Navy scraps 'medieval' bread and water punishment

Bread and water.
(Image credit: iStocck/flil)

Yes, the U.S. Navy could still throw sailors in the brig with nothing but bread and water.

The punishment is straight-up "medieval," Navy Capt. Kevin Eyer tells The New York Times. But it's finally meeting the 21st century thanks to a rule change taking effect Jan. 1.

An independent Defense Department review group recommended the end of the centuries-old practice in 2013, and Congress passed it as part of an update to the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 2016. Most of the other changes don't affect everyday naval life, reports the Times.

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For years, Navy commanders could punish sailors' minor infractions with "diminished rations" for up to three days. The practice was modeled after a British Navy punishment outlawed in 1891, and typically granted for missing curfew or drinking underage, the Times says. Constant use of the punishment earned one ship the nickname "U.S.S. Bread and Water" just last year, per the Navy Times.

As bad as that sounds, "bread and water was seen as a humane, progressive alternative to flogging" after that was outlawed in 1862, the Times writes. Eyer also says it's not as bad as the alternatives: halving paychecks or stripping someone's rank. Sailors in the brig get unlimited bread and water, and can usually bring a religious book along.

Capt. Scott Tait, though, told the Times he'd rather hand out book reports instead of bread. After all, the "sensory deprivation" of being in the brig without changing meals "is more meaningful than people would think," Tait added. Online forums show mixed reviews of the practice, which you can read more about at The New York Times.

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