DEFENDING AMERICA: Military Culture and the Cold War Court-Martial

By Valentine, Janet G. | Military Review, March/April 2007 | Go to article overview

DEFENDING AMERICA: Military Culture and the Cold War Court-Martial


Valentine, Janet G., Military Review


DEFENDING AMERICA: Military Culture and the Cold War Court-Martial, Elizabeth Lutes Hillman, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2005, 240 pages, $29.95.

Defending America, according to its publisher, "offers a telling glimpse into a military undergoing a demographic and legal transformation." Elizabeth Lutes Hillman, a military veteran, former Air Force Academy history instructor, and now an associate professor of law at Rutgers University's School of Law, aims to lead the way in both the historical and legal study of the military justice system. Moreover, she contends that studying cold war courts-martial reveals not only the condition of the U.S. armed forces at that time, but also the character of cold war America.

Hillman begins this brief volume with a discussion of post-World War II military justice reform and the institution of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Although the UCMJ provided the accused greater legal protection, it also gave commanders more authority over the definition of crime, thus limiting reform. The new code did, however, reduce the frequency of general courts-martial, largely because the new rules meant that such trials were more likely to expose "military folly." Consequently, the military turned to less public and less drastic forms of discipline, such as Article 15 punishments, to "maintain exclusive military culture." Overall, when convened, courts-martial were intended more as "spectacles" that testified to military values and reinforced the services' control over service-members. Hillman concludes that cold war military justice was ineffectual, biased, and arbitrary.

Other topics of examination include the cold war military's attitude toward dissent within its ranks, the tension between military obligation and family responsibility, race, women, and the sexual conduct of service personnel. In her discussion of official reaction to political dissent, Hillman seems to consider the Army's response to American prisoners of war (POW) who defected at the end of the Korean War a form of political oppression prompted largely by the defectors' low social status. …

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