'Pour encourager les autres'
is a quote from Voltaire
', often used in the context of political punishment and persecution. The full quote is "dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres
" ('in england
, it is good, from time to time, to kill an admiral, to encourage the others'), and refers indirectly to the unfortunate fate of Admiral John Byng
, who was executed in 1756 at the outbreak of the Seven Years' War
Byng was sent to relieve Minorca from French assault, the island being as valuable at the time as Gibraltar. A French fleet lay around the island, and it was Byng's job to seek battle and smash through; but when the time came his attack was half-hearted, and Byng soon withdrew to Gibraltar. Minorca fell, the Admiralty were appalled, and Byng was hauled back to England for court-martial. The court found that he "did not do his utmost to take, seize, and destroy the ships of the French king, which it was his duty to have engaged". He was convicted of negligence.
The verdict did not actually state that he was to be punished in order to encourage other admirals to fight harder, and indeed clemency was recommended, but when Byng was executed - by firing squad, on the deck of HMS Monarch as it lay in Portsmouth harbour - the message seemed clear enough. Britain's navy distinguished itself during the rest of the war, although whether this was because of Byng or simply because it was a very good navy is unrecorded by history.
The phrase 'pour encourager les autres' has subsequently entered the language, and is frequently used in the media whenever the official punishment for an act has seemed to be out of proportion to the act itself, or where the punishment has an element of political bias to it (in order to encourager les autres to shut up and keep their heads down). In these gentler times the term is often applied to sackings, or footballers who have been given a red card. The last time the Royal Navy actually executed a man was in 1860, and nowadays the only things the navy executes are manoeuvres and fleet cuts.