An Analysis On The Caine Mutiny

  • Category: Music & Movies
  • Words: 1592
  • Grade: 95

"A Captain's job is a lonely one, and misunderstood." Perhaps vulnerable Captain Queeg summed up his doomed nature and own demise best by that one line. Yes, some may have misunderstood him as a Captain all right but the majority of the story deals with Captain Queeg's misunderstanding of his own self, role, situation, and as an effective delegator of authority. The Caine Mutiny was released in 1954, directed by Edward Dmytryk, and based largely off a novel of the same name by Herman Wouk. It involves the following of a certain "momma's boy" Ensign Keith as he makes the transition from Princeton University and naval school to the harsh reality of war aboard a weathered mine-sweeping rusty ship named the U.S.S. Caine with an undisciplined and sloppy crew to say the least. While first aboard, Ensign Keith is subordinate to Captain DeVriess, a lax and unusual Naval Captain. The crew seemed to mimic and follow Captain Devriess's style, as they were quite careless and facetious daily in their attitude toward daily activities and duties. The Executive Officer of the ship, Lieutenant Maryk is an honest and righteous officer, a true naval man who finds himself stuck in a rock and a hard place as he crumbles under the manipulation and coercive influence of Communications Head, Lieutenant Tom Keefer. Lieutenant Keefer, a cynical man who preaches dissension in just about every part of the story, is an avid writer who leads the underlying effort to align the crew against Captain Queeg.
First, let's analyze the position of Captain Queeg. His troubles with regards to motivating, leading, and controlling his subordinates rears its ugly head several times during the story. If we take the ship and its crew and view it as a corporation, Captain Queeg clearly suffers from what some Chief Executive Officers suffer from, loneliness at the top. However, the interesting thing to note is how the situational leadership theory model does not apply here. One would reasonably think that the United States Armed Forces would be the ideal setting for Captain Queeg's direct, authoritarian, and detail-oriented style. The military is highly regulated and every situation's required actions are extensively laid out in manuals. Plus, the job of a military officer is one of repetitive operations and tedious tasks. All of this evidence points to a need for a highly directive and authoritarian form of leadership. Well, quite the contrary happens so Captain Queeg's inability to run the ship effectively needs to be attributed to some other reason, or perhaps a combination of reasons. Perhaps one of these reasons is the fact that the preceding leader, Captain DeVriess exhibited a totally different style for a couple of years straight before Queeg arrived. Once the new captain replaced him, the crew had become so accustomed to the old laid-back style that they became complacent and resistant to change. We have seen this play out in many different leadership roles (Chairmen, managers, coaches, teachers, principals, political leaders, and clergy members) when new leaders arrive. Another interesting thing to note is Captain Queeg's use of punishment as reward for bad behavior. He consistently used the method of punishment toward his crew and continued to push morale to dangerously low levels. If only he could have mixed in some reward-based motivation or some other method of involving his crewman in decision-making, the story might have played out in a totally different and much better way.
Ensign Keith plays an interesting role in the story as he could be seen as a middle manager, and many of the problems of a middle manager are faced by Ensign Keith. He wrestles with the dilemma of serving two captains of totally different styles while at the same time being an effective manager of his subordinates. Combine this with his lack of "on-the-job" experience and his clean, preppy image, one can only imagine the inner and outer struggles he faces on a daily basis.
Next, we shall look out the different political methods used by the members of the U.S.S. Caine. When men are confined to a ship for long periods of time out on the sea, it is inevitable that the many political tactics discussed by in class this semester, surface frequently. The key thing to point out here is that Lieutenant Keefer definitely used political tactics purposefully willfully. Some of them were devious and quite unethical. Some of the strategies Keefer used were ingratiation when dealing with Ensign Keith to earn his trust, and forming coalitions and networks as he slowly got the crew to turn against Captain Queeg. Others tools used in his frequent act of political gamesmanship were information management, promoting the opposition, and pursuing line management. As it is believed that too much political gamesmanship could have detrimental effects on the effectiveness of an organization, or in this case a ship's crew, follows form as what we saw happened as a result of Lieutenant Keefer's moves. Morale was weakened, victors and victims were created, and productivity was significantly hindered. One can argue that Ensign Keith occasionally used tactics as he attempted to walk the tough line in between self-righteousness and the system's righteousness. It could be reasonably assumed that Lieutenant Maryk did not purposefully use any political tactics or gamesmanship, as he was straightforward and really cut to the chase in his decision-making and actions. An interesting closing to this concept is the fact that unlike in corporate cultures, where the ethical nature of a decision is usually clearly defined in either right or wrong terms; in the United States Navy, one could really be confused as there are so many places to look for answers: the Bible, one's conscience, Navy manuals, or a superior's orders.
Let's us look at how three of the U.S.S. Caine's high-ranking officials fare in the "managing your boss" department. Managing your boss involves the process of consciously working with your superior to obtain the best possible results for you, your boss, and your company. This especially involves knowing your superior well, knowing his strengths, weaknesses, needs and work styles. The Caine Mutiny presents an interesting twist to this conceptual theoretical framework. Lieutenants Maryk and Keefer and Ensign Keith obviously knew their superior's weakness, they pinpointed that he was an acute paranoia. However, while the theory provides that this information is useful for improving relationships and making the two parties productivity more effective; in this case, the three subordinates felt threatened by Captain Queeg's weaknesses and did not turn this into strengths and healthy relationships. Quite clearly, the three officers viewed Captain Queeg as a counter dependant manager - defined as a person who sees the boss as someone who is a hindrance to progress, by virtue of the role, and as an obstacle to be circumvented or at best tolerated.
With regards to intraorganizational tactics, or in this case "intra-ship" tactics, another striking anomaly surfaces. Extensive studies have shown that subordinates utilize methods of self-presentation and logical and rational discussion the most when communicating needs, wants, and desires with superiors. Such was not the Case with crewmen dealing with Captain Queeg on the U.S.S. Caine. In the middle of the movie, Captain Queeg called a meeting of his officers after an incident occurred in which he panicked and left a group of marines far away from the beach they were escorting them too. In the meeting, Captain Queeg made an emotional plea toward his officers but they responded in silence. Here would have been the perfect opportunity for these subordinates to rationally and logically discuss their feelings toward the captain and the goals and objectives of the U.S.S. Caine.
In Vroom and Yetton's Contingency model, each decision process can be clustered into five styles, ranging from highly autocratic (A1) to highly subordinate participative (GII). In the A1 scenario, the manager solves the problem solely with the available information. On the flip side in the GII scenario, the manager serves as a group chairperson as the group seeks a consensus. In the Caine Mutiny, Captain Queeg clearly and undoubtedly used the most autocratic A1 scenario the vast majority of the time. The crew was threatened by this sudden change of style, as their previous Captain DeVriess was a highly consultative Captain who inquired from his ship's officers for their input when it was decision time. Captain Queeg clearly did not veer or waver from his autocratic decision-making at any point during the story. Theories on this subject have suggested that a leader's optimal decision is based on his or her evaluation of each individual situation and the process required to solve it most efficiently and effectively. There was one instance where Captain Queeg used the GII process as he called a meeting and clumsily asked for any input from his officers for ideas on how each member could "help each other." Other than this, it's safe to assume that Captain Queeg erred in motivating his subordinates because he let them have so very little influence on what was happening on a daily basis. Each of the aforementioned events and scenarios helped to influence the story's character struggles and group conflicts as analyzed and put into the framework of a leader/subordinate corporate framework.
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