Saturday, March 5, 2011
Virtually all of our discussions on this blog have been about flogging a man as he is tied helpless. But what about another form of flogging, one in which the man must take an active part? I am speaking of course, of the gauntlet. I had read about it in stories of how they used it on ships to punish thieves. I have seen a few movies that depicted its use—or tried to (I can’t recall the names of the movies because the scenes themselves were so unmemorable). The reason I found them so lacking was that the prisoner actually “ran” the gauntlet: he was free to get through it as fast as he could.
However, there is a scene in the movie Barry Lyndon (the punishment scene starts at about 3:45), where a Prussian soldier is walked slowly through a gauntlet of his peers, and each hits his back hard with a switch (some of them look to be small tree branches), while the officer in charge slowly rides behind one of the ranks to ensure that each soldier does his duty and lays on with a will.
This scene always sparked my imagination. I have been flogged with a cat and a quirt and a strap, but always tied up. Passive. I couldn’t move, all I could do is wait for the next blow. Imagine the terror a soldier felt as he slowly walked the gauntlet (with a corporal marching in front with a bayonet pointed at his chest to ensure he didn’t run). Being tied up and having to take it is one thing, but having to march straight into a punishment—seeing all the pain that awaits you—must be the height of psychological agony.
I especially liked the way the narrator set up the scene: “Life in the Prussian service was considerably worse than the English. The life that the private soldier led was a frightful one. Punishment was incessant, and every officer had the right to inflict it”. How do I become a officer in the Prussian Army?