Thoughts on Missing Military Justice

It seems counterintuitive that after certain experiences in the Coast Guard that I would miss aspects of military culture. However, after dealing with the University process of investigating and holding a person, with multiple abuse allegations against them, accountable for their actions, I see the parts of the military system that are valuable to good order and discipline. I think these aspects should be considered by personnel involved in university disciplinary systems.

The first difference is that in the military process, I was asked take part in the hearing against the perpetrator, but I was also allowed to contribute my statement and nothing else. It had been years since the incident and I was on my way out of the Coast Guard, so I decided to contribute a statement and nothing further. That was enough to confirm my case and contribute to appropriate justice. In the university case, I was the sole person responsible for bringing up what had happened, despite this person’s history. The university did not reach out to other students or investigate other instances that might have occurred in the campus community. I could contribute only a statement, but nothing further would be done. The pressure was put on me to come forward, despite grounds for seeking out additional problems that could have built the case.

The second difference is the perceived support for victims versus actual justice being served. In 2014, the Coast Guard, was ready to bring justice to victims of a serial abuser. The overall culture was still not supportive towards women. Small units were still toxic and the #metoo movement was still scoffed at by mid-level male leaders. However, the legal might and backbone was there in the military legal teams, at that time. This will is in contrast to 2022, when the university was happy to have a week dedicated to “survivor” awareness campaigns and various community events, however, had no backbone when it came to finding responsibility and holding someone accountable.

In this particular case, the lack of strength from those on the panel occurred despite one panel member’s description that the instance of abuse was,“established by a preponderance of the evidence,” and the other panel members’ conclusion that they “were not convinced that a violation did not happen.” Six out of six people were pretty sure the incident happened, yet they cowered at the responsibility of taking a stand against the violence. They were all more than happy though, to condemn that type of violence in their annual take back the night events. Only one person showed the moral courage to make the call for responsibility and, unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for documented accountability. I know the military doesn’t always have it right in these types of cases, but in the case against that predator in 2014, there were at least enough people involved who were ready to serve justice.

The third difference was in the control of the room. Although I did not attend the hearing for the Coast Guard case, I am almost certain the accused abuser was not allowed to hold the floor longer that necessary for them to answer what was asked. Contrastingly, the university panel operated with almost no rules, allowing anyone to speak and interrupt at any moment. The lack of order created confusion and wasted time that could have been dedicated to follow up questions and holding the accused accountable for sticking to the topic at hand. Clearly, the panel was not swayed by the circus, but it was embarrassing to see grown adults unable to hold their own in a hearing for which they supposedly trained. It was during that time that I missed military structure and their ability to tell someone to stop talking and enforce it as needed.

Overall, the situations were different. In one, I did not come forward, but I later contributed to a grander case. In the other, I came forward on my own and was left to battle it on my own. At the university, I had the emotional support of others, but not the structural enforcement that would have allowed someone to be held accountable. In the military, I had a detailed understanding of what was asked of me and what would happen in the court room. Although the military situation wasn’t the most supportive process, personally, I would prefer actual accountability over university happy community feels.

My best guess is that the will for justice, or lack thereof in the university case, comes from the fact that people will sue universities for unwanted outcomes, however justified those outcomes may be, while the military will almost certainly not be sued for their implementation of justice. The backbone seems to develop from a presence or lack of threat to retaliation on the system.

Of course, to go back further, the accused in the university case also seemed to have escaped the military justice system during their time, so perhaps there is more to learn about what influences the will for justice. There is an obvious ease that comes with moving someone out of your system and letting them go on to disrupt others.

What a show



Caroline Walsh

Caroline Walsh


Former CIA Analyst and Coastie. PhD Student. Author of Fairly Smooth Operator: My life occasionally at the tip of the spear, available now!