IUS - The Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society

Three Challenges We Face 1

James Burk
Texas A&M University

Thank you, Jay, for your strong leadership of IUS and for your friendship over many years, and I hope, for many years to come. I also want to thank the IUS staff, who have worked so hard and so effectively to make this conference a success. I am only beginning to understand the tremendous amount of work it is to ensure that our meetings run without a hitch, as these have done. Jay has assembled a good team. I am happy to say, while Jay is stepping down, the IUS team remains in place.2 Now, I don’t want to spoil a good meal by making a long speech. But apparently I am expected to say something as the incoming chair and president. So I will talk (briefly) about three challenges that we fellows of IUS currently face.

The first challenge has to do with our continuing commitment to perform a central mission. Let me explain. When the IUS was founded in 1960, it numbered about twelve university-based scholars. It quickly grew thereafter to the relatively large community of fellows that we are today. Many reasons explain this success. I want to highlight one, namely, the role IUS plays as a forum where university-based social scientists and military-based researchers and policy analysts can meet.

IUS did not have to play this role. But from the start, Morris Janowitz believed that the quality of our studies would be enriched if researchers from within and outside the military regularly met to share ideas for research and to interpret the significance of work done. Put simply, the IUS was concerned about how to keep a “gap” from dividing the civilian and military spheres before the “gap” had a name.3

This was and to some extent remains difficult to do. After all, our professional reputations and careers are built on accomplishments within our respective fields. But our peers within each sphere may not grasp, properly judge or reward the work In the 1960s, when the Vietnam War bred distrust between the military and civilians, efforts to bridge the gap were especially difficult. Even now, we have to be vigilant, as we see how economic woes afflicting governments translate into reduced support for attending our conferences. Nonetheless, carrying on the dialogue between researchers in the military and without is a hallmark of our success. It is central to our mission. Our challenge is to facilitate this dialogue even in hard times, inventing, if we must, new ways to do so.

The second challenge is an intellectual one. The challenge is to solve what some believe is a problem and others think is no problem at all in the field of civil-military relations. Here’s an example. Sometimes leaders of liberal democracies decide too easily (and imprudently) to make war. That is their right, others might say. Civilian leaders have the “right to be wrong” about the use of armed force. Between civilian elites and political elites, civilians have the right to decide. But what if the debate is (or should be) between political leaders and the people they lead? Who then gets to decide?

The question is important to answer because, in our era of protracted wars, war powers have been accumulating for a long time in the executive branch of government. In the United States, it is well documented that presidential deference to the war powers of Congress eroded throughout the twentieth century. Over the same period the president’s war-making powers have grown. This development had many causes. Among them were the world wars, the Cold War, the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, and the rise of America to its status as a superpower. The founders did not anticipate this possibility. But they opened the door for it when they failed to specify what the president’s power, as commander-in-chief should be.4

Abraham Lincoln knew why this development was a danger. In a letter written in 1848 to William H. Herndon, Lincoln wrote:

[If you] allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power . . .”5

We may suppose this is no problem, that the young Lincoln over simplified matters. It is harder than Lincoln thought for presidents (or any head of state) to make war at pleasure. Only think about this summer’s debates about the use of force against Syria.

But if we study the matter, as students of the War Powers Resolution have done, we may come around to Lincoln’s side. Few or none believe this resolution puts any limit—any Constitutional or legal limit—on a president who wants to make war. There may be political limits or limits based on partisanship or on other expediencies. But at the moment, some think, there are no legal or Constitutional limits to keep a president from starting war.6

The challenge is to know whether that is really so. How can we know? Why does it matter? IUS fellows are pledged to tackle these questions, guided by an old- fashioned but still worthy aim to clarify and improve public debate.

The third challenge we face is to identify emerging issues affecting relationships between armed forces and society in ways that have not before been deeply studied. The challenge is not simply to carry on a tradition of thought, although that is important. The challenge is to reform the tradition, to take it in a new direction. This is not easy to do. Yet it can be done.

This is what Morris Janowitz did with his five working hypotheses first stated in The Professional Soldier. This is what Charlie Moskos did when he first formulated the institutional/occupational (or I/O) thesis.7 Over many years, Moskos refined his ideas with help from Jay Williams and David Segal, and many others sitting in this room, turning the I/O thesis into an argument about The Postmodern Military.8 This is what all of us do to some degree when think about the significance of our research, and publish the results of what we have learned. It is our job to push the limits of what we know.

Consider for instance the traditional pattern of mobilizing society for war. It entails raising manpower and money. But this traditional pattern did not hold for the 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Why not? It may be too soon to know, but if leaders are rational they calculated that mobilizing mass armed forces and raising taxes to pay the war’s expense were not necessary to accomplish their aims. Does that mean no mobilization was required? That would be a hasty conclusion. What has been mobilized for the 9/11 wars was not people or money. What was mobilized was information!

The US Patriot Act, passed on October 26, 2001, nicely illustrates the point. The act was all about mobilizing information to protect the United States and others from another terrorist attack. The act authorized extensive gathering of information from intelligence agencies and local police, from banks and libraries, from telephone and email traffic at home and abroad, of citizens and aliens alike. The act also imposed a gag order to prevent those turning over information from telling anyone that they had done so. This is not to mention less public authorization that allowed gathering information from military detainees subject to “enhanced interrogation.” These acts impose real political sacrifice of basic liberties of speech, protections against unwarranted searches and seizures, curtailment of rights to privacy, and weakened protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

If so, this marks a sea change in the culture of war, in which security counts for more and liberty for less—and maybe it should. It is a matter that requires study. It is just one example of the forward-looking research that IUS fellows are challenged to do. These are challenges the IUS faces: to build bridges between the military and civilian spheres, to clarify public debates about policies currently affecting civil-military relations, and to identify new issues that will upset traditional ways that armed forces and society are related. IUS fellows faced these challenges successfully in the past. I am confident that we too will face them with equal or greater success as we move into the future.


1. This is a transcript of the address delivered by the incoming Chair and President of the Inter- University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society, at the Seminar’s 2013 biennial meetings held in Chicago, on 26 October 2013.

2. By Jay, of course, I mean John Allen Williams who has led IUS in various capacities for over thirty years and is now stepping down as its Chair and President.

3. See James Burk, “Morris Janowitz and the Origins of Sociological Research on Armed Forces & Society,” Armed Forces & Society 19, 2 (1993): 167-185

4. U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 2.

5. Abraham Lincoln, Political Writings and Speeches, ed. Terence Ball (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 20-21.

6. See, for example, Louis Fisher, Presidential War Power, 2nd rev. ed. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas).

7. Charles C. Moskos, “From Institution to Occupation: Trends in Military Organization,” Armed Forces & Society 4, 1 (1977: 41-50).

8. Charles C. Moskos, John Allen Williams, and David R. Segal, ed., The Postmodern Military: Armed Forces after the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).