Mutiny can be active or passive; conducted with or without arms, with or without violence. It can take place in peace or war, on ship or on shore, at the front or in the rear. It is the collective aspect of mutiny that presents such a challenge to the stability of the particular military organization, or, when it exists on a very large scale, to the state itself. That, and the disgrace to the affected unit, accounts for the secrecy and lack of candor that is usually associated with mutinous incidents. Thus, actions that are, in fact, mutinies, are often cloaked in euphemisms: during the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army referred to its mutinies as “battlefield refusals,” a rhetorical invention without any basis in military law.
Historically, the main sources of mutiny have been rooted in a perception of unfairness on the part of the troops, of burdens inequitably shared vis‐à‐vis their military colleagues or their parent society. In the American military, this sense of relative deprivation has most often occurred as the result of perceived or actual racial discrimination. World War II saw several major mutinies by black soldiers and sailors in which the issues were discriminatory treatment: Bamber Bridge, England (1943); Port Chicago, California (1945); Guam (1944); Port Hueneme, California (1945). During the Vietnam War, in addition to some small unit incidents in the war zone, a major racially motivated mutiny involving over 100 sailors took place on board the USS Constellation (1972).
The notion of unfairness has also resulted from the demands of the military for service beyond an agreed or implied enlistment period. The mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line in June 1783 had as its central grievance the extension of duty beyond the original enlistment term; there were similar cases in the Civil War. In January 1946, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, mutinous outbreaks took place in several overseas garrisons—notably at Manila in the Philippines—in which the troops protested their retention in service following the termination of actual hostilities.
The twentieth century has seen another fundamental source of discontent take root in American and foreign military organizations: the reluctance to serve for ethical, political, or moral reasons. U.S. Army troops questioned the legitimacy of their service in North Russia in 1919; in Vietnam there were many small unit mutinies in which the essential issue centered on the why rather than the how of service.
The process of most American mutinies has followed the pattern of mutinies in general: they tend to be passive refusals to participate rather than acts of violence; of short duration, usually measured in hours rather than days; and spontaneous rather than premeditated.
In spite of the gravity of the offense, the penalties for mutiny in the American military have been minimal. Reluctance even to use the term mutiny has resulted in troops being court‐martialed, if at all, for lesser offenses. The acceptance of the industrial strike as a legitimate expression of collective protest in twentieth‐century civil society has fostered a more lenient view of what was classically considered the most serious of military crimes.
[See also Ethnicity and War; Morale, Troop; Philippines, U.S. Military Involvement in the; Vietnam Antiwar Movement.]
Robert I. Allen , The Port Chicago Mutiny, 1989.
Leonard F. Guttridge , Mutiny, 1992.
Mutiny on the Bounty a mutiny which took place in 1789 on the British navy ship HMS Bounty, when part of the crew, led by Fletcher Christian, mutinied against their commander, William Bligh, and set him adrift in an open boat with eighteen companions. Although a number of the mutineers were captured and executed, others (including Christian) reached the Pitcairn Islands, where they settled.
See also Indian Mutiny at Indian1.
mu·ti·ny / ˈmyoōtn-ē/ • n. (pl. -nies) an open rebellion against the proper authorities, esp. by soldiers or sailors against their officers: a mutiny by those manning the weapons could trigger a global war | mutiny at sea. • v. (-nies, -nied) [intr.] refuse to obey the orders of a person in authority.
A rising against lawful or constituted authority, particularly in the naval orarmed services.
In the context of criminal law, mutiny refers to an insurrection of soldiers or crew members against the authority of their commanders. The offense is similar to the crime of sedition, which is a revolt or an incitement to revolt against established authority, punishable by both state and federal laws.