Book Review: Conduct Unbecoming: Fifteen Military Criminals, Rogues and Victims of Justice from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam

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by Scott Baron and James Wise, Jr.

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016. Pp. x, 254. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $35.00 paper. ISBN: 147666269X

American Military Justice in Action, for Better or Worse

Independent scholars Scott Baron and the late James Wise, who have an impressive number of books to their credit either together or separately, take a look at fifteen notably military trials, whether by court martial or tribunal, in American history.

The cases a mix of the well known and the now largely forgotten. Among the more well known are the trials of Henry Wirz, Eddie Slovik, and William Calley, while among the largely forgotten, are members of Washington’s bodyguard who conspired to assassinate general, Cdr. Alexander McKenzie of the “Somers Mutiny,” the “San Patricios” of the Mexican War, the 1942 German “Operation Pistorious” saboteurs, and the Korean War deserter Robert Jenkins. One forgotten trial was that of one very well known American, Paul Revere, accused of disobedience of orders during the Revolutionary War.

Some of the trials had more lasting consequence than others, notable that of Cdr. McKenzie, which sparked the creation of the Naval Academy, and that of Lambdin Milligan, which settled the legality of secession.

About a third of the cases involve African-Americans, including West Point cadet Johnson C. Whittaker, and the alleged “mutinies” by black personnel, such as the Camp Logan in 1917 or Port Chicago in 1944, raising questions of institutional and cultural bias, command interference, and the rights of service members.

In general the authors present the issues well, providing more or less background as the individual case requires. While the authors are more sympathetic to Wirz than the evidence suggests, overlooking wartime Confederate criticism of his management of Andersonville, in general their treatment of the cases is even handed, and they are willing to point out where the system failed.

While can quibble about the absence of other cases, perhaps most notably those of FtizJohn Porter or Billy Mitchell, this is a useful read for anyone interested in the workings of the military justice system or in any of the cases examined.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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