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Lifeboat ethics: Is murder justified by necessity?


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In 1844, an Australian lawyer hired four Englishmen to sail his aging yacht, the Mignonette, back to his home in Sydney. That contract would inadvertently secure the fates of four men: Thomas Dudley, Edwin Stephens, Edmund Brooks, and Richard Parker. Dudley was the captain and an experienced seaman. Parker, the cabin boy, was an orphan of seventeen.

The four sailed the yacht around the Cape of Good Hope without a hitch until, following a night storm, a rogue wave compromised the upper deck (the lee bulwark). Dudley instantly realized the 52-foot cruiser was doomed. Frantic, he and his crew were able to grab a few navigational instruments along with two tins of turnips, but no freshwater. They lowered the rickety lifeboat and escaped. Within five minutes the Mignonette disappeared under the waves. 

It was July 5.

They were 700 miles away from the nearest land (Saint Helena). On the first night, the crew had to fight off a shark using the oars. The days passed and Dudley carefully allotted the turnips among the men, realizing water would pose a problem. Meanwhile, they grew increasingly feeble. But they caught a piece of luck; Brooks was able to drag a sea turtle onto the lifeboat and the crew feasted on the reptile for several days, drinking its blood and consuming the bones. But by July 17 starvation returned, the turnips were long gone. Thirst was becoming acute; they were unable to catch rainwater and the men resorted to drinking their own urine. Their gaze began to linger on the semi-comatose (1) form of Parker, the cabin boy.

Dudley reluctantly proposed making Parker their sacrificial lamb;  he pointed out that both he and Stephens had wives and families, while the Parker boy was an orphan with no connections. His idea caused bitter controversy among the men but by July 21, starved and dehydrated, they gave in. After saying a prayer, Dudley cut open Parker's jugular vein; as with the sea turtle, they sucked his blood and devoured his flesh. Eight days later the crew hailed a passing ship and were rescued.

THE TRIAL

I can assure you I shall never forget the sight of my two unfortunate companions over that ghastly meal. We all was like mad wolfs who should get the most, and for men—fathers of children—to commit such a deed, we could not have our right reason.
-Thomas Dudley

200px-Sir_William_Harcourt.jpg
Sir William Harcourt

In Victorian England, their legal case became a cause célèbre. On arrival in Falmouth, the crew made their dispositions, believing the events were protected by the venerable custom of the sea'; a  rare proceeding in which men draw lots to decide who gets sacrificed for food so that his mates might survive. (2) It was not to be; the magistrates refused to dismiss the charges and the formidable prosecutor, Sir William Harcourt, took the case. However, public opinion- a relatively new phenomenon- was turning against the courts believing the charges were excessive, if not inhumane; the survivors’ tale had elicited the people's sympathy. The trial was re-adjourned.

But Harcourt was revolted by the public's sentiment and became even more intent on a conviction.  Ultimately, the two principals, Dudley and Stephens, were convicted of murder, though they were not the first seamen to resort to cannibalism. Eventually, all three defendants would be jailed for six months, given the era, a slap on the wrist.

1-Possibly induced by drinking seawater
2-However, that proceeding was contingent on the victim's death. Before the deed, Parker was still technically alive, as the honest seamen admitted. Hence, the murder charge.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE?

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQaVpUybnbtpWvtbf-zPvOiMe0nJqDqU9jVXg&usqp=CAU

An extremely strange coincidence, the tale of Richard Parker has a literary connection. Years before The Mignonette ever set sail, Edgar Allan Poe wrote an 1838 short-story where a character, by the name of Richard Parker, is eaten by fellow stranded sailors after hunger sets in.

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Subject pops from time to time through recent history, when ingrained cultural norms are put to one side in exceptional and desperate survival situations.

I remember reading as a young teen Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors -about the rugby team who chomped their travel mates 

Later on Julian Barnes A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters exploring the story behind Theodore Geriault's Raft of the Medusa 

French Royal Navy frigate the Medusa, which ran aground off the coast of Senegal. Because of a shortage of lifeboats, some 150 survivors embarked on a raft and were decimated by starvation during a 13-day ordeal, which descended into murder and cannibalism. Only a handful remained when they were rescued at sea.

And recently Franklin's lost expedition to find the NW passage which also likely resorted to cannibalism.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/franklins-doomed-arctic-expedition-ended-gruesome-cannibalism-180956054/

 

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The three English sailors were not alone in resorting to cannibalism by necessity. The Donner Party indulged as well.

As their supplies dwindled, the Donner emigrants stranded at Truckee Lake resorted to eating increasingly grotesque meals. They slaughtered their pack animals, cooked their dogs, gnawed on leftover bones and even boiled the animal hide roofs of their cabins into a foul paste. Several people died from malnutrition, but the rest managed to subsist on morsels of boiled leather and tree bark until rescue parties arrived in February and March 1847. Not all of the settlers were strong enough to escape, however, and those left behind were forced to cannibalize the frozen corpses of their comrades while waiting for further help. All told, roughly half of the Donner Party’s survivors eventually resorted to eating human flesh.
-History.com

And more recently, in 1972, the plane crash of the Uruguayan rugby team. A survivor: '‘I will never forget that first incision’. ;)
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news ... gbooktalk/

However, in both cases, they reserved their victims for the already dead unlike the crew of the Mignonette.

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30 minutes ago, Wicky said:

And recently Franklin's lost expedition to find the NW passage which also likely resorted to cannibalism.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/franklins-doomed-arctic-expedition-ended-gruesome-cannibalism-180956054/

 

Watched an AMC show on this called The Terror. I thought it was quite great. Not to spoil anything but it isn't 100% history-based. However, the bits about the ship, its crew, hierarchy, and all the awful decision making was really interesting to watch. The depth of organization and inventory needed to undertake such explorations is incredible, and then to watch it all crumble slowly but surely is quite sad.

As for cannibalism. If actual murder wasn't involved, then I think the action serves as a form of "punishment" in and of itself.

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A minor mystery remains with the three English sailors. Why not lie? Why not simply tell the authorities that they tossed the dead Parker over the starboard side intact and uneaten? With endless time on their hands, they could easily concoct a convincing scenario; there was, of course, no evidence. The men would clasp hands and make a solemn oath never to reveal to the truth.
Would it work? Probably, but some inhibiting factors:
1- The sailors never expected prosecution having trusted- wrongly- in the 'custom of the sea'.
2- The strict, Victorian morality of the era
3- Their evident religious faith.

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2 hours ago, Khalerick said:

Watched an AMC show on this called The Terror. I thought it was quite great. Not to spoil anything but it isn't 100% history-based. However, the bits about the ship, its crew, hierarchy, and all the awful decision making was really interesting to watch. The depth of organization and inventory needed to undertake such explorations is incredible, and then to watch it all crumble slowly but surely is quite sad.

As for cannibalism. If actual murder wasn't involved, then I think the action serves as a form of "punishment" in and of itself.

I recommend Erebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin (yes of Monty Python fame) covers the fascinating story of the ships Erbus and Terror, crew & leaders and their voyages.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/nov/24/erebus-michael-palin-review-john-franklin-arctic-explorer

On that note Shackleton's Antarctic expedition came awfully close to disaster but amazingly all but three men survived

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9 hours ago, Childress said:

The three English sailors were not alone in resorting to cannibalism by necessity. The Donner Party indulged as well.

As their supplies dwindled, the Donner emigrants stranded at Truckee Lake resorted to eating increasingly grotesque meals. They slaughtered their pack animals, cooked their dogs, gnawed on leftover bones and even boiled the animal hide roofs of their cabins into a foul paste. Several people died from malnutrition, but the rest managed to subsist on morsels of boiled leather and tree bark until rescue parties arrived in February and March 1847. Not all of the settlers were strong enough to escape, however, and those left behind were forced to cannibalize the frozen corpses of their comrades while waiting for further help. All told, roughly half of the Donner Party’s survivors eventually resorted to eating human flesh.
-History.com

And more recently, in 1972, the plane crash of the Uruguayan rugby team. A survivor: '‘I will never forget that first incision’. ;)
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news ... gbooktalk/

However, in both cases, they reserved their victims for the already dead unlike the crew of the Mignonette.

Dying is a lot harder than most people think.

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12 hours ago, Childress said:

A minor mystery remains with the three English sailors. Why not lie? Why not simply tell the authorities that they tossed the dead Parker over the starboard side intact and uneaten? With endless time on their hands, they could easily concoct a convincing scenario; there was, of course, no evidence. The men would clasp hands and make a solemn oath never to reveal to the truth.
Would it work? Probably, but some inhibiting factors:
1- The sailors never expected prosecution having trusted- wrongly- in the 'custom of the sea'.
2- The strict, Victorian morality of the era
3- Their evident religious faith.

I wrote my law dissertation on this case!

There's lots of subtext that gets missing from most reports, but long story short they probably lied and it's unconvincing that the dead kid actually grew weaker much faster than the others.  Custom of the sea was you were supposed to draw lots, they didn't, that's why they went on trial.

The trial judge was a bit of a crusader who basically forced the jury into a factual verdict, then stacked the appeal court so that the answer to the facts was 'this is murder'.  

 

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I wrote my law dissertation on this case!

What a coincidence! During the research, I seem to recall that the sailors did- briefly- consider drawing lots. Of course, there we no proof that they did. All in all, it's a fascinating case.

When the time came to draw straws it was evident that young Richard Parker was close to death. The hard choice was made to kill Parker to eat his flesh. Rescued a few days later, the men did not hide the fact that they had eaten their comrade, thinking they were within the custom. When they reached England, however, they were tried for murder. By not drawing straws they had violated the law.- Ocean Navigator

The Mignonette puzzle: The English sailors' ordeal lasted from July 5 to July 29, that's not an enormous slice of time. One reads of similar events that lasted over months. They were able to capture and consume a sea turtle, a rather large reptile; they feasted on it for a week. Of course, the absence of water was a critical factor but they did drink the turtle's blood.

The name Richard Parker has occurred twice in literature. First in an 1838 tale of Edgar Allan Poe that, creepily, prefigured the fate of the Mignonette. Similar to the fate of Mignonette, his sailors consumed the rationed remains of a turtle and drew lots to be the sacrificial victim- Parker lost. At the time Poe was in desperate financial straits and the response to his- hastily written- novel was, for the most part, ill-received. Critics noted nautical inaccuracies but later some credited the novel as an inspiration for Moby Dick.

In a deliberate twist by author Yann Martel, the hero and a Bengal tiger are set adrift in a lifeboat in his best-selling book The Life of Pi. Martel named the tiger Richard Parker after the unfortunate cabin boy. Martel's 2012 tale resulted in eleven Academy Awards.

 

 

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6 hours ago, Bulletpoint said:

Dramatic, but how is this related to general discussion about Combat Mission?

Well to do the full runaround - Combat Mission (particularly starting with Shock Force) has wanted to do urban combat but has implemented it in a way that lets the player do MOUT in full warcrimes mode with no penalty - or rather if there's a penalty it's for blowing up the civilian building but not for massacring the abstracted away inhabitants. 

A developer who wasn't righty fearful of the inevitable media outrage might implement the presence of civilians who can become casualties.  

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What media outrage?!? This is a game and there are no civilians to massacre. All the CM titles take place where civilians live.  If you want to imagine they are there, fine.  But this still has little to do with Combat Mission. And civilians are worked into SF2 in the sense that the higher the civvie  density setting, the less intel the player has. So in this game, civvies are a minus without any way to actually massacre then out of the way!

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18 hours ago, Alchenar said:

Well to do the full runaround - Combat Mission (particularly starting with Shock Force) has wanted to do urban combat but has implemented it in a way that lets the player do MOUT in full warcrimes mode with no penalty - or rather if there's a penalty it's for blowing up the civilian building but not for massacring the abstracted away inhabitants. 

A developer who wasn't righty fearful of the inevitable media outrage might implement the presence of civilians who can become casualties.  

This thread is about shipwrecked people in a lifeboat resorting to cannibalism though. I doubt we will see this modelled in any CM game any time soon.

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15 hours ago, mjkerner said:

What media outrage?!? This is a game and there are no civilians to massacre. All the CM titles take place where civilians live.  If you want to imagine they are there, fine.  But this still has little to do with Combat Mission. And civilians are worked into SF2 in the sense that the higher the civvie  density setting, the less intel the player has. So in this game, civvies are a minus without any way to actually massacre then out of the way!

True every mission is on the bases of METT-TC the C stands for Civilian considerations. This is a site for Wargaming hobbyist playing hypothetical situations. Let us keep politics out of it. 

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The actual General Discussion section would have been the proper place for this thread.

It is a bit confusing to have 2 General Discussion areas. I can easily understand why, when someone sees Combat Mission General Discussion, they may think it is " All Things General " rather than being specifically general to Combat Mission.

@Childress Further down the specific forum lists you will find the non CM General Discussion section. 

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I noticed that there's a free game in the EPIC store at the moment: Sunless Sea. It's about ships and you can eat your crew so it seems. I thought of this thread 🙂

Haven't played it, but added it to library just now because why not.

Edited by Lethaface
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7 minutes ago, Lethaface said:

I noticed that there's a free game in the EPIC store at the moment: Sunless Sea. It's about ships and you can eat your crew so it seems. I thought of this thread 🙂

Haven't played it, but added it to library just now because why not.

Can your crew eat you?

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6 minutes ago, Lethaface said:

They might be able to, at least dying is a feature so who knows. I guess you ought to try it out 😉

It certainly looks like a cheerful way of passing the time 😁.

Edit: Is it multi-player?  I could join you for a midnight feast?

Edited by Vacilllator
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Well, if you manage to make the journey from UK on an illegal steamship all the way to Utrecht, I'll organize a midnight feast. We could go for a roast of the coppers which will be trying to fine us, or just settle for some good beef steaks on a kamado BBQ. I've never tried human flesh and don't really hope I'll get into the situation where I'd need to try it out, so I'm all for option B 😉

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36 minutes ago, Lethaface said:

the journey from UK on an illegal steamship all the way to Utrecht

You may know already that I'm not a big fan of Brexit, but an illegal steamship might be going too far 😀.  However a trip to Utrecht would be nice, so far I have visited far fewer places in the Netherlands than I'd like to.  Often they have been just airports or Eurostar train stations 🙄.

Edited by Vacilllator
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