Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Is “Military Justice” an Oxymoron…?

A Spoof

I am glad I read the classic war novel CATCH-22 before I joined the Navy.

It made my life easier in the Navy – as Catch-22 helped me understand the crazy ways of the Navy – and – I could draw parallels between the characters in Catch-22 and the eccentric characters I encountered in the Navy.

Written by Joseph Heller – Catch-22 is a fictional spoof – satire – but then – isn’t humor the best way to tell the truth…?

In his inimitable satirical style – Joseph Heller encapsulates the essence of the military justice system in Chapter 8 of Catch-22 – which describes the Trial of Cadet Clevinger.


Dear Reader – With a view to give you a glimpse into the military justice system – I will give you select “nuggets” from Chapter 8 of Catch-22 here (extracts quoted from the book are in italics)

Military Style “Justice” is the theme of Chapter 8 of Catch-22 – which describes Cadet Clevinger’s Trial – a profound satire on institutional justice in general – and military justice in particular.

Clevinger, an Aviation Cadet at Cadet School, is under the command of Lieutenant Scheisskopf, an ambitious officer.

Clevinger is a Harvard undergraduate who is an intellectual genius.

Joseph Heller satirically describes Clevinger as “a very serious, very earnest and very conscientious dope”.

Lieutenant Scheisskopf resents Clevinger’s cerebral intellect – especially the fact that Clevinger is proved right (and Lieutenant Scheisskopf  is proved wrong) every time – so Lieutenant Scheisskopf is waiting for an opportunity to take revenge and “fix” Cadet Clevinger.

“Clevinger was a troublemaker and a wise guy.

Lieutenant Scheisskopf knew that Clevinger might cause even more trouble if he wasn’t watched.

Yesterday it was the cadet officers; tomorrow it might be the world.

Clevinger had a mind, and Lieutenant Scheisskopf had noticed that people with minds tended to get pretty smart at times.

Such men were dangerous, and even the new cadet officers whom Clevinger had helped into office were eager to give damning testimony against him.

The case against Clevinger was open and shut.

The only thing missing was something to charge him with…”

Look at the last sentence above:

“The only thing missing was something to charge him with…”

In normal circumstances – an individual commits an offence – and then – he is charged for that offence.

But here:

First – you decide to “fix” someone.

Then – you decide what “offences” to charge him with.

You follow a “Topsy-Turvy” Procedure.

First – you find a “scapegoat” – or – a “difficult” individual who you want to “punish” (like Clevinger)

Then – you find a suitable “offence” to charge him with.

Dear Reader – have you seen this happen – especially if you have served in the military – or in civilian life too…?

As I told you earlier – Lieutenant Scheisskopf is waiting for an opportunity to “fix” Cadet Clevinger.

One day – Clevinger stumbles while marching to class.

The next day Clevinger is formally charged with “breaking ranks while in formation, felonious assault, indiscriminate behaviors, mopery, high treason, provoking, being a smart guy, listening to classical music, and so on…”

In short – they throw the book at him – and soon – Cadet Clevinger is facing Trial for the “offences” he is charged with committing.

There are 3 “Judges” in the “Action Board” to conduct the Trial of Cadet Clevinger:  

1. A bloated Colonel – with a big fat mustache
2. Major Metcalf – who is trying to develop a steely gaze
3. Lieutenant Scheisskopf

Yes – Lieutenant Scheisskopf is a member of the “Action Board”…

“…as a member of the Action Board – Lieutenant Scheisskopf was one of the judges who would weigh the merits of the case against Clevinger as presented by the prosecutor.

Lieutenant Scheisskopf was also the prosecutor.

Clevinger had an officer defending him.

The officer defending him was Lieutenant Scheisskopf…”

Lieutenant Scheisskopf is Clevinger’s “Prosecutor”, “Defender”, and a “Judge” in the Trial Board too.  

And – of course – as Clevinger's Commanding Officer – Lieutenant Scheisskopf is the “Accuser” – who has charged Clevinger with the “offences” for which he is on Trial.

Ha Ha – Lieutenant Scheisskopf is a “4-in-1” – the “Accuser”, the “Prosecutor”, the “Defender”, and a “Judge”

The description of Clevinger’s Trial is hilarious – and – you must read it in Chapter 8 of Catch-22.

Clevinger is tried for a list of nonsensical charges that neither Clevinger nor the three judges can make much sense of.

However – since he has been accused – the aim is to find Clevinger guilty.

Guilty of what…?

That does not matter.

He has to be found GUILTY – that’s all.

So – Cadet Clevinger is found “Guilty” – simply because he was “Accused”

In a unanimous decision – the Trial Board finds Cadet Clevinger GUILTY.

“…Clevinger was guilty, of course, or he would not have been accused, and since the only way to prove it was to find him guilty, it was their patriotic duty to do so…”


To the best of my knowledge – a Navy Court-Martial comprises between 5 and 9 Members (Judges) – and – I guess that Military Courts similarly comprise multiple members – probably odd numbers.

So – a Military/Navy Court-Martial is akin to a “Bench” of a Civilian Court – a “Bench” can comprise of a number of Judges.

However – there is one big difference.

A “Bench” of a Civilian Court may give a “unanimous decision” – or may deliver a “majority verdict”.

In case of a majority verdict – all the judgements are made public – including the dissenting judgements.  

This is not so in a Navy Court-Martial.

To the best of my knowledge:

1. In case the findings are not unanimous – and there is difference of opinion between Members of the Court-Martial – the verdict is decided by the vote of the majority.

2. In case of a majority judgement – the names and views of the dissenting members are not made public – only the decision is announced in open court (unlike in a Civilian “Bench” where names of dissenting Judges and their Judgements are made public)

I don’t know whether it is the same in a Military Court-Martial (Army/AirForce).

But – as far as Navy Court-Martial is concerned – let me quote the relevant sub-sections from Section 118 of the Navy Act, 1957:

Section118 – Drawing up of the finding

(1) The trial judge advocate shall then draw up the finding as announced by the court.
(2) The finding so drawn up shall be signed by all the members of the court by way of attestation notwithstanding any difference of opinion there may have been among the members and shall be countersigned by the trial judge advocate.
(5) Neither the court nor the trial judge advocate shall announce in open court whether the finding was unanimous or not; but the president shall make a record of the division of voting on each finding without disclosing the vote or opinion of any particular member of the court-martial and such record shall be communicated to the trial judge advocate for transmission to the Judge Advocate-General of the Navy.


Dear Reader:

After reading this – do you feel that “Military Justice” an Oxymoron…? 

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1. This blog post is a spoof, satire, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
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