The Caine Mutiny is a book that everybody should read.
It’s one of my very favorite novels – and not just because I spent most of my life in the Navy.
On the surface, the book is a war story that chronicles the misery of life aboard a US Navy mine sweeper on patrol in the Pacific during World War II.
At its core, of course, The Caine Mutiny is a coming of age story.
The book follows Willie Keith from callow youth to admirable adulthood against the backdrop of war. The story is told in three pieces, beginning with Keith’s misadventures in training where as midshipman he’s a lousy student who earns the greatest number of demerits in academy history, the middle part where as an immature boot ensign he is assigned to USS Caine’s wardroom and is witness to the events that won the book’s author, Herman Wouk, the 1952 Pulitzer Prize, finally the story ends with Keith as the ship’s last commander and the respected seasoned officer who takes the old destroyer home to New York to be scrapped at the end of the war.
The story is about Willie Keith, but it’s Captain Philip Francis Queeg that everyone remembers.
They remember it because in 1954, Hollywood made the novel’s second act, an adaption of the play The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, into an instant silver screen classic starring Humphrey Bogart as Queeg.
Sixty years later, Bogie’s masterful portrayal of Lt Commander Queeg’s descent into madness is every bit as disturbing as it was the day the movie premiered. We watch as Queeg oscillates between lucid authoritarian commander to crazed outbursts of paranoid accusations against his crew. The bizarre “crime” of the missing strawberries, the steel balls, Queeg’s mental breakdown during the hurricane and the mutiny itself are all uncomfortable enough, as is the resulting court martial – but the truly chilling part is that not only are you watching a man, a fellow human being, disintegrate under the enormous stresses of war, but you’re watching it happen to a once respected figure of trust and authority, the very person the crew looked to for courage and guidance and calm sanity in the most dire of circumstance.
This is the Captain speaking, some misguided sailors on this ship still think they can pull a fast one on me. Well, they are very much mistaken! Since you've taken this course, the innocent will be punished with the guilty! There will be no liberty for any member of this crew for three months. I will not be made a fool of! Do you hear me!
Madness, if you’ve never seen it, the slow dissolution of sanity into all consuming obsession, furtive paranoia, and unpredictable irrationality, is terrible to witness.
Especially when it happens to someone that we should respect and admire and look to for calm and reasoned guidance.
“I have seen a number of occasions around here where people have stayed too long…”
- Senator John McCain (R-AZ).
Speaking of mad people who have stayed too long.
Since the recent elections, I’ve watched John McCain with an increasing sense of unease and disbelief.
And I don’t think I’m the only one.
And now, with McCain’s most recent outburst of paranoia, I can’t help but be reminded of the unfortunate Captain Queeg.
Frankly, at this point, I’ve lost track of John McCain’s position on the Chuck Hagel nomination for Secretary of Defense – is McCain for Hagel? Or against Hagel? Or does McCain think somebody asked him if he wanted breakfast? Eh? What’s that, sonny? A bagel? Damn it, speak up!
First McCain was against a filibuster but then he was for a filibuster or maybe he’s actually against a filibuster as long as there’s sufficient delay but meanwhile McCain is resigned to Hagel being confirmed while at the same time McCain claims he and Chuck are “friends” but Hagel is incompetent and unqualified and a lousy excuse for an American however nobody should question Hagel’s character.
You could get whiplash trying to keep up with it.
Last week, before the Senate put on their party clothes and left Washington for two weeks to celebrate President’s Day and the impending economic implosion of the federal government (because really woohoo, right?), McCain went on Fox News (of course) and had this to say about the republican obstructionism of Hagel’s nomination:
To be honest with you, Neil [Fox’s Neil Cavuto], it goes back to there's a lot of ill will towards Sen. Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly and said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover and said the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which was nonsense. He was anti-his own party and people. People don't forget that. You can disagree but if you're disagreeable, people don't forget that.
Back when Hagel was a republican?
Isn’t Chuck Hagel still a republican? Or has he been excommunicated from the Church of Conservatism?
Didn’t the liberal President of the United States nominate a conservative, a highly decorated war veteran who still carries shrapnel in his chest, a Republican, for Secretary of Defense? Maybe Obama should have nominated John Kerry instead, Republicans suddenly seem to love him – almost as much as they’re sweet on Hillary Clinton.
It’s a topsy turvy world nowadays, isn’t it, Folks?
Then there’s that bit about “anti his own people.” Anti his own people? In John McCain’s tortured mind, who exactly are Chuck Hagel’s own people? Veterans? Republicans? Israelis? Americans? Who? Who did Hagel betray exactly? George Bush? I.e. the guy who questioned McCain’s own sanity and patriotism and character during the 2000 republican presidential primaries, that George Bush? Seriously?
And finally, you can disagree but if you’re disagreeable, people don’t forget that?
So, it’s personal then, right? McCain’s nursing a grudge?
A few days later McCain went on Meet The Press and host David Gregory asked him point blank about his accusation that the Obama Administration was engaged in a “massive cover-up.”
Gregory asked simply, "A cover-up of what?"
McCain responded by accusing Gregory of not caring about the deaths of four Americans.
Nonplused, Gregory gamely tried to keep McCain on target, "You said there is a cover-up. A cover-up of what?"
McCain, in his best Old Man Yelling At Clouds impression thundered, "Of the information concerning the deaths of four brave Americans!"
Six month McCain has been digging into this thing and that’s the best he can do? I believe there’s a cover up because four Americans died and they died because there’s a cover up, damn it!
I was really starting to wonder if Johnny Walnuts was going to go Captain Queeg on us right there:
…Ahh, but the strawberries that's, that's where I had them! They laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt and with geometric logic that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist!
I was just waiting for McCain to fish a couple of ball bearings out of his pocket. The strawberries! The strawberries! Clink! Clink!
McCain finished up the interview by telling Gregory,
“He [Hagel] is my friend. He will be confirmed. I don’t believe he is qualified, but I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further because I think it is a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered.”
McCain considers Hagel a friend?
And McCain believes that Hagel will be confirmed.
And he’s not the only one.
See, McCain’s other friends, fifteen of them led by Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) and fourteen other Republican senators sent a letter to President Obama today, demanding that he withdraw Hagel’s nomination. The logic apparently being that Chuck will most certainly be confirmed as McCain predicted, but without broad support by Hagel’s erstwhile pals in the Republican party. With friends like these … but I digress.
"In the history of this position, none has ever been confirmed with more than eleven opposing votes"
That’s what those fifteen senators told President Obama.
It’s not that a Secretary of Defense can’t be confirmed with more than eleven opposing votes, it’s just that it’s never been done before. So you probably don’t want to do it, eh, Mr. President? Probably be best if you just withdraw the nomination, for the good of the country and all. We’re about to crash the economy, again, and decapitate the Defense Department, but you, sir, you should do what’s right for America.
Republicans can’t beat Obama, and they can’t win in their own forum, so they asked the president to forfeit the game – just so they can have their strawberry ice cream and eat it too.
In a city chock full of god damned things, that’s the god damnest thing I’ve seen yet.
Funny, apparently John McCain won’t be one of the dissenting republican votes.
Because for McCain it’s really not about Israel, or Benghazi, or even Chuck Hagel.
See, because for McCain it is personal, isn’t it?
McCain is still smarting from his thrashing at the hands of Barack Obama.
McCain’s poorly captained campaign and his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate is the political equivalent of Queeg running over his ship’s own towline.
And just like Queeg, McCain still refuses to admit his mistake. He knows he was wrong, he knows it cost him his election and his credibility. He, war hero, son of admirals, fighter pilot, patriot, warrior, experienced politician, soundly beaten by a jug-eared inexperienced liberal from Chicago. America picked Obama over him. Now, that’s got to leave a few bruises.
And McCain’s shame is Queeg’s yellow dye marker, a stain in the water visible for all to see.
And it grows, day by day. Obama was reelected and every day it’s like a knife twisting in John McCain’s guts, like bamboo under his fingernails, and water poured up his nose. Every success Obama enjoys is torture for John McCain.
Like Queeg it gnaws at him, that impotent rage and hot eyed embarrassment, and, by God, the innocent will be punished along with the guilty and John McCain will not be made a fool of!
Wouk’s story is now sixty years old, but it endures mostly because it was based, in part, on his own experience as a naval officer onboard destroyer-minesweepers during World War Two. The Caine Mutiny was one of hundreds of similar books written after the war by those that were there, but while many of those works are now forgotten, what makes The Caine Mutiny timeless is this: Queeg, for all his flaws and his cowardice and his insanity, was a tragic figure. He was a man who had served his country when it wasn’t popular. He was a navy man who stood the watch in the dark and dangerous parts of the world, who had sweated and labored and earned his way to a commission and a command – and who had finally broken under the strain.
The real tragedy here is that John McCain, senator, war hero, is somebody we should be able to look up to, somebody we should be able to respect and admire. Someone whose sage and steady counsel we should be able to seek.
Instead John McCain has almost literally become a caricature of himself, a raging Queeg, dangerous and unpredictable, driven by voices only he can hear. Clink Clink.
He has become a man who has stayed far too long.
And like Queeg, if he’s not relieved, soon, he may very well capsize the ship in the coming hurricane.
The first thing you've got to learn about this ship is that she was designed by geniuses to be run by idiots.
- Lt Tom Keefer USN, USS Caine, The Caine Mutiny