What St. Louis Rioters Can Learn from ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’

An unarmed teenager was shot and killed by a policeman in St Louis. We don’t know the whole story. It doesn’t matter. It’s not right that many who are outraged by the shooting are using the incident as an excuse to riot and vent their anger.

“Images and videos captured on cellphones and posted on social media sites appeared to show people spray-painting and looting a QuikTrip gas station and other stores. Rioters shattered the windows of the gas station and damaged several police cars, said Brian Lewis, a spokesman for the St. Louis County Police Department.”

QuikTrip didn’t do anything wrong. What about these reports? Did these victims shoot anybody?

We’ve seen this type of behavior before and generally it only makes things worse for their neighborhoods. Businesses are reluctant to invest in high risk areas.

Peaceful protests, legal action, relentless publicity, and speaking out for the need for a full and complete investigation are what’s needed. Burning and looting are not productive remedies.

As I was preparing for my trip to Phoenix on Monday morning, my wife and sat down to watch the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard.

William Bligh is an accomplished seaman, astronomer, navigator, and loyal subject of the British Crown and her navy. But he’s also a ruthless tyrant who abuses his men under the cover of some twisted view of authority.

“In the year 1787, the Bounty sets sail from England for Tahiti under the command of Captain William Bligh (Trevor Howard). Her mission is to transport breadfruit to Jamaica, where hopefully it will thrive and provide a cheap source of food for the slaves.

“The difficult voyage gets off to a difficult start with the discovery that some cheese is missing. Bligh, the true pilferer, is accused of the theft by seaman John Mills (Richard Harris), and Bligh has Mills brutally flogged for showing contempt to his superior officer, to the disgust of his patrician second-in-command, 1st Lieutenant Fletcher Christian (Marlon Brando). The tone for the months to come is summarized by Bligh’s ominous pronouncement that ‘cruelty with a purpose is not cruelty, it is efficiency.’ Aristocrat Christian is deeply offended by his ambitious captain.”

It all becomes too much for Fletcher Christian, and he decides to mutiny. “Christian takes command of the ship and sets Bligh and the loyalist members of the crew adrift in the longboat with navigational equipment, telling them to make for a local island. Bligh decides instead to cross much of the Pacific [about 3600 miles] in order to reach British authorities sooner and arrives back in England with remarkable speed.”


In time, Mr. Christian realizes that he made a mistake. As bad as Bligh was, it was worse setting the moral and legal precedent that if mutiny is right in the greater case, then it can be right in lesser cases. The disintegration or order and the lack of a moral compass came swiftly to many of the mutineers. They were men without a country, always in fear of being found by the Royal Navy to be brought back to England to be tried, as some of them eventually were. Some were hanged.

Because of a cartography mistake, the mutineers were able to escape scrutiny by British ships by settling on small Pitcairn Island, but the effect of the early lawlessness would take its toll:

“Landing on Pitcairn Island in 1790, the mutineers and Tahitians remained invisible to the world for eighteen years. Despite the fledgling society’s opportunity to invent itself from scratch, island culture more closely resembled Lord of the Flies than a Rousseauvian utopia. When an American whaler discovered the island in 1808, murder and suicide had left eight of the nine mutineers dead.”

You need to watch either the 1935 version starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton or the 1962 remake, and  if you have seen either film, consider watching it with your children and point out some lessons as they do some research on the true story that it’s based upon.

As bad as the death of this young man is, rioting, burning, and looting will only make conditions worse.

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