A timely, provocative account of how military justice has shaped American society since the nation’s beginnings.
Historian and former soldier Chris Bray tells the sweeping story of military justice from the earliest days of the republic to contemporary arguments over using military courts to try foreign terrorists or soldiers accused of sexual assault. Stretching from the American Revolution to 9/11, Court-Martial recounts the stories of famous American court-martials, including those involving President Andrew Jackson, General William Tecumseh Sherman, Lieutenant Jackie Robinson, and Private Eddie Slovik. Bray explores how encounters of freed slaves with the military justice system during the Civil War anticipated the civil rights movement, and he explains how the Uniform Code of Military Justice came about after World War II.
With a great eye for narrative, Bray hones in on the human elements of these stories, from Revolutionary-era militiamen demanding the right to participate in political speech as citizens, to black soldiers risking their lives during the Civil War to demand fair pay, to the struggles over the court-martial of Lieutenant William Calley and the events of My Lai during the Vietnam War. Throughout, Bray presents readers with these unvarnished voices and his own perceptive commentary.
Military justice may be separate from civilian justice, but it is thoroughly entwined with American society. As Bray reminds us, the history of American military justice is inextricably the history of America, and Court-Martial powerfully documents the many ways that the separate justice system of the armed forces has served as a proxy for America’s ongoing arguments over equality, privacy, discrimination, security, and liberty.
About the Author
Chris Bray, a former infantry sergeant in the United States Army, holds a PhD in history from UCLA. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. He lives in Los Angeles.
In his first book, a former infantry sergeant-turned-historian surveys more than 200 years of the administration of American military justice. . . . A thoroughly impressive debut.
[Chris] Bray, a former sergeant turned military historian, helps put the lie to the idea that law is a recent arrival on the battlefield. He rightly sees law as a weapon that has powerfully shaped the way America has fought its wars, from the Revolution to the present day.
— John Fabian Witt
[An] impressively researched, well-written, and thoroughly entertaining account of military justice in U.S. history. . . . What one repeatedly sees in Court-Martial is a military justice system which, for all its shortcomings, has played an integral role in helping America discover its best self.
— Mike Fischer
An absorbing chronicle of American justice, short of legalese, that will provide grist for discussion in both civilian and military contexts.
With a sharp eye and a dry wit, Chris Bray gives us a page-turning tour of court-martial cases that reveal the fundamental questions, values, and debates that have shaped American history. A fantastic book.
— Lorien L. Foote, author of The Gentlemen and the Roughs
Bray, a historian and former U.S. Army infantry sergeant, explores a neglected aspect of American legal and social history . . . in this persuasive study of the relationship of military courts-martial to broader social questions.
Chris Bray has written a fascinating book about the role of military justice in American history. Drawing on his experience as a soldier and his training as a historian, Bray offers a lively and compelling account of how military decisions have shaped American law and life from the Founding Era to the War on Terror. This is a story that every American should know and understand.”
— Jonathan W. White, author of Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln