Billy Budd

Should we read Melville's "Billy Budd" as an attack on the concept of / the realities of military discipline?

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When the warship Bellipotent extracts the unassuming Billy from his former ship, the Rights-of-Man, the symbolism is relatively explicit: society is all-powerful, it compels men into participation in war, and in doing so it can readily dispense with the rights of the individual. The names of the ships alone—Bellipotent means “power of war”—suggest as much. Especially toward the end of the novella, the narrator spends a good deal of time exploring some of the contradictions and obligations of serving one's country in a time of war. Rights and democracy are defended by a military hierarchy that in its own structures respects neither; what then is the role of the individual? What constitutes an ethical choice?