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The Articles of War

The Articles of War on board a Royal Navy ship were originally established in the 1650s, amended in 1749 (by an act of Parliament) and again in 1757. They show the recent actions of Iran, which seized British sailors and forced them to look like Ahmadinejad wannabees, to be uncivilized and perverse according to Britain's 18th century rules of engagement. Article 9 of the Articles of War addresses the event of a Royal Navy ship seizing a foreign ship as a prize during war –

9. If any ship or vessel be taken as prize, none of the officers, mariners, or other persons on board her, shall be stripped of their clothes, or in any sort pillaged, beaten, or evil-intreated, upon the pain that the person or persons so offending, shall be liable to such punishment as a court martial shall think fit to inflict.

Article 10 of the Articles of War was clear about how men of the Royal Navy were expected to act in the 18th century when faced with the likelihood of engagement –

10. Every flag officer, captain and commander in the fleet, who, upon signal or order of fight, or sight of any ship or ships which it may be his duty to engage, or who, upon likelihood of engagement, shall not make the necessary preparations for fight, and shall not in his own person, and according to his place, encourage the inferior officers and men to fight courageously, shall suffer death, or such other punishment, as from the nature and degree of the offence a court martial shall deem him to deserve; and if any person in the fleet shall treacherously or cowardly yield or cry for quarter, every person so offending, and being convicted thereof by the sentence of a court martial, shall suffer death.

Article 27 speaks to negligence, and presumably will be a part of the Navy's review of recent events –

27. No person in or belonging to the fleet shall sleep upon his watch, or negligently perform the duty imposed on him, or forsake his station, upon pain of death, or such other punishment as a court martial shall think fit to impose, and as the circumstances of the case shall require.

I would never say that the men of the Royal Navy who abolished the slave trade at the cost of their lives were made of sterner stuff than the men and women of the Royal Navy today. But I think it is probable that their tough training and the absolute clarity of how they were to respond to aggression helped to preserve them from humiliation and death at the hands of pirate nations. Because they were well-equipped and well-trained, they could deter aggression and help to end Turkey's oppression of the Greeks, Napoleon's oppression of Europe, and Nazi Germany's tyranny. We are left to wonder whether the Royal Navy's recent exhibition will encourage the world's violent thugs and dictators. It is unlikely to discourage them.

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