Why the Billy Mitchell Case Still Matters: Some Notes on the First Amendment, International Law, Civil Rights, and a Pioneer of Military

42 Pages Posted: 24 May 2006

See all articles by Jonathan L. Entin

Jonathan L. Entin

Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Abstract

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.

Keywords: First Amendment, nternational Law, Civil Rights, Legal History

JEL Classification: K10, K33

Suggested Citation

Entin, Jonathan L., Why the Billy Mitchell Case Still Matters: Some Notes on the First Amendment, International Law, Civil Rights, and a Pioneer of Military. Journal of Air Law and Commerce, Vol. 70, p. 577, 2005; Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-11. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=904195

Jonathan L. Entin (Contact Author)

Case Western Reserve University School of Law ( email )

11075 East Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106-7148
United States
216-368-3321 (Phone)
216-368-2086 (Fax)

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