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General Piso’s Justice: A story inspired by Seneca

By Petina Gappah
Posted on Thursday, 7 June 2012 15:01, updated on Wednesday, 19 February 2020 12:10

On the night the First Soldier returned late from furlough without the Second Soldier, his boon friend and companion, General Piso said he had to die.

You were together when you left the camp, General Piso said, but you have returned alone. Paragraph 33 of Article 55 subsection 17 of the United Military Code is clear: you can only leave the camp if you are with another soldier. You leave together and return together. The consequences of breaking the rules are also clear: Article 213 of the United Military Code says that if you disobey the rules, you die.

The First Soldier opened his mouth in protest, but the imperative of obedience had long been drilled into him. Rules were all they had, General Piso said. The rules were all they had because without the rules, the terrorists would win. He said this twice a day: at reveille and before the last post. And sometimes, his words mingled with the sound of the bugle in their sleep.

General Piso ordered the Third Soldier to arrest the First Soldier and place him before the firing squad.

The soldiers left General Piso in the solitude of his office. From a distance, a bugle sounded the last post. The voice of the Third Soldier followed.

“Company stand at attention.”

Then, where there should have been the staccato sound of gunfire, came only silence.

This is what happened.

As the First Soldier stood to face his death, the Second Soldier staggered into camp. His blood ran redly from gashes on his face and chest. It was the enemy, he said, enemy soldiers had seized him. He had fought and fled, fought and fled, and now, could he have some water, just a little water.

Company halt, shouted the Third Soldier. Between them, he and the First Soldier led the Second Soldier back to General Piso.

He’s alive, the Third Soldier said. I have stopped the execution; how wonderful this is, the Second Soldier lives.

General Piso took up the United Military Code and waved it before the three soldiers. Rules are rules, said General Piso, and they are set out in this Code. Rules are all that stand between us and the terrorists.

And thus he made his edicts.

Firstly, General Piso said, the First Soldier had to die because the sentence had already been passed.

Article 33 of the United Military Code was unequivocal. Once the sentence has been passed, the prisoner must die.

Secondly, the General said, the Third Soldier had to die because he had failed to perform his lawful duty.

You know well enough, General Piso said, that Article 345 of the United Military Code states that a soldier who fails to implement a lawful command must die.

And lastly, General Piso said, the Second Soldier had to die because he had not only returned to camp alone but had also caused of the death of two blameless men. ●

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