Monday, June 9, 2014

Book review: "Defending America" by Elizabeth Lutes Hillman

One safe bet about the Bergdahl case seems to be that the court-martial, if there ever is one, will become a referendum on his patriotism, honor, and conformance with military values. The prominence of these moral questions is a big reason why military justice can be such a fascinating field to watch.

So it was too in the Cold War. In her important 2005 book, "Defending America: Military Culture and the Cold War Court-Martial," Elizabeth Lutes Hillman convincingly argues that courts-martial under the UCMJ during the Cold War were less concerned with punishing crime than with reinforcing military values and punishing those who strayed from them.

Professor Hillman's book gets my highest rating because it advances new ideas and backs them up with deep research. It breathes life into old and forgotten courts-martial to tell the history of the U.S. military in the first decades under the UCMJ.


  1. It's interesting to consider what aspects of courts-martial encourage this emphasis on moral judgment. For starters, the government seems to enjoy latitude to put morality on trial by charging the ever-broad articles 133 (conduct unbecoming an officer) and 134 (conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline, service-discrediting conduct). The accused gets unsworn statements and the ability to wear a uniform with rank and decorations.

  2. Being able to dive deeply into an apparently obscure area of military law, advance new ideas and breathe life into it is an underrated gift!
    On the subject of articles 133 and 134, it would be interesting to compare the Chinese counterparts.

    1. Susan, I am already looking forward to your post on the PLA's equivalents of articles 133 and 134.


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