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Charles Moskos, 1934 - 2008

Scholar came up with military policy on gays

June 06, 2008|From the Associated Press

Charles Moskos, a sociologist who was an expert on the attitudes of servicemen and women and helped formulate the "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays in the military, has died. He was 74.

The retired Northwestern University professor died of prostate cancer Saturday at his home in Santa Monica, his family said.

"Charles was a remarkable man, a renowned scholar who repeatedly offered thoughtful advice and thought-provoking ideas on the challenges with which we have grappled over the years," said Gen. David H. Petraeus, the United States' commanding general in Iraq.

Moskos' surveys on military personnel issues, such as morale and recruitment trends, made him widely quoted in the news media.

But he was best known for his advice to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that led to "don't ask, don't tell."

Under the policy, passed by Congress in 1993 in the early months of the Clinton administration, gays are allowed to serve in the military, but they are prohibited from engaging in homosexual activity or talking about their sexual orientation.

Moskos acknowledged that the policy, which had critics on both sides of the debate, was imperfect.

"It's like what Churchill said about democracy -- it's the worst system possible, except for all the other ones," Moskos said in 2006.

But he said that allowing gays to serve openly would hurt the morale of the military rank-and-file and make many recruits uncomfortable.

To critics who called for the Pentagon to be more flexible about gays, he noted that "don't ask, don't tell" is the law.

"Any change in the status of homosexuals in the military requires congressional action," he wrote in a letter to the editor to the New York Times in 2005. "Your editorial implies that the military should disobey the law. Who is hiding from reality?"

He also was a strong advocate of military service for young people from all segments of society. He argued that it would increase public support for the military.

"Imagine if Jenna Bush were in Iraq today," he said in 2004 of the president's daughter. "We would be much more committed."

In a 2005 Associated Press interview, he said of the 750 men in his Princeton University graduating class in 1956, more than 400 went on to serve in the military. Of the 1,100 men and women in the 2004 Princeton class, eight joined, he said.

Born in Chicago in 1934, Moskos was drafted after graduating from Princeton with a degree in sociology and served two years in the Army. He earned graduate degrees at UCLA and joined the Northwestern faculty in 1966 after working at the University of Michigan.

Moskos' work earned him several awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest honor the Army awards civilians.

"He truly had an impact on the military," retired Gen. Wesley Clark said in a statement. He said Moskos "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."

Moskos retired from Northwestern in 2003 and moved to Santa Monica. However, he returned to the university each fall to teach an introductory sociology course.

His books include "The American Enlisted Man" (1970) and "Peace Soldiers: The Sociology of a United Nations Military Force" (1976).

He is survived by his wife of 41 years, Ilca; two sons, Andrew and Peter; and two grandchildren.

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