Statutory Law: History of Military Law in the United States of America
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Statutory Law: History of Military Law in the United States of America

The US has a history of over 200 years in evolving its code of military justice. The first step was the Articles of War 1775, which were with minor modifications a copy of the British Articles of War 1774. The Articles of war were again revised in 1806. Modifications were made during World War I, but after World war II the Articles of War were declared obsolete and the Uniform military code came into force

The United States maintains the second largest military force in the world with almost 1.47 million men under arms. This is a shade more than India which has a force level of 1.41 million and way behind China which has 2.5 million men under arms. American military history commences from the time it was a colony of the British. The British were the first who enacted their Articles of War in 1774 in the USA. This is similar to the Articles of War the British enacted in India.

Articles of War are rules and regulations for the conduct of men under arms i.e. regular armies. It is a means of enforcing discipline.  In 1775 with war imminent between the settlers and the British colonizers in the USA, the Articles of War consisting of 69 sections was adopted by the Second International Congress for the Continental Army. The first set of Articles of War with minor modifications was a copy of the British Articles of war of 1774. The Articles of War 1775 were adopted before the declaration of Independence and the raisen d etre was mentioned in the opening paragraph which stated that these articles of war are framed as His Majesty’s government has by force of arms committed several unconstitutional and oppressive acts. The Articles of War were drafted by John Adams who was an attorney at that time.

This was the beginning of Military law in the United States. The Articles of War were ratified in 1789 by the US Congress after the declaration of Independence in 1776.

.The Articles of War 1775 was felt inadequate and they were revised in 1806. The scope of the Articles of War was greatly increased and the new Articles of War had 101 sections. These Articles of War were fairly comprehensive and stood the test of time for close to 150 years. These Articles of War applied to both the Navy and the Army. Even during the Second World War no need was felt to revise these Articles, though a new element the Air Force had appeared on the scene.

A quick reading of the Articles of War 1806 clearly reveals that it was applicable only to men in uniform. Civilians, even those working in the war department never came under the purview of the Articles of War. The Articles of War did have some changes incorporated during the First World War. This was after 13 Black enlisted men were summarily executed after a Court Martial after riots in Houston in November 1917. The then Secretary of war Newton D Barker prohibited further executions without approval from Washington.

A widespread need was felt to revise the Articles of War after the Second World War. With a new Independent Air Force, Congress dropped the word Articles of War and replaced it with the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). This was signed into law by President Truman in 1951. The UCMJ had many revolutionary provisions and overall is a more humane approach to Military Justice.

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