CAPITAL PUNISHMENT OF BILLY BUDD
Can you imagine at the age of twenty one facing the death penalty? The death penalty,
the most severe punishment a government or entity can impose on an individual for a crime he or
she has committed has existed in some form throughout recorded history. In some cases, the enforcement of capital punishment has resulted in fatal, and often upsetting, costs particularly with regard to cases in which it was later discovered that an individual convicted and/or sentenced to death was blameless.
In Herman Melville’s novel Billy Budd, Captains Vere’s personal judgement and his
compliance to military law killed an innocent man. “Somehow astonishingly enough, nobody seems
to have noticed that central to the story is the subject of capital punishment and its history”
(Franklin 337). Capital punishment has long been popular in both civilian and military arena.
However, court proceedings and the treatment of the concept of the right of man are very different in
military and civilian courts. It is the military reliance on strict procedures and indifference to the
rights of man that resulted in Captain Vere’s decision to sentence the innocent Billy Budd to a public
Military law has traditionally been different from civilian codes of justice, especially with
regards to capital punishment. The military’s justification for capital punishment, and military
procedures for sentencing a man to death differ greatly from civilian law. Military law relies heavily
on procedure, and the ideas of human justice and civilian morality often do not come into play into play in military proceedings.
Certainly, unseeing procedural compliance to military law has the potential to jeopardize lives at risk in a military situation. In Billy Budd, the death of an innocent man likely occurred because the captain failed to consider the concepts of human justice, or because military justice prevailed over human justice and basic...