Military Justice

October 7, 1970

Report Outline
Recent Attacks on Military Law
Development of U.S. Military Justice
Challenges Facing Servicemen's Courts
Special Focus

Recent Attacks on Military Law

New Questioning of Fairness in Military Courts

The fairness of military justice is being challenged more persistently today than at any time since the end of World War II. Stimulated by the grievances of draftees fighting an unpopular war, Americans are asking questions that go to the heart of a paradox: How much freedom must a soldier give up when he puts on a uniform in the name of defending freedom? Military courts, in particular, are objects of controversy. Do they protect or abrogate the citizen soldier's constitutional rights'? Are they dedicated to the pursuit of justice? Or are they a means of enforcing military discipline? On one hand, knowledgeable critics assert that U.S. military tribunals are draconian and that their real purpose is to carry out the wishes of commanders. But equally qualified authorities maintain that the military system of justice is at least as fair as its civilian counterpart and may even be superior in some respects.

If military justice is indeed defective in this country, it commends itself to public attention. Some three million American men and women in the armed forces are subject to it. There were more than 91,000 courts-martial in the 1970 fiscal year. Many thousands of servicemen have received long prison sentences under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Thousands more have received less-than-honor-able discharges at the hands of military tribunals—a fact that often hurts their ability to gain and hold employment outside the armed services.

More than anything else, a series of highly publicized trials by war dissenters in uniform focused attention on the military legal system. The trials included those of Capt. Howard B, Levy, an Army doctor who refused to teach medical techniques to Special Forces (Green Berets); 2nd Lt. Henry Howe Jr., who took part in an anti-war demonstration; Seaman Robert L. Priest and Pfc. Bruce Petersen, editors of underground newspapers; and the so-called Ft. Jackson Eight. Other significant cases included the Presidio stockade mutiny convictions.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Ethics in War
Sep. 16, 2022  The War in Ukraine
Jul. 13, 2012  Privatizing the Military
Aug. 06, 2010  Drone Warfare Updated
May 2010  Confronting Rape as a War Crime
Jan. 2010  Truth Commissions
Feb. 27, 2009  Closing Guantánamo Updated
Jul. 2008  Child Soldiers
Sep. 2007  Torture Debate
Aug. 25, 2006  Treatment of Detainees
Apr. 18, 2003  Torture
Dec. 13, 2002  Ethics of War
Sep. 13, 2002  New Defense Priorities
Jul. 07, 1995  War Crimes
Apr. 26, 1972  Status of War Prisoners
Oct. 07, 1970  Military Justice
Jul. 12, 1967  Treatment of War Prisoners
Dec. 03, 1952  War Prisoner Repatriation
Sep. 07, 1948  War Trials and Future Peace
Jul. 07, 1945  Enemy Property
Nov. 20, 1943  Courts-Martial and Military Law
Mar. 15, 1943  War Guilt Trials
Mar. 30, 1942  War Atrocities
Feb. 02, 1942  Prisoners of War
Aug. 11, 1938  Aerial Bombardment of Civilian Populations
Federal Courts
Military Law and Justice
Supreme Court History and Decisions