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[Update: I posted this not knowing that member Gossamer Cat beat me to much the same observation a couple of years ago in this post. And, frankly, GC’s post is the better one. Go read it. — H. ]
I read Herman Wouk’s famous novel a long time ago and saw the 1954 movie adaptation many years later. I don’t recall the novel well enough to know whether the movie is faithful to the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, but both the movie and the book are excellent. Humphrey Bogart, as the problematic Captain Queeg, ball bearings twirling nervously in his hand as he obsesses about the pilfering of strawberries from the ship’s larder, created a cultural icon for the paranoid in power, impossible to like and an easy target for righteous contempt.
There are spoilers ahead, starting now. (But come on. The movie is older than I am.)
The movie ends after the trial of the ship’s officers for mutiny. Following their acquittal Lt. Greenwald, the lawyer who defended them (played by José Ferrer), finds the men celebrating their victory. Unexpectedly — at least, unexpectedly to a much younger me who certainly didn’t see it coming — their defender turns on the men, accusing them of disloyalty to their admittedly imperfect commanding officer. In a blunt and brutal critique (aimed most pointedly at Lt. Keefer, played by Fred MacMurray in another of his great dramatic roles), Lt. Greenwald punctures their smugness and reveals the men as the disloyal officers they are:
Lt. Greenwald: You didn’t approve of his conduct as an officer. He wasn’t worthy of your loyalty. So you turned on him. You ragged him. You made up songs about him. If you’d given Queeg the loyalty he needed, do you suppose the whole issue would have come up in the typhoon? You’re an honest man, Steve, I’m asking you. You think it would’ve been necessary for you to take over?
Lt. Maryk: It probably wouldn’t have been necessary.
Lt. Greenwald: Yeah.
Ensign Willie Keith: If that’s true, then we were guilty.
Lt. Greenwald: Ah, you’re learning, Willie! You’re learning that you don’t work with a captain because you like the way he parts his hair. You work with him because he’s got the job or you’re no good!
“You work with him because he’s got the job or you’re no good!”
I was thinking of that scene today as I considered the past three and a half years of this administration and wondered how things might have been different — and might still be different — if conservative luminaries had rallied around and supported the very imperfect man we elected.Published in