In her 2010 work, A More Perfect Military, Professor Diane Mazur delves into the relationship between the American constitutional system and the military as it exists today. She directly confronts a subject that most serious scholars shy away from, because, as she points out, “no on . . . ever wants to be accused of not supporting the troops.” It helps that she spent the early part of her career as an active duty Air Force officer.
She points out, as other serious thinkers in the field have, that respect for the military and healthy civil-military relations are two very different things. Part of the problem is that in our zeal to honor those who have chosen to serve, we discourage those who have not from taking part in national debates on military issues. We assume that a citizen who has never served is incapable of understanding the armed forces and so should not, even in the broadest of policy debates, weigh in on matters affecting the military.
Professor Mazur does an excellent job of outlining the current state of civil-military relations and offers a clear and easy to follow recitation of the standard explanations for the current “civil-military” gap. This book could easily serve as a primer for those new to the field. However, it is her discussion of the effect of Supreme Court jurisprudence on both military culture and civilian perceptions of the armed forces that sets this work apart from others in the field.
The core of Mazur’s work argues that, over the last thirty-five years, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently undermined the military’s traditional relationship to law and the constitution, and in so doing, contributed as much to the current civil-military divide as the switch to an all-volunteer force.
Mazur traces a line of Supreme Court cases, the most recent of which, Rumsfeld v. FAIR, was decide in 2005, that she believes have significantly eroded the bond between the American military and the constitution. While these cases purport to protect the military institution by partially insulating it from legal scrutiny and raising the bar for judicial review, the effect has been to widen the cultural gap between the armed forces and the public at large. By insulating the military, the court has created a presumption within the civilian community that the military is something separate from the rest of the country, something that cannot be understood from the outside and that should be left to its own judgment. At the same time, the court’s decisions have fostered a culture within the armed forces that is at best resentful, and often hostile, to civilian legal institutions. This, she argues, directly contributed to a failure in the military legal system with respect to detainees from our post 9/11 conflicts and set the stage for the prisoner abuse and torture scandals of recent years.
At only 200 pages, this book is concise, clear, and tightly focused on the most important aspects of modern civil-military affairs. There are times when the narrative seems to diverge from her primary point, and the work could have been strengthened with a minor restructuring of the sequence of chapters, but these are minor quibbles with a work that should be essential reading in the field of civil-military relations. Whether you ultimately agree with Professor Mazur’s conclusions or not, you will come away from this work with a new appreciation for the ways in which our federal courts can subtlety shape popular culture and for how the basic structure of our constitutional system frames the relationships between our armed forces and the broader American society.