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?

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?

The psychology and sociology of being a soldier

This piece discusses the psychological states of soldiers. A quick summary: studies after World War II found that most soldiers were not shooting to kill, training in subsequent decades effectively trained soldiers to kill, a recent study suggests that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rapidly increased among American soldiers, starting in Vietnam, but didn’t increase among British soldiers, and a new book argues that American soldiers have more PTSD simply because they were expected to.

Sounds like an interesting subject area: how are individual soldiers affected by training techniques that prepare them to kill? What seems most interesting here is the disparity in PTSD between British and American soldiers. It reminds me of a book I read years ago that suggests that ADD and ADHD diagnosis rates differed greatly between the United States and Britain. This finding was partly based on studies that had shown that the same kids who visited both American and British doctors were evaluated differently, suggesting that cultural differences might be behind the medical expertise. Has anyone done a similar study with the same British and American soldiers being evaluated by both British and American doctors?

While the interest here is in a psychological topic, this sounds more like a sociological question relating to cultural values and expectations.

World War I reparation payments from Germany to end soon

From the dustbins of history, CNN reports that Germany will on Sunday (October 3) make its last reparations payment from World War I. Here is a brief history of the payments:

The initial tally in 1919, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel, was 96,000 tons of gold but was slashed by 40 to 60 percent (sources vary) a few years later. The debt was crippling, just as French Premier Georges Clemenceau intended.

Germany went bankrupt in the 1920s, Der Spiegel explained, and issued bonds between 1924 and 1930 to pay off the towering debt laid on it by the Allied powers in 1919’s Treaty of Versailles…

Germany discontinued reparations in 1931 because of the global financial crisis, and Hitler declined to resume them when he took the nation’s helm in 1933, Der Spiegel reported.

After reaching an accord in London in 1953, West Germany paid off the principal on its bonds but was allowed to wait until Germany unified to pay about 125 million euros ($171 million) in interest it accrued on its foreign debt between 1945 and 1952, the magazine said.

In 1990, Germany began paying off that interest in annual installments, the last of which will be distributed Sunday.

I had no idea that these payments were still being made. I don’t know the answer to this: are reparation payments between nations still a common method for helping to rectifying the wrongs of war?

It is also a reminder of the major consequences of World War I, a war that gets a lot less attention in the United States due to a smaller US role and a majority of the fighting taking place away from American shores.