John Allen Williams
Chair and President, IUS
October 26, 2013
Last month a reporter called to ask if I was a Navy Reserve Captain who retired September of 1999. Apparently a recently departed Iowa State official had borrowed generously from my retirement remarks in his letter of resignation. There was no doubt about it. Perhaps I should have been outraged, but I couldn’t work up the energy for that, especially since it turned out well for me. My talk had lain dormant on my web page for 14 years without attracting interest from anyone so far as I could tell. It was certainly not on its way to being published online by the Des Moines Register just in time for my high school reunion. As Charlie Moskos would say, “Not to be coy, I thought it was pretty good,” and as Sam Sarkesian would say, “With all due respect, he shouldn’t have done it.”
The experience caused me to think about what is original and what is valuable. Having on-the-job training with great sociologists, I realized we could create a 2 x 2 table from these variables. If we were to array all of our academic work in such a table, I wonder how much of it would be both original and valuable, especially as progress tends to be incremental. Still, we hope to say something that is important theoretically or practically. This afternoon I will settle for interesting and in view of the occasion will be more personal than usual.
As Executive Director I was able to give essentially the same speech for 20 years, and unless I miss my guess, Bob Vitas is about to give it again. In past Presidential addresses, I have discussed the need for scholarly excellence – surely preaching to the choir, the need to expand the reach of the IUS in terms of disciplines, representation, and geography, and the importance of leading relevant discussions in the public square. One year I expressed my dismay that some academic disciplines would sanction their members who assisted the military in any way.
In thinking about what we want to accomplish and how we want to be remembered, we all establish priorities. The three obvious categories are our scholarship, our students, and our contribution to the discipline. For many, the best strategy is to focus on one of these and make as much progress as possible in that area. There is nothing wrong with that, but I made a different choice. I have had the privilege of teaching at a great Jesuit University for many years, and I cannot resist a bit of Scripture at this point. The wise old preacher Ecclesiastes advised as follows: “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand; for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” I have taken that advice to heart and tried to make progress on all three fronts. How well I did is for others to judge, but I have a deep sense of satisfaction about each of these three areas.
First, my publications deal with civil military relations and national security policy. I expect to continue thinking and writing about these things in what I and perhaps others have called the “Hybrid Era” – a complex security environment beyond the “Postmodern Military” requiring both old and new thinking. I will also consider the military implications of new security challenges and how they can be met effectively with minimal harm to the values we hold most dear. I can almost hear you thinking, “Good luck with that!”
Since we cannot predict the precise challenges ahead, it is all the more important that knowledgeable people with humane values think hard about them. Mark Twain supposedly said that history does not repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes. All of the “fault lines” of recent history, such as Pearl Harbor, the demise of the Soviet Union, and September 11th, could have been predicted if the relevant indicators had not been buried in the weeds of simultaneous events. Roberta Wohlstetter’s observations concerning Pearl Harbor remain relevant as we wonder what indicators we are missing today that would alert us to some strategic surprise waiting in the wings. We need to lead conversations about this.
Second, I have had the privilege of touching the lives of many students – hopefully for the better. Several of you are here today, and I like to think that I made some contribution to the success you are having. I know I have to share credit with Sam Sarkesian, but I am happy to do that. You have enriched my life greatly and I am very proud of all of you.
Third, I like to think that in my work with the IUS I have helped nourish the high intellectual standards that are the key to our success. At the same time, we do not dwell in Plato’s ethereal world of the Forms, and I have dealt with practical matters, as well. We can think all the great thoughts we want to, but keeping this organization afloat is very expensive. Unlike many academic societies, we are now on a solid financial footing. That has been a constant struggle for the last three decades, and I am happy to say that we are well positioned for the future.
I am deeply grateful to all who have helped me professionally along
the way. If you heard my Navy retirement speech, my comments about Sam and Charlie will echo:
-- Morris Janowitz founded this organization and the discipline of military sociology itself. I did not have the privilege of working closely with him for long, because the physical infirmities that would eventually bear him away were already apparent when we met. I observed the full force of his genius, however, and that is not a term I use lightly or often. He got the IUS off to a great start, and subsequent chairs have wisely shared his view that our success required us to maintain the most rigorous intellectual social science standards. On that strong basis we weathered academic and financial storms over the years that sometimes posed significant danger to us.
-- Sam Sarkesian, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel of Infantry (10th Special Forces and 11th Airborne), hired me at Loyola University Chicago, gave me my start in military studies, and served as a constant inspiration as a scholar, teacher, mentor, officer, and friend. I never met a finer officer. Indeed, he was the epitome of "an officer and a gentleman," and of a “soldier-scholar.”
-- Charlie Moskos, a former draftee and perceptive commentator on the role of the military in a free society, combined rigorous academic standards with practical policy advice and a human touch. More than anyone I can think of, he "spoke truth to power," and "power" listened. The internationalization of the IUS was very important to him, and he did much to advance it. When I grow up, I still want to be Charlie.
-- David Segal, a social scientist and humanist of the first rank, combines intellectual rigor with a concern for institutions and the people in them. His empathy for soldiers and their families is strongly reflected in his work. He is also on speed dial from government offices and the media seeking his advice on personnel matters of the greatest importance. I owe a special debt of gratitude to David for recruiting Pat Shields as editor of Armed Forces & Society.
The key to administrative success is to find very talented people willing to help realize the shared vision, and then leave them alone to do it. Dr. Sandy Stanley has done wonderful work organizing our conferences since 1989 and deserves much credit for their success. Our Journal editors have fanned the intellectual flames and bolstered the role of Armed Forces & Society as the premier journal in our field. Our Secretariat managers have done great service in dealing with the myriad details required to keep us moving ahead. Our partnership with Sage Publishers enhances the scholarly impact of our Journal and has many benefits of a more practical sort.
We are all especially indebted to Dr. Robert Vitas, friend and student of mine and Sam Sarkesian’s and my constant companion in a journey of service to our organization and our discipline. Over the years Bob served in many offices and for the last decade has been our Treasurer and Executive Director. I have relied on Bob’s energy and sound judgment on issues large and small, and his contribution to the IUS cannot be adequately measured.
You don’t need to know me well to realize that the things that have always meant the most to me throughout my life are my family and my happy home. I was very fortunate that Karen was dating one of my best friends in high school and that we met one day picking her up from work. To say I was smitten would be a serious understatement. (Unfortunately, my future bride was not similarly smitten, and I had to work on that.) Karen, our happy marriage is at the center of my life, and I give thanks every day for the life and family we share.
As was true with my Navy service, I have received more from my work with the IUS than I could ever have put into it. Here I am surrounded by scholars of all ages and disciplines whose work I admire and whose good judgment of me I cherish. As Morris Janowitz wrote for his retirement address in 1985, “I love you all.” Of course, he couldn’t resist adding, “…some more than others.” I would omit his qualifier and am proud to have had a hand in assisting you in your important work.
I am delighted that Professor Jim Burk has agreed to step forward as the sixth Chair and President of the IUS. Jim has served in many capacities over the years as a member of our Council, as editor of our Journal, as chair of our publications committee, and as a wise and humane counselor on occasions too numerous to mention. A noted scholar with a well-deserved international reputation for excellence, Jim is admirably suited by ability and temperament to carry on the work begun over 50 years ago by Morris Janowitz and continued by Sam Sarkesian, Charlie Moskos, David Segal, and, I hope, by me. Jim, under your leadership the best years of the IUS lie ahead.
The IUS is a remarkable intellectual community – nonpolitical, nondogmatic, and united by the values of scholarship and service. It has been the privilege of my career to serve the IUS and the work of its Fellows. Many thanks to all of you for your friendship and support over the years.
Mister Burk, I am ready to be relieved.