"Be a good boy," wrote a mother to her son, "and get a haircut." It was too late. Airman Third Class Donald Wheeler, 20, stationed near Tokyo, did not "want to walk down the street looking like a shaved jackass," so he was court-martialed.

The story of Wheeler's uncivil disobedience unfolded in an air of solemnity as four Air Force officers sat in judgment at U.S. Fifth Air Force headquarters in Fuchu, 19 miles from Tokyo. As everyone knew, the ceremonial Honor Guard, to which Wheeler belonged, was the very model of modern...

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