Calvinism and military justice in American literature

Nadia Hamilton Morales, University of Texas at El Paso


This paper explores judicial process in the military as revealed in Herman Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor,Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutinyand Aaron Sorkin's A Few Good Men. The purpose of my project was to conduct an in depth study of Essentialism in military justice that is indicative of a culturally specific form of information management, as revealed in these texts. Essentialism is a form of information management that relies upon classification qualified through intuitive knowledge and superficial signification. This signification is used to certify the existence of self-contained states that function as a metaphorical metonymy for multiple unknowns. Moreover, this signification qualifies acts as manifestations of "essence." Individual acts, as "essence," function as legal patronage to immutable truths. As essences of immutable truths, individual acts are treated as self-contained judgments and justice facilitates only the expediences of a fixed universe, thereby eliminating the need for the due process that a democracy requires. Consequently, legal process nullifies individual advocacy and becomes merely farcical show. Particularly these texts reveal a pattern of information management that appears progressive over time as sign and signification in "essentialist" legal process evolve into Essentialism in institutional policy premised upon intuitive knowledge. The overall purpose for this information management style, I argue, is to create and sustain a false sense of cultural, social and/or religious homogeneity for the purposes of maintaining military security. To that aim, legal fictions are created that gain currency within judicial process. These texts, in using Calvinist allusion as metaphor for Essentialism in military justice, imply the existence of certain cultural thinking modes embedded in American society that allow an acceptance of ubiquitous proposals of a faith based nature that advocate for the existence of a fixed universe and insinuate the influences of Puritan Calvinism and this unique sense of privilege gained through John Calvin's doctrine of Predestination. Calvinist allusion, premised upon the overarching concept of Predestination, illuminates the existence of a feigned reality in the aspect that these texts scrutinize one capital punishment case, one attempted mutiny and one case of involuntary manslaughter that all forge legal judgments based upon pre-conceived notions spawned through the use of intuitive knowledge.^

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Morales, Nadia Hamilton, "Calvinism and military justice in American literature" (2010). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1477809.