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  • Military Justice in Vietnam: The Rule of Law in an American War
  • Fred Borch
Military Justice in Vietnam: The Rule of Law in an American War. By William Thomas Allison . Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007. ISBN 0-7006-1460-5. Notes. Index. Pp. xiv, 230. $ 34.95.

This is a very uneven book. This is unfortunate, as the author is a professional historian with several books to his credit and so more is expected. The author's most valuable chapter describes the black market, currency manipulation, and corruption in Vietnam. The first-hand accounts of men who practiced military law in Vietnam are similarly worth reading, because their personal stories provide a unique window into the past. Ultimately, however, the book suffers from three serious shortcomings that significantly undercut its value. First, it makes more than a few claims about military criminal law that are misleading, if not incorrect. Second, the book presents a distorted picture of the military lawyer experience in Vietnam since it does not explain that, because the Armed Forces differed in size and composition—and had different cultures—their judge advocates practiced law in very different ways. Finally, while Military Justice in Vietnam does look at how military justice changed during the years of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the book fails to examine the critical role played by prominent military lawyers like Army Maj. Gens. George S. Prugh and Kenneth J. Hodson, and Marine Col. Donald Holben—an oversight that similarly gives a reader an incomplete picture of military law in Vietnam.

Typical of the misleading statements is this sentence about World War I courts-martial. According to the author, 88 percent of World War I "army trials resulted in conviction; the fact that nearly 75 percent of sentences were later reduced by convening authority showed that they were excessive" (p. 7) (emphasis supplied). This could be a true statement, but Allison provides no evidence to explain why a convening authority's subsequent reduction of a sentence meant it was excessive.

More serious is this misstatement about the appeal process for World War I courts-martial. After the so-called Houston riots of August 1917, sixty- three African American soldiers were convicted by courts-martial and thirteen were sentenced to death and executed. Allison writes: "Because of the vague review process, no higher authority was able to review the sentences before the executions were carried out" (p. 7). This is completely false. [End Page 1315] There was nothing "vague" about the review process. The then-existing Articles of War did not require any review of a court-martial conviction—except that all death sentences had to be "confirmed" by the president. In the Houston riot cases, the convening authority had tasked his staff judge advocate with reviewing the court-martial proceedings to be sure they were properly conducted—even though there was no legal requirement for such a review. More importantly, a state of war existed and, under Article 48, this negated the requirement for presidential confirmation of the death sentences. That is why the men were executed the day after they were convicted. There is no question that this was a miscarriage of justice and, in retrospect, a terrible black mark on military criminal law. But what happened was not the result of a "vague review process."

The author's discussion of military justice in Vietnam also contains misleading statements. This sentence completes a paragraph explaining how difficult it was for military lawyers to conduct courts-martial in Vietnam: "At the height of the military buildup in Vietnam, the army only had 135 judge advocates serving the legal needs of 365,300 troops, and the Marine Corps rotated close to 400 lawyers to Vietnam from 1965 to 1971" (p. 28) (emphasis supplied). In fact, soldier strength peaked at about 365,600 at the end of January 1969, but that is not why this claim is misleading. Rather, the problem is the author's suggestion that 135 judge advocates were insufficient. Why? What was the workload like? How many courts-martial were being prosecuted and defended? Who was complaining about not having enough lawyers? Allison provides no explanation and no source for...


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pp. 1315-1317
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Archived 2010
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