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?

Learning from the organizational structure of al-Qaida

Studying organizations is hot today and here is some real-world evidence: US Special Operations forces were aided in their search for terrorists by mimicking al-Qaida’s structure.

One of the greatest ironies of the 9/11 Era: while politicians, generals and journalists lined up to denounce al-Qaida as a brutal band of fanatics, one commander thought its organizational structure was kind of brilliant. He set to work rebuilding an obscure military entity into a lethal, agile, secretive and highly networked command — essentially, the U.S.’ very own al-Qaida. It became the most potent weapon the U.S. has against another terrorist attack.

That was the work of Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal is best known as the general who lost his command in Afghanistan after his staff shit-talked the Obama administration to Rolling Stone. Inescapable as that public profile may be, it doesn’t begin to capture the impact he made on the military. McChrystal’s fingerprints are all over the Joint Special Operations Command, the elite force that eventually killed Osama bin Laden. As the war on terrorism evolves into a series of global shadow wars, JSOC and its partners — the network McChrystal painstakingly constructed — are the ones who wage it.

Very interesting. This story suggests that factors manpower, equipment, and even charismatic leadership can only go so far: an organization’s structure is vital to its outcome.

Several Weberian thoughts that I have:
1. If this course of action is now considered a success, would the rest of the Armed Forces (and even other organizations) be willing to change their organizational structures? Is this the end of bureaucracy in the Armed Forces or could there be other global situations or battlefields where a traditional bureaucratic structure works better?

2. The article places a lot of emphasis on General McChrystal and his finer and lesser moments. Is McChrystal a classic example of a “charismatic authority” and if so, can his work be routinized? In his forthcoming book, will McChrystal put himself at the center of the story? Since it sounds like JSOC has moved on without him with his ideas, was McChrystal’s ultimate role to introduce these ideas and then bow out? And if McChrystal is good at solving such problems, where could he be put to best serve?

A final thought: how would the American public respond to this idea that adopting al-Qaida’s ideas is what can make America (and its military) great? Is this American pragmatism at work?

The new ritual of civilians saying “thank you for your service” to military personnel

A West Point faculty members discusses a ritual performed by civilians when they encounter members of the American armed services:

These meetings between soldier and civilian turn quickly into street theater. The soldier is recognized with a handshake. There’s often a request for a photograph or the tracing of a six-degrees-of-separation genealogy: “My wife’s second cousin is married to a guy in the 82nd Airborne.” Each encounter concludes with a ritual utterance: “Thank you for your service.”…

The successful reincorporation of veterans into civil society entails a complex, evolving process. Today, the soldier’s homecoming has been further complicated by the absence of a draft, which removes soldiers from the cultural mainstream, and by the fact that the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have little perceptible impact on the rhythms of daily life at home.

Whether anyone ever spat on an American soldier returning from Vietnam is a matter of debate. The sociologist and veteran Jerry Lembcke disputed such tales in “The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam.” Apocryphal or not, this image has become emblematic of an era’s shame, and of the failure of civilians to respond appropriately to the people they had sent to fight a bankrupt war.

The specter of this guilt — this perdurable archetype of the hostile homecoming — animates today’s encounters, which seem to have swung to the other unthinking extreme. “Thank you for your service” has become a mantra of atonement. But, as is all too often the case with gestures of atonement, substance has been eclipsed by mechanical ritual. After the engagement, both parties retreat to separate camps, without a significant exchange of ideas or perspectives having passed between them.

The writer goes on to suggest that this ritual is better than some alternatives but is ultimately a “poor substitute” for needed larger discussions about how war affects individuals who fight in them and how society should respond.

I wonder if anyone could uncover when this ritual began and then became the norm. The article contains the opinions of several soldiers regarding the ritual and it would also be interesting to hear comments from citizens who have said this. Rituals don’t develop because they are pointless: I suspect civilians feel they are doing something good on their end, even if they may be unaware of how it is received on the other end. What percentage of civilians would approach a uniformed soldier if presented the opportunity? Does the usage of the phrase differ by political background and/or support for certain military actions?

In the end, is there anything that a civilian could say in a casual interaction that would adequately address all the complicated issues involved? And is this ritual evidence of what some have suggested is a growing gap between those in those who are in the military versus those who pursue other opportunities?

Numbers to back claims about “SEAL-mania”?

I am often on the look-out for news stories that relate to data analysis and interpretation that I can then use in my Statistics and Social Research classes. Here is an example of the AP reporting on “SEAL-mania”:

Stumpf is one of a growing number of Americans putting themselves through grueling fitness programs modeled after Navy SEAL workouts as interest in the elite military unit has soared since one of its teams killed Osama bin Laden. Everyone these days seems to be dreaming of what it’s like to be a SEAL, know a SEAL or at least look like one.

Book publishers say they cannot order the printings of the memoirs of former SEALs fast enough, while people are dialing 1-800-Hooyah! like mad to get their hands on T-shirts emblazoned with the SEAL insignia and sayings like: “When it absolutely, positively must be destroyed overnight! Call in the US Navy SEALs.”

Awe over the covert operation is even putting the city of Fort Pierce, Fla., on the map for vacation destinations. The city’s National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum — the only museum dedicated to the secretive SEALs — has been flooded with calls from people planning to visit.

But nothing short of joining the SEALs offers a more true-to-life taste of their toughness than the workout places run by ex-Navy commandos.

There may actually be an uptick in interest in Navy SEALS (apparently Disney and others are interested) but the story gives us little actual data to support this. We are told about some books, t-shirts, calls to a museum, and an increase in interest in workouts but no hard numbers to go by. In fact, the story seems to revolve around this tentative sentence: “Everyone these days seems to be dreaming of what it’s like to be a SEAL, know a SEAL or at least look like one.” I am skeptical about claims about “everyone.” The story could at least cite Google trend data (a big spike occurs in early May when searching for “SEALs”) or Twitter trend data (another big spike). These may not be ideal data sources but at least they provide some data beyond broad claims. If a media source wants to make a causal claim (Navy SEALs participation in the Bin Laden raid has led to “SEAL-mania” among Americans), then they should provide some better evidence to back up their argument.

(Another odd thing about this story is that the rest of it is about SEALs workouts. It almost seems as if there was some copy about these workouts waiting to be attached to a larger story and this raid presented itself as an opportunity.)

Patriotism at the Super Bowl

If you want to see what Americans think about their country, sporting events are good places to find out, particularly the Super Bowl, the sporting event of the year.

This year, the pregame featured a reading of the Declaration of Independence. Football players, surrounded by military personnel, read the main parts though we didn’t hear all the grievances regarding the tyranny of the English king. Colin Powell and Roger Goodell finished off the reading.

The two patriotic songs, God Bless America and the Star-Spangled Banner, seemed overwrought. God Bless America had an interesting arrangement at the end while Christiana Aguilera tried her own take on the National Anthem.

Some of this is standard fare at American sporting events. But I’m still trying to figure out how the Declaration of Independence fits with football. It did offer an opportunity to support our military, a cause that often is invoked in big sporting events. But is the idea that because we have freedom and strive for equality as a nation that we therefore should sit together for the next four hours and watch football? Perhaps a little more text could have been added: “We are not red or blue states, Republicans or Democrats: we are united together on this day like no other in our desire to watch football and many commercials.”

This mix of patriotism plus the military plus explicit values plus football seems to have been done in a uniquely American way. The next step sociologically is to discuss this as American civil religion.

What may look like a decent survey is lacking generalizability, military officer edition

The latest issue of Atlantic has an interesting article discussing why a number of US military officers are leaving the military. The argument: the military is too bureaucratic and doesn’t practice meritocracy so the brightest and more entrepreneurial officers leave for other fields.

All of this is interesting but I was struck by the data used for the article. Here is how the author describes the surveys he conducted and draws conclusions from:

In a recent survey I conducted of 250 West Point graduates (sent to the classes of 1989, 1991, 1995, 2000, 2001, and 2004), an astonishing 93 percent believed that half or more of “the best officers leave the military early rather than serving a full career.” By design, I left the definitions of best and early up to the respondents. I conducted the survey from late August to mid-September, reaching graduates through their class scribes (who manage e-mail lists for periodic newsletters). This ensured that the sample included veterans as well as active-duty officers. Among active- duty respondents, 82 percent believed that half or more of the best are leaving. Only 30 percent of the full panel agreed that the military personnel system “does a good job promoting the right officers to General,” and a mere 7 percent agreed that it “does a good job retaining the best leaders.”

This sort of paragraph is very helpful and is toward the front of the story. And the numbers look overwhelming, particularly the first cited figure about 93% believing the best officers leave early.

But there is an issue here: the generalizability of this data. The article suggests surveys were conducted with 250 officers spread across six graduating classes (presumably to help control for time effects). But does this represent West Point graduates on the whole? Does this even represent each graduating class? If one looks at the class page for the graduating class of 2004, there were almost 1,200 entering students. Even if a decent amount leave before graduating, this is a lot more than the 40 or so that would have been surveyed if we had equal representation out of the six graduating classes (250 total surveys divided by six graduate classes).

This does not necessarily mean that these survey results and their interpretation are necessarily wrong. But it should cast doubt: does this survey really speak for all West Point graduates or even more broadly, military officers as a whole? While conducting some sort of survey is better than simply working with anecdotes one hears from officers veterans, this survey could still be improved so that the results could be generalized to all officers. We need a larger N of officers to survey in order to have results that we could really trust.

The home states of military personnel

Richard Florida uses some data to flesh out Defense Secretary Robert Gates recent comment that there is a growing gap between American civilians and the military. Florida suggests part of the issue is the origin of the military personnel: they tend to come from two particular parts of the country.

Aside from relatively high concentrations in Alaska, Hawaii, Washington state, and North Dakota, the military is overwhelmingly concentrated in two distinctive areas of the Sunbelt: The southeast running from Virgina and North Carolina through Kentucky and down through South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi; and the corridor fromTexas through Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming. Texas and California now drop out. The upper mid-west and the northeast, especially New England, which tend to be more liberal and left-leaning than the rest of the nation, have very low concentrations of military personnel.

A couple of thoughts:

1. I don’t think this is terribly surprising (though it is helpful to see it in map form).

2. A question: does the military think it might be worthwhile to try to even out these geographic distributions? If so, how could this be done?

3. Are these differences only due to political views (conservatives vs. liberals) or is this really due to social class?

4. I’m glad Florida added data that accounts for differences in population size – the initial map simply showed more military personnel come from more populous states.

h/t Instapundit