Charles Moskos, 74; Created the Military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Charles Moskos wrote extensively on the military and conducted surveys in several nations.
Charles Moskos wrote extensively on the military and conducted surveys in several nations. (Photo Courtesy Of Northwestern University - Photo Courtesy Of Northwestern University)
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By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Charles C. Moskos, 74, a retired sociology professor at Northwestern University who was the author of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military, died May 31 of cancer at his home in Santa Monica, Calif.

Dr. Moskos, a leading sociologist who studied the U.S. military, conducted a number of surveys during a 40-year career -- in Vietnam, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and elsewhere. He also wrote extensively on military issues, including racial integration in the armed services and women in combat, but he was best known as the man who forged the compromise that governs the conduct of gay service members.

The policy, signed into law during the early months of the Clinton administration, allows gays to serve in the military but prohibits them from engaging in homosexual activity or talking about their sexual orientation.

From the beginning, "don't ask, don't tell" drew fire from both ends of the political spectrum, but Dr. Moskos saw it as a practical accommodation to reality. In a 2003 interview with the Northwestern Chronicle, he compared it to Winston Churchill's definition of democracy: "It's the worst system possible, except for any other."

He came up with the compromise after field studies and extensive interviews with servicemen. Gays should be allowed to serve, he concluded, but allowing them to serve openly would be bad for morale.

"To me, the issue comes down to privacy," he told the Northwestern Chronicle. "Prudes have rights too."

John Butler, a professor of management and sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a Moskos protege, recalled that his friend and former professor used the Army's stricture on adultery as "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman" as the prototype for "don't ask, don't tell."

"You don't have to talk about adultery, but if you're caught, you leave the military," Butler said.

Dr. Moskos also advocated restoring the military draft. He insisted that enforcing a shared military experience for Americans of different classes, races and economic backgrounds forged a sense of common purpose.

"This shared experience helped instill in those who served, as in the national culture generally, a sense of unity and moral seriousness that we would not see again -- until after September 11, 2001," he wrote in a November 2001 article in Washington Monthly (with Paul Glastris). "It's a shame that it has taken terrorist attacks to awaken us to the reality of our shared national fate."

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark said in a statement that Dr. Moskos had an impact on the military.

"He gave many of us the reassurance that someone out there knew us, cared about us and could help see our best interests as a nation and a military were looked after," Gen. Clark said.

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