The Society for Military History is divided over whether to hold its annual conference in Texas next spring, as long planned, in light of the news ban on abortions after six weeks and other controversial laws involving right to vote and transgender youth.
Debate over the location of the conference has intensified in recent days, following a letter to members from Peter Mansoor, company president and general chairman Raymond E. Mason Jr. in military history at Ohio State University. Arguing against moving the conference, Mansoor wrote to his fellow military historians that “there are good reasons to continue on our present course. Moving the conference to this late date would cause serious financial damage to the company, ”up to $ 90,000 in contract cancellation penalties. Hotel workers and local businesses would also be affected, he said.
Beyond the cost, Mansoor wrote: “We are an inclusive organization that includes members of different political views, races, genders, professional jobs, religious views and other attributes. To be truly inclusive, the company must be non-partisan and apolitical and make decisions based on the company’s mission.
“Taking action against Texas law,” he argued, “would take us beyond” the company’s mission of advancing military history, “in politics.”
Mansoor based his opinion, in part, on a Politics on the public statements that the company’s board of directors adopted under the Trump administration. Before adopting this policy, the board of the company signed a declaration by the American Historical Association condemning Trump White House’s 2017 travel ban from a number of predominantly Muslim countries. Dozens of other historic organizations have also signed on to the AHA statement. But in the face of criticism from a minority of its members that the company had acted in a politically inappropriate manner, the board voted to limit other public statements to those involving exceptional circumstances, as determined by the board of directors of the company, and only when these circumstances affect the mission of the company.
Mansoor, who declined a request for an interview, said no decision regarding the conference had been made and that the council would meet on Oct. 11 to discuss the matter. Yet some members argued that the publication of a letter on company header expressing a firm opinion against moving the conference suggests that a decision has already been taken. In addition, members have argued in discussions that now spill over to social media. Isn’t Mansoor’s letter a political statement in itself – the kind of statement he argues society shouldn’t make? And isn’t doing nothing to move the conference a political decision?
“By declaring that you will not make a statement about political fighting, you are politically declaring that you find certain points of view acceptable and that you welcome them,” tweeted Adam H. Domby, associate professor of history at the University of Domby. ‘Auburn. 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 explains how @SMH_Historians is going to lose a generation of young historians.”
Barbara Keys, professor of history at Durham University in Britain and former president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, a sister organization that shares some membership with the Society for Military History, said Inside higher education On Monday, she was “shocked to see that the chairman had sent a letter, on company letterhead, expressing his personal opinion on an issue the board had not discussed.”
If something similar happened elsewhere, Keys explained, “the council would likely ask the president for an apology and retraction and call a council meeting to make the policy choice.”
She added: “It also seems problematic to me that the president is citing a ban on political statements while making what is essentially a political statement. “
Military historian Chris Levesque, librarian at the University of West Florida, questioned the legitimacy of the political statement policy in the first place, claiming in a series of tweets that the company had authorized a fraction of its members – those who were upset by the 2017 incident – to “force a change in its policy by taking even narrow political positions”. This recent “debacle,” he said, referring to the debate and the letter from Texas, “is a legacy of that decision.”
In his letter, Mansoor, a retired US Army colonel, did not rule out influencing the legislation in question. “The council recognizes that there may be ways to explore legislation through the prism of military history, and I encourage submissions from panels or roundtables on these topics,” he wrote. , noting that the company had extended its proposal submission date to accommodate additional ideas. But if Mansoor’s opinion wins, those talks will take place in Texas.
From Mansoor’s perspective on conference travel costs, business organizations tend to sign event space and hotel contracts years in advance, and they risk serious financial losses by canceling them. At the same time, professional organizations in the humanities and social sciences generally do not hesitate to tackle the political questions that their members put forward. The reluctance of society may be influenced by the US military’s tradition of apolitics. Many members have had military careers or worked in military institutions, or both.
At the same time, this type of apoliticalism can risk running counter to society’s goals of inclusion, both in terms of what is viewed and valued as military history and who the members of the military are. group.
Some members are concerned that pregnant women traveling to Texas for the conference could put their health at risk in the event of a medical emergency requiring the full range of reproductive health options. Others object to spending time or money in a state with such laws in place or legislation on the table. Others still see the potential to influence policy. A military history conference, which typically attracts 600 to 700 academics, is very unlikely to make a difference. But a larger conference boycott movement, of which the company may be a part, is another story. The boycott of the National Collegiate Athletic Association of North Carolina, for example, was factored into that state’s repeal of a “toilet bill” that divides transgender people in 2017.
Kara Dixon Vuic, Master Corporal. Benjamin W. Schmidt, professor of war, conflict and society in 20th century America at Texas Christian University and a director and therefore a member of the board of the society, said on Monday that the board wished it could meet earlier than on Oct. 11 to discuss both the issue of conference venue and reporting policy, but that she was unable to respond to busy international member schedules prior to this time.
In the meantime, she said, “We take members’ concerns about these two issues very seriously – as well as the broader issues they have raised related to organizational governance, communication, transparency and inclusiveness. We welcome comments and concerns from our members and look forward to meaningful discussions.
Gregory Daddis, USS Midway Chair in Modern United States Military History at San Diego State University and other administrator and board member, said the ongoing debate “shows how academic societies should be absolutely committed to diversity and inclusion while aspiring to be non-partisan in our hyper-politicized time. He also said it was “incredibly important” to note that many members’ concerns are not just “political” “, but rather” moral and ethical, intensely personal and absolutely legitimate “.
Daddis, who is relatively new to the board, said he was “encouraged by the number of our directors who take the genuine and justifiable concerns of our members seriously and want to do the right thing.” for them. These behind-the-scenes efforts are often lost in the passionate hyperbole of social media. “
For now, Daddis has said he plans to attend the spring conference, but “in a way that highlights the legitimate concerns of our members who think the current wave of Texas laws are against rights. basic human and civilians “.