Toward a Theory of Civil–Military Punishment

Article appearing in Armed Forces & Society

  • Co-Author:
  • Daniel Bessner with Eric Lorber
  • Publisher: Sage Journals
  • Date: May 2, 2012

This article addresses a significant question in American civil–military relations: under what conditions will civilian principals punish military leaders for shirking? In order to inductively derive a theory of civil–military punishment, the authors examine two cases of military shirking where there is little doubt that insubordination occurred. The first case the authors analyze is Douglas MacArthur’s insubordination under Harry Truman during the Korean War, and the second is Colin Powell’s scuttling of Bill Clinton’s plan to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military in late 1992 and early 1993. This analysis indicates that two factors are linked to civil–military punishment. First, the salience of the issue at stake determines whether he or she decides to punish shirking. The second factor linked to punishment is whether or not the civilian has the military’s support to pursue punishment.