Military Justice in America: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, 1775-1980

Article excerpt

By Jonathan Lurie. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001. 348 pages. $25.00.

If only real life were as electrifying as the TV show JAG. While the lives of real Judge Advocate General (JAG) officers and judges are usually not so stimulating, there is often hidden conflict and drama in the law. Those hidden elements are shown in Jonathan Lurie's book Military Justice in America: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, 1775-1980.

Lurie's foundation is the constant struggle to balance justice and discipline. Those who want commanders to maintain maximum control of their troops with swift punishment battle against the reformers who want to ensure citizen-soldiers receive fair treatment and just punishments, similar to the treatment received in civilian courts. Those supporting the status quo try to protect the commanders to aid them in maintaining good order and discipline, so we can have effective units protecting the nation. The reformers try to make military justice as fair as possible, under the supervision of an appellate court system.

These abstract intellectual struggles do not involve car chases, shootouts, or explosions. Rather, Lurie's history details conflicts that take years and decades to resolve. The individual cases are often key milestones.

Lurie provides a long historical background of courts-martial in America. This is important information about the development of military legal concepts from 1775 until 1951. The historical focus helps the reader understand the impetus for the reforms that lead to the creation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in 1951. Lurie skillfully explains the political influences that created the UCMJ and the court. The remainder of the book focuses on how the court continued to evolve from its creation until 1980.

This book will appeal to JAG officers, and to other military officers and historians interested in the history of the court and the UCMJ. …