Military sociologist coined the term “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

While the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” disappeared yesterday in the American armed forces, I wonder how many people know the term originated with a sociologist:

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prohibited gays from serving openly in the military is over, and the web is full of renewed interest in the phrase’s history. Who, folks want to know, coined the expression?

Credit goes to the late Charles Moskos, a military sociologist and professor from Northwestern University. The phrase, which was later expanded to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue, Don’t Harrass,” came about during the first term of the Clinton administration. At the time, the policy was viewed as a kind of compromise. It allowed gay men and women to serve in the military, provided they did not openly admit to their sexual preference. It also prohibited other military personnel from asking questions. In other words, don’t ask, don’t tell…

As a younger man, Moskos served in the United States Army as a company clerk, before going on to a distinguished academic career. In 1997, he was honored by the American Sociological Association. According to an article from Northwestern, “some of the gay and lesbian and sex and gender people organized a silent protest” due to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” After the ceremony, he spoke to the protesters “and made friends with some of them, even though they disagree with his position.”

Beyond the controversial policy, Moskos was seen as a highly influential voice in military policy. The Wall Street Journal called him the country’s “most influential military sociologist.” Though he was the person behind the policy, Moskos did recognize its shortcomings. “I always say about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ what Winston Churchill said about democracy: ‘It’s the worst system possible except for any other,'” remarked Moskos.

Here is Moskos’ 2008 obituary from the Washington Post.

It is not too often these days that you hear about military sociologists. While I haven’t looked into the topic much, I get the sense that they used to be more common back before sociologists (and academics in other disciplines) started raising more critical questions about US foreign and military policy. Would it be acceptable at any universities these days to have or start a “war studies” program or center as opposed to “peace studies” programs or centers more commonly found today?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s