For decades, debate has raged over whether the military justice system is foremost a tool to preserve discipline within the armed forces or a means of dispensing justice on a par with civilian criminal justice systems. From the dawn of American military law in 1775 through World War II, the answer was obvious: military justice was primarily a tool commanders used to maintain discipline. In 1950, however, Congress enacted the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Through amendments over the past half century, the American military justice system has evolved into what it is today: not quite a mirror image of the civilian federal criminal justice system, but vastly more fair than in the days of drumhead courts and the lash, according to the authors, both practicing attorneys and former military officers.
Their book scrutinizes the current military justice system, identifying its strengths and weaknesses and pointing the way toward further improvements. Included are essays written about the American military justice system over the past decade by such notable authorities as Sam Nunn, former Senator from Georgia; Andrew S. Effron, Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces; and Brig. Gen. Jerry S.T. Pitzul, Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Forces. Some defend military justice, while others are critical. The book then shifts its focus overseas to compare the U.S. system with those of several other common law countries. Designed to provoke thought about military justice among military justice practitioners and military line officers alike, the book is introduced with an essay by William K. Suter, Clerk of the U.S. Supreme court.