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Book Review: Command Influence: A Story of Korea and the Politics of Injustice by Robert A. Shaines

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Command Influence: A Story of Korea and the Politics of Injustice by Robert A. Shaines is a first-hand account of the trial of Lt. George C. Schreiber, written by his military defense attorney. At the time Mr. Shaines was a young idealistic attorney, part of a defense team which had a losing battle on their hands.

The story takes place in Pusan, Korea, in 1952. Lt. George C. Schreiber is the 25-year-old second lieutenant in charge of the Air Police (Air Force) guard unit. The former fifth grade teacher from Brookfield, IL is charged and court martialed for premeditated murder.

For the 23-year-old Air Force lawyer (and author of this memoir) the charge makes no sense, and he does his best, convinced of Lt. Schreiber’s innocence, to get the accused released.

Command Influence is a captivating book in which Mr. Shaines recounts his memories of the case of The United States v. Lt. George C. Schreiber. Lt. Schreiber was the appointed scapegoat in a trial for the murder of a Korean man (whose real name was never found). Mr. Shaines, a military attorney on the Lieutenant’s defense team, was fighting a battle whose outcome was already decided.

Part of the book is a scathing criticism of what was then the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ); part of it is a memoir and part is composed of interjections by Mr. Shaines himself. The title of the book comes from what Mr. Shaines said drove the trial—mainly, that those in command influenced the outcome regardless of justice. Unfortunately “command influence” is still seen these days, if not in the courts then in reshaping history.

As a former soldier myself I can certainly understand how a lowly grunt feels when being grilled by a superior officer, looking for the “right” answers regardless of what is just. On top of that keep in mind that not having the “right” answers could make your life extremely difficult—the last thing a grunt wants in a war zone.

Mr. Shaines goes to great lengths to make his point: that Lt. Schreiber was set up by the commanding generals to appease the Koreans and the mother of the soldier who actually killed the Korean man (Schreiber was charged with giving the order). The author quotes letters, court transcripts, conversations, press releases, and other relevant material.

This is a very convincing memoir, and I have no doubt, as does the author and anyone who actually followed the trial (including lawyers not on the team), as to Lt. Schreiber’s innocence. It is fascinating to read the transcripts and get the lawyer’s opinion of how those questions and answers made important points during the trial, how the behavior affected the outcome, and what it’s like to deal with and argue in front of a hostile person who outranks you.

To me, the last few chapters were especially fascinating and by themselves worth the price of the book. Mr. Shaines explains how this specific court case is still relevant to this day. The case forced the U.S. Congress to tweak the UCMJ and put better measures in place to protect civilians who have been discharged from the military. The implications of this case still resound with us today, when the President can order a citizen arrested without trial and the shadow of Guantanamo Bay floats over the news headlines almost daily.

However, I thought the book could have been a bit better written and edited. The narrative didn’t flow smoothly at times; some of the descriptions were reiterated unnecessarily; and I don’t know if it was essential at times to quote from the transcripts verbatim instead of simply summarizing questioning and adding the transcripts as appendices at the end of the book. Not that the transcripts (for example) weren’t valuable—they were, but sometimes they just slowed down this important story and the sense it creates that most all involved were simply pawns in a power game among the military high command.

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  • Robert Shaines

    Thanks for the review. I agree with your comments about some of the transcript being too much. However the quality of the transcript was such that it would not have been useful to add it as an appendix as much of it would not have been very legible. Plus, with diffferent court reporters of varying skill writing the verbatim transcripts, some of it wouldn’t read very well. So I did the best I could with what I had to keep it interesting. Overall I appreciate your review including the critique.