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How Bergdahl’s Case Perverts Military Justice

In his 60-year old classic study of U.S. civil-military relations, The Soldier and the State, the late Samuel Huntington observed the traditional attitude of liberal American society toward the military was “conform or die.” During periods of peace, when security was not at stake, he contended, liberalism’s policy was “extirpation,” the attempt to eliminate the military as an “institution of violence.” During wartime, liberalism’s policy has been “transmutation,” the “refashioning of the military institutions along liberal lines so that they lose their peculiarly military characteristics.”

A major example of transmutation was the post-World War II change in the military justice system culminating in the creation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Before the UCMJ, the U.S. Army and Navy had been governed by the Articles of War (the Navy’s version was called “Rocks and Shoals”). Critics claimed that the Articles gave too much authority to commanding officers, were too arbitrary, and did not meet the standards of justice in a liberal society. Attitudes toward the pre-UCMJ system of military justice were captured by this ditty: “Let the wheels of justice spin/Bring the guilty bastard in.” Such a system, employed for generations to maintain order and discipline in an army and navy made up of long-term volunteers, did not seem appropriate for the large military made up of draftees, deemed necessary to confront the Soviet threat during the Cold War.

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