Melville's dramatic presentation of the contradiction between the requirements of the law and the needs of humanity made the novella an "iconic text" in the field of law and literature . Earlier readers viewed Captain Vere as good man trapped by bad law. Richard Weisberg , who holds degrees in both comparative literature and law, argued that Vere was wrong to play the roles of witness, prosecutor, judge and executioner, and that he went beyond the law when he sentenced Billy to immediate hanging.  Based on his study of statutory law and practices in the Royal Navy in the era in which the book takes place, Weisberg argues that Vere deliberately distorted the applicable substantive and procedural law to bring about Billy's death.  Judge Richard Posner has sharply criticized these claims . He objects to ascribing literary significance to legal errors that are not part of the imagined world of Melville's fiction and accused Weisberg and others of calling Billy an "innocent man" and making light of the fact that he "struck a lethal blow to a superior officer in wartime." . 
Just then there was a disturbance in the force. Everyone in the chopper felt it. It was as if a Millennial’s whiny voice had cried out in terror and was suddenly silenced in a way that had never happened before. They looked at each other. Something great and powerful and terrible had just occurred. Something new and terrifying had sprung forth and now it was part of the world. They had no idea what form this undefined menace took but they felt it in their bones. They began nervously fidgeting with their knives and magazines. Today they’d earn their pay.