Why the Billy Mitchell Case Still Matters: Some Notes on the First Amendment, International Law, Civil Rights, and a Pioneer of Military
Jonathan L. Entin
Case Western Reserve University - School of Law
Journal of Air Law and Commerce, Vol. 70, p. 577, 2005
Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-11
Last fall marked the eightieth anniversary of the Billy Mitchell court-martial. This article focuses on two legal issues that have received little attention in the many works dealing with the legendary pioneer of air warfare. First, it examines in detail Mitchell's half-hearted First Amendment defense at his trial, explaining that a vigorous free speech defense would have undermined his larger goal of using the proceedings as a forum to appeal for public support of his ideas and also that such a defense almost certainly would have failed on the merits not only at the time but also today. Second, it shows that some of Mitchell's central ideas rested in uneasy tension with international law because he advocated almost indiscriminate bombing of both military and civilian targets for the purpose of intimidating the general population of enemy nations. I conclude by explaining Mitchell's involvement, as prosecution witness and propagandist for white supremacy, in a racially charged murder case in which Charles Hamilton Houston, the mentor of Justice Thurgood Marshall, served as defense counsel at the request of the NAACP.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 42
Keywords: First Amendment, nternational Law, Civil Rights, Legal History
JEL Classification: K10, K33Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: May 24, 2006
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