The war on standards, military justice edition

Black members of the military services are disciplined more frequently than white military services members. This fact isn’t surprising. Black public school students are disciplined more frequently than white public students. Black civilians commit a disproportionate number of homicides and other violent crimes.

There is no reason to infer discrimination from the fact that blacks are disciplined by the military to a disproportionate degree. It might well be that blacks are disciplined more frequently because they commit more offenses.

Yet, Rep. Jackie Speier, chair of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee, is demanding that senior defense officials acknowledge that the military justice system is biased. The hearing she held this week was called “Racial Disparity in the Military Justice System — How to Fix the Culture.”

But does the military culture need fixing in this regard? Nothing in this report by the Washington Post about the hearing suggests that it does.

Judging from the Post’s report, the best Speier could do was to sniff that “the results [of the military justice system] are repugnant.” But they are repugnant only if they are unjust. And they are unjust only if black personnel are being wrongfully charged or convicted to a disproportionate degree or if white personnel are disproportionately being let off the hook improperly.

Lt. Gen. Charles Pede, the Army judge advocate general, testified that “my experience tells me that we have an extraordinarily healthy system of justice.” He added, however, that “we simply do not know what we don’t know.”

Fair enough. There would be nothing wrong with a fair-minded investigation into whether systemic racial bias exists in the military discipline system. That investigation wouldn’t focus on numbers, but instead on whether a close examination of individual cases reveals a pattern of disparate treatment of similarly situated personnel based on race.

However, Pede seemed to skip that step. He told the subcommittee “it is our job to discover what needs fixing and to fix it.”

No, his proper job is to determine whether anything needs fixing and, if so, to fix it. Mere numerical disparities aren’t evidence that anything needs to be fixed.

The view that they are suggests a willingness to use, de facto, two different disciplinary standards — one for whites and a more lenient one for blacks — in order to make the numbers come out right. (As we have pointed out many times in many contexts, per Jim Scanlan, a lowering of standards for all groups might well increase the disparity in racial outcomes.) This would amount to systemic discrimination in favor of blacks in the administration of military justice.

Such a regime wouldn’t simply be unjust; it would tend to undermine the military. I hope we haven’t reached the point where our military can be browbeaten by the left into going this far.