is a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots. If you are not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one. All the shortcuts and economies and common-sense changes that your native intelligence suggests to you are mistakes. Learn to quash them. Constantly ask yourself, “How would I do this if I were a fool?” Throttle down your mind to a crawl. Then you will never go wrong.”

“With the smoke of the dead sailor’s cigar wreathing around him, Willie passed to thinking about death and life and luck and God. Philosophers are at home with such thoughts, perhaps, but for other people it is actual torture when these concepts–not the words, the realities–break through the crust of daily occurrences and grip the soul. A half hour of such racking meditation can change the ways of a lifetime.”

“Remember this, if you can–there is nothing, nothing more precious than time. You probably feel you have a measureless supply of it, but you haven’t. Wasted hours destroy your life just as surely at the beginning as at the end–only in the end it becomes more obvious.”

“Money is a very pleasant thing, Willie, and I think you can trade almost anything for it wisely except the work you really want to do. If you sell out your time for a comfortable life, and give up your natural work, I think you lose the exchange. There remains an inner uneasiness that spoils the comforts.”

“You can’t understand command till you’ve had it. It’s the loneliest, most oppressive job in the whole world. It’s a nightmare, unless you’re an ox. You’re forever teetering along a tiny path of correct decisions and good luck that meanders through an infinite gloom of possible mistakes.”

The Caine Mutiny is a book that explores the grey zone between motive and propriety, opportunistic intent and ambition, the burden of military leadership and by extension every form of leadership. This tale is a turntable that positions you on all sides of the table like a revolving table.


The Caine Mutiny explores the legal conundrum in a Catch-22 situation with the storied fleck of quintessential characters. Within the natural span of this book you are offered another side of the kaleidoscope that you might not have considered. And now you’re sitting down thinking, “What the heck!”

For me, give me a bit of law fiction and you will have me nibbling from your palm. Throw in fine prose, and you’ll have a dog to a bone. The Caine Mutiny is not like any of the books I’ve earlier reviewed in this series. If you thought there was a pattern to my selections (and I can’t tell you there is), then this is clearly a break from the norm. So cleanly tangential, it would have you mesmerized with freshness.

Being a sucker for court-room dramas, I must say that this is not one of John Grisham’s legalistic tropes.  Yes, the story bears strongly on establishing facts, recounting tales and analyzing characters.  But beyond all of these is an enthralling book that isn’t bogged down by the bombastic techiness of first-hand experience (the author actually served on a ship during WWII) nor is it a floundering recount of America’s history. It is also about honour, truth, loyalty, class, group politics, naval life and love (you didn’t think this was a buffy, testosterone-muted tale, did you?).  It offers a stark image of the conflicts that do arise in the regular prosecution of military jobs – bureaucratic minefields in the military, courage in the face of peril, the corruption of intelligence e.t.c. This is a very intelligent book I assure you.



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