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June 2008

Men and women in uniform lose their best friend after the death of Sociologist Charles Moskos

Dimitri C. Michalakis

The death of Professor Charles Moskos was announced in a simple e-mail by his wife of 41 years, Ilca: “Charles C. Moskos, of Santa Monica, Calif., formerly of Evanston, Ill, draftee of U.S. Army, died peacefully in his sleep after a valiant struggle with cancer.” The nation’s leading sociologist on the American military, he was famously the author of Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of gays in the military and has been called by attorney Phillip Carter on washingtonpost.com “an intellectual giant whose ideas about military manpower and public service influenced two generations of soldiers, scholars, politicians and policy wonks.” Gen. David Petraeus, commanding general in Iraq, said Moskos 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.

Most recently, Moskos was professor emeritus of sociology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He was born in Chicago of Greek immigrant parents coming from Northern Epirus and received his B.A., with honors, at Princeton University in 1956. Following his military service as a draftee in the combat engineers, he attended the University of California at Los Angeles where he received his Ph.D. in 1963. He was the author of Greek Americans: Struggle and Success, and New Directions in Greek American Studies (with Dan Georgakas). He served on Archbishop Iakovos' Commission on a Theological Agenda for the Third Millennium and chaired the Theodore Saloutos Memorial Fund in Greek American Studies. He was a recipient of the AHI’s Hellenic Heritage Achievement Award in 2003 and was a member of the AHEPA.

His many books include A Call to Civic Service, Racial Integration the Army Way, and Armed Forces After the Cold War. In addition to over two hundred articles in scholarly journals, he published editorial pieces in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post. Dr. Moskos appeared on national television numerous times including Night Line, Cross-Fire, 60 Minutes, and Larry King Live. His writings have been translated into nineteen languages.

His research had taken him to combat units in Vietnam, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq and he held the Distinguished Service Award, the U.S. Army's highest decoration for a civilian.

We did an interview with Professor Moskos eight years ago and we reprint it here in full:

When the fledgling Clinton administration ran into a buzzsaw during its first weeks in office deciding its policy on gays in the military, sociologist Charles Moskos came to the rescue with his controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" approach.

"It was a compromise solution," admits the affable Northwestern University professor. "I recall what Winston Churchill said about democracy: it's the worst system possible, except for any other."

And the government has not stopped calling the man the Wall Street Journal has named the world's "most influential military sociologist." He was asked by George Bush to serve on the President's Commission on Women in the Military, currently serves on the Study Group of the U.S. Commission on National Security, has been awarded the Army’s highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Service Award, and has visited every U.S. conflict overseas since the Korean War. In fact, the Department of Defense awarded him a medal for his research in Desert Storm.

"I have been about everywhere," says Moskos, 66, and he ticks off a list of America’s trouble spots the past half century, from Vietnam, to Somalia, to Kosovo. And, as always, his subject of study is what he made his life's work back in graduate school: the enlisted man and woman.

"The difference I found in Bosnia, for example, and Vietnam, is that in Vietnam, as in all real wars, the front echelon troops envy the rear, because it's safer back there and more comfortable,” he explains a typical detail. “But when you go to Kosovo or Bosnia, it's quite different. There the troops who are outside the compound, or ‘outside the wire,’ have the high morale, because they're doing something, even if it's just patrols and checkpoints. At least you're talking to people."

But while he advises the American government regularly and visits battlegrounds most often through contacts in the American military, he doesn't hesitate to disagree with American policy.

"When in Greece during the bombing," he says, "there was anti-NATO graffiti everywhere and postcards from Kosovo showing Mickey Mouse (being assaulted) by the Serbs, and I bought a bunch of them and sent them to my friends in the Pentagon. They didn’t like them,” he chuckles.

"I was also very distressed, to be honest, that we were bombing during Holy Week, Orthodox Holy Week," he adds. "We stopped during Ramadan for the Muslims. We're more attuned to Muslim sensitivities than we are to Orthodox...I think this anti-Orthodox sentiment does pervade the elite."

He's also more partial to the conscription system of some European countries like Greece, than to the American volunteer army.

"(Conscription) makes the citizenry more connected," he maintains. "In Greece, the fact of the matter is that most young men are going to serve. It's considered a normal part of growing up." Although he admits Greece, along with other European countries, is steering towards a volunteer army. "For Greece, there is a movement now for five-year enlistees and they are usually trained in the technical specialties,” he says. “And, of course, they're taking women now, only very limited, in medical roles. They're a relatively small number, but I think it's been generally accepted."

The rapid evolution of the Greek military doesn't surprise him. "Greece is part of western Europe," he says. Also, "Greece is a hard country to label: because it's both Levantine and western European at the same time. I like that."

In fact, for a man born and raised in America, he feels very much at home in Greece, and so does his German-born wife, Ilca. "With our broken Greek, we're always treated hospitably," he says. "We're invited to houses, and restaurant owners treat us all the time. We've gone with American friends and they're always amazed by the accord that we get. The filoxenia is really operative."

And in America, his main form of entertaining is in Greek restaurants. "That's my next book, ‘Greek Restaurants of North America,’" he laughs. "I enjoy the cuisine. All my professional entertaining of Americans is done in Greek restaurants. I've been acknowledged several times in books by people thanking me for their Greek restaurant meals."

He went to Japan to visit a former student "and the place they treated us to was the Greek restaurant in Yokohama. The Greek restaurant owner was a sailor who'd jumped ship years back and he was married to a Japanese woman. He was so excited to have somebody who spoke Greek that we hardly paid for anything." He hopes to write a piece called "Spanakopita Tales," relishes the story of an Army colonel calling avgolemono soup "the Greek penicillin," and boasts about his wife's rolling filo: "Here's my German-born wife rolling her own filo," he chuckles.

Moskos was born in Chicago, his father Charles (Fotios) ran a shoe repair shop, but Moskos suffered from hay fever severe enough that when he was ten (and his brother Harry eight) the family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. "In the old days before the St. George parish was established there, AHEPA had a tuberculosis sanitarium in Albuquerque. In fact, because of that sanitarium, a Greek congregation had developed there. Ironically, when I was drafted, the old AHEPA sanitarium was the hospital complex where I took my tests."

After graduating Princeton with honors in 1956, he signed up for the Army and served two years in Germany. "In those days they did draft from the top of the social spectrum,” he says. “Two thirds of my class at Princeton served in the military, imagine that? I think the military should reflect society in one important way: That is to have the children of the elite serve. I believe the country will not accept casualties unless the children of the elite's lives are on the line. That's why I think Greece is wise to keep conscription."

After the army, he considered his course of study in graduate school (he got his Ph.D from UCLA in 1963) and "everybody's written about officers in the military,” he thought. “I'm going to write about enlisted men...And ever since, I've enjoyed the company of soldiers."

His first book, THE AMERICAN ENLISTMENT MAN, was published in 1970. Several followed, THE MILITARY--MORE THAN JUST A JOB? A CALL TO CIVIC SERVICE, RACIAL INTEGRATION THE ARMY WAY, ALL THAT WE CAN BE, which won a 1997 prize of the Washington Monthly, and his latest, THE POSTMODERN MILITARY. He's also authored articles in THE NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, and THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, and appeared frequently on NIGHTLINE, CROSSFIRE, and LARRY KING LIVE.

Also, as part of a series on ethnic groups, he wrote GREEK AMERICANS, STRUGGLE AND SUCCESS, which went into two editions and is slated for a third. "But I'm waiting for my son Fotis to finish his graduate studies so he could be my co-author," he says.

Fotis, 29, is a doctoral candidate at Harvard and also works as a cop in Baltimore ("It's a little like the old man," says his father. "He studies cops, I study soldiers"). Andrew, 31, runs a comedy theater in Amsterdam called BOOM CHICAGO. He married his Dutch wife Saskia in a civil ceremony in Amsterdam and then a Greek church service in Mytilene.

Both boys went to school in Greece and Moskos mourns his own broken Greek. "My parents did not speak Greek to us as children because they thought it would handicap us in school, which I regret," he says. "I acquired it as an adult. It's broken, but I can hold conversations fairly well."

His wife is a language teacher at New Trier High School and speaks Greek as well as he does. ("She identifies with Greeks more than Germans now," he says.)They differ only when he half-jokes that he would vote for any Greek on the ballot, regardless of the candidate’s qualifications ("I know that's terrible," he laughs). He's also adamant about Greek Americans visiting Greece. "For secular ethnicity, as opposed to sacred ethnicity, I think there has to be a lot of connection with the old country, like the schools my kids went to in Greece. In these days of airplane travel, it's so easy to go to Greece and just go to school there in the summer. Junior year abroad in college is a very big thing now."

He was the first American-born person to visit northern Epirus, now Albania, in 1984, even if it was through the Italian embassy. His parents came from that region and were Ottoman subjects, then Italian, which is why he calls himself a "deviant Greek." "My ethnic identity is much more Byzantine-Ottoman-modern Greek and Greek American," he claims. "Spanakopita to me is as important as the Parthenon."

But then he proudly mentions that when he was in Kosovo he found the “major reading” in the officer's quarters was a book called GATES OF FIRE, which recounts the battle of Marathon. And he says with typical enthusiasm, "Wouldn't it be nice for Greece to invite American military officers to tour those classical battle sites? It would make a lot of points with the American military.”

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