August 22: Torture

“Then I’ll make you one,” said the captain; and he came to the hatchway, and sprang on deck, threw off his coat, and rolling up his sleeves, called out to the mate—“Seize that man up, Mr. A——! Seize him up! Make a spread eagle of him! I’ll teach you all who is master aboard!”

The crew and officers followed the captain up the hatchway, and after repeated orders the mate laid hold of Sam, who made no resistance, and carried him to the gangway.

“What are you going to flog that man for, sir?” said John, the Swede, to the captain.

Upon hearing this, the captain turned upon him, but knowing him to be quick and resolute, he ordered the steward to bring the irons, and calling upon Russell to help him, went up to John.

“Let me alone,” said John. “I’m willing to be put in irons. You need not use any force;” and putting out his hands, the captain slipped the irons on, and sent him aft to the quarter-deck.

Sam by this time was seized up, as it is called, that is, placed against the shrouds, with his wrists made fast to the shrouds, his jacket off, and his back exposed. The captain stood on the break of the deck, a few feet from him, and a little raised, so as to have a good swing at him, and held in his hand the bight of a thick, strong rope. The officers stood round, and the crew grouped together in the waist. All these preparations made me feel sick and almost faint, angry and excited as I was. A man—a human being, made in God’s likeness—fastened up and flogged like a beast! A man, too, whom I had lived with and eaten with for months, and knew almost as well as a brother. The first and almost uncontrollable impulse was resistance. But what was to be done? The time for it had gone by.
This is from Two Years Before The Mast. At the start of this project I was skeptical about its inclusion into the Classics, but based on today's reading I see the point -- it has shown us material life, as opposed to abstractions, and here we see a portrait of the sadist given authority, as well as a very modern helplessness in the face of official evil. (It's also interesting, in this chapter, to see how tiny Los Angeles and San Pedro (the port) were in the 1830s, but that's beside the point.)

Then, after that, the Captain proceeds to flog John the Swede:
When he was made fast, he turned to the captain, who stood turning up his sleeves and getting ready for the blow, and asked him what he was to be flogged for. “Have I ever refused my duty, sir? Have you ever known me to hang back, or to be insolent, or not to know my work?”

“No,” said the captain, “it is not that I flog you for; I flog you for your interference—for asking questions.”

“Can’t a man ask a question here without being flogged?”

“No,” shouted the captain; “nobody shall open his mouth aboard this vessel, but myself;” and began laying the blows upon his back, swinging half round between each blow, to give it full effect. As he went on, his passion increased, and he danced about the deck, calling out as he swung the rope;—“If you want to know what I flog you for, I’ll tell you. It’s because I like to do it!—because I like to do it!—It suits me! That’s what I do it for!”
Because I like to do it. The only difference between that captain and our more recent horrors is that the technology is better; progress, of a sort.

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