Friday, January 7, 2011

Flogging Authority

In a comment to the Dec 23 post, “Military Flogging—Humiliation?”, Richie asks “…was there some kind of hand book detailing punishment? Who decided how many lashes were to be inflicted, and what kind of whip was to be used?”

The answer depends on which Army/Navy you’re dealing with.  It is my understanding that in the Eastern European armies of the 17th-19th Centuries, all officers had the unquestioned right to order the punishment of any enlisted man.  I believe in the British Army/Navy, that “right” was reserved for the officer in command of the unit, so subordinate officers had to “bring charges” for the commanding offer to adjudicate.

In British history, the Articles of War were the basis of the law authorizing flogging—but the upper limit of a dozen lashes prescribed for many offenses was rarely adhered to at sea or on campaign (and officers guilty of ordering violations of these limits were never prosecuted).  I remember reading that George III of England had once declared that the maximum a man could receive was 1,000 lashes!

In War and Peace, Tolstoy describes the flogging of a Russian deserter during the Napoleonic Invasion.  The offender was ordered to walk a gauntlet comprised of 8,000 men.  After the deserter had received somewhere around 1,200 lashes he collapsed and could not be revived.  He was taken to the hospital and took nine months to recover.  Once he was declared fit for duty, his officers reassembled the gauntlet and forced him to begin walking it again—he reportedly died with the first stroke.

For the most part, even if there were protections for offenders as to the upper limits, the soldiers were often not aware of them and accepted that the officers had the right and authority to punish as harshly as they desired.  The only choice a man had was to strip off his shirt and endure the punishment as best he could.

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