The Society for Military History is divided over how long it plans to hold its annual conference in Texas next spring, amid the state’s new six-week abortion ban and other controversial laws affecting suffrage and transgender youth.
The debate over the location of the conference escalated in the last few days after Peter Mansoor, President of the Society and General Raymond E. Mason Jr. Chair of Military History at Ohio State University wrote to members. Mansoor argued against rescheduling the conference and wrote to his fellow military historians: “There are good reasons to continue on our current course. Postponing the conference at this late date would cause serious financial damage to the company, “up to $ 90,000 in cancellation penalties. Hotel workers and local businesses are also affected, he said.
On top of the cost, Mansoor wrote, “We are an inclusive organization that includes members of diverse political views, races, genders, occupations, religious beliefs, and other characteristics. To be truly inclusive, society must be impartial, apolitical and make decisions based on society’s mission. “
“Going against Texas law,” he argued, would “take us beyond the mission of society” to advance military history, “into politics.”
Mansoor based his opinion in part on public statements policies adopted by the Society’s Governing Council during the Trump administration. Prior to adopting this policy, the Society’s Council signed a statement from the American Historical Association condemning Trump’s 2017 White House travel ban from a number of Muslim-majority countries. Dozens of other historical organizations have also joined the AHA declaration. However, in the face of criticism from a vocal minority of its members that the Society had acted politically inappropriately, the Council voted to limit further public statements to those relating to exceptional circumstances determined by the Society’s Board of Trustees and only if they did Circumstances have an impact on the company’s mission.
Mansoor, who declined an interview request, said no decision has been taken on the conference and that the council will meet on October 11 to discuss the matter. However, some members have argued that the publication of a letter was over Company letterhead expressing a strong opinion against rescheduling the conference suggests that a decision has already been made. Additionally, in discussions that are now spilling over to social media, members have argued, isn’t Mansoor’s letter in itself a political statement – the kind of statement he thinks society shouldn’t make? And isn’t it a political choice not to do anything to move the conference?
“When you make a statement that you will not make a statement on political struggles, you are making a political statement that you find certain positions acceptable and welcome,” tweeted Adam H. Domby, associate professor of history at the Auburn University Organization. “It would have been better not to say anything.”
“Military history is women’s history is political,” tweeted another military historian. Another said, “This letter is how @SMH_Historians will lose a generation of young historians.”
Barbara Keys, history professor at Durham University in the UK and former president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, a sister organization that shares some members with the Society for Military History, said Inside Higher Ed On Monday she was “shocked to see that the President had posted a letter on the company’s letterhead expressing his personal opinion on a matter that the Governing Council had not discussed”.
Should something similar happen elsewhere, Keys argued, “the council would likely apologize and withdraw from the president and convene a council meeting to make the political decision.”
She added: “It also strikes me as problematic that the president is leading a ban on political statements while essentially making a political statement.”
Primarily questioning the legitimacy of the politics of political utterance, military historian Chris Levesque, a librarian at the University of West Florida, said in a series of tweets that the society had admitted part of its membership – those who came across 2017 upset incident – to “force a change in their policy to take even narrow political positions”. This recent “debacle,” he said of the Texas debate and letter, “is a legacy of that decision.”
In his letter, Mansoor, a retired U.S. Army colonel, didn’t rule out weighing the laws in question. “The Council recognizes that there may be opportunities to examine legislation through the lens of military history, and I encourage panel or round-table submissions on these issues,” he wrote, noting that the Society is extending the deadline for proposals got to pick up additional ideas. But if Mansoor’s opinion prevails, these discussions will take place in Texas.
According to Mansoor’s testimony about the cost of rescheduling the conference, professional organizations tend to sign function rooms and hotel contracts years in advance and risk heavy financial losses if they cancel. At the same time, professional associations in the humanities and social sciences are generally not so reluctant to address political issues that focus on their members. Society’s reluctance could be influenced by the US military tradition of being apolitical. Many members have had military careers or have worked in military institutions, or both.
At the same time, this type of apolitics can conflict with the inclusion goals of society, both in terms of what is considered and valued as military history and in terms of the members of the group.
Some members have raised concerns that pregnant women traveling to Texas for the conference could put their health at risk in the event of a medical emergency requiring all reproductive health options. Others refuse to spend time or money in a state where such laws apply or are on the table. Others still see the potential to influence politics. A military history conference that typically attracts 600 to 700 scientists is most likely not going to move the needle. But one major conference boycott movement that society might participate in is a different story. For example, the boycott of North Carolina by the National Collegiate Athletic Association helped that state repeal a divisive “bathroom law” regarding transgender people in 2017.
Kara Dixon Vuic, LCpl. Benjamin W. Schmidt, professor of War, Conflict and Society in 20th Century America at Texas Christian University and a trustee and therefore a councilor of the society, said Monday the council wished it could meet earlier than October 11 meet to discuss both conference location issue and declaration policy, but that prior to this point it was unable to accommodate members’ busy international schedule.
In the meantime, she said, “We take very seriously the concerns of members about these two issues, as well as the larger issues they raised about organizational governance, communication, transparency and inclusivity. We welcome feedback and concerns from our members and look forward to important discussions. “
Gregory Daddis, USS Midway Chair in Modern US Military History at San Diego State University and another board member and councilor, said the ongoing debate “shows how academic societies must absolutely be committed to diversity and inclusion while striving to be in to be impartial to our present ”. hyper-politicized moment. ”He also said it was“ incredibly important ”to point out that the concerns of many members were not simply“ political ”but“ moral and ethical, very personal and absolutely legitimate ”.
Daddis, who is relatively new to the board of directors, said he was “encouraged by how many of our trustees are earnestly looking to address the real and legitimate concerns of our members. These behind-the-scenes efforts are often lost in the heated exaggeration of social media. “
Currently, Daddis plans to attend the Spring Conference, but “in a way that underscores the legitimate concerns of our members who believe that the current flurry of Texan laws violates basic human and civil rights.”