The officer in "In the Penal Colony" is strongly attached to the traditions – in particular, the system of justice – established by the colony's founder, and finds them perfect. Yet the colony itself seems to have left the traditions behind since the death of the founder, and the officer becomes the only person left to defend them. He tries to win over a foreign explorer to his side in the hopes of convincing him to save the colony's traditions from its new Commandant, who appears bent on ending them. But to the explorer, the traditional justice system that the officer loves so much is barbarous.
The officer's account of the way the penal colony used to be is a product of wishful imagining. The "traditions" he speaks of so fondly were never revered by much of the penal colony.