Young Turks

Just got back from the "Young Turks" conference in Durham. The conference is run through Duke's American Grand Strategy program and was a chance for a small group of junior people in the civil-military relations field to present their work to each other and to a small group of senior people. Lots of very sophisticated projects, almost all by political scientists, and very rich conversations following the presentations. I presented the argument I've been developing for a while about the suppression of domestic political concerns from the work of American operational strategy and American civil-military relations theory (a related phenomenon in my view). I was happy to see that the baseline intuition was shared by a few other junior people who had the same frustrations -- i.e. the place of politics in strategy is one of the big areas where the field needs to address if it's to stay viable. Unfortunately, I don't think I managed to translate my ideas into a theoretical vocabulary that will find traction among political scientists. The next step of that project is to get to a point where I can demonstrate the costs of ignoring this issue while providing a productive theoretical framework that other people can use. 

New publication: "Coser, Lewis A." IESBS 2/e

An encyclopedia article I wrote a few years back has finally been published in the new version of the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (IESBS, 2nd edition). For some reason, I'm very enamored with the piece, maybe just because of the inspiring life led by Lewis Coser and the fond memories of meeting some of his (equally inspiring) students as a result. In a nutshell, Coser strove over many decades to unite his political engagement with his multi-dimensional sociological research. One big lesson is the value of writing well -- writing about things that actually interest people. 

(The IESBS was one of the first social science resources I discovered when I started my PhD. Richard Breen sang its praises in an introductory methods course and indeed I've found it helpful over the years. So, it was a great feeling when my friend Andreas Hess invited me to participate.)

It can be read here with an institutional subscription.

Upcoming conference: Society for Military History, Montgomery AL, tomorrow

Presenting some work from my dissertation/ book project at the Society for Military History tomorrow. This is the end result of a panel Tommy Sheppard and I first started planning almost a year ago, when neither of us had PhDs, and we were both at Yale.  

1:30 in the Montgomery 1 room, with details from the program:

AUTONOMY, EFFECTIVENESS, AND CIVILIAN CONTROL: THE AMERICAN MILITARY’S ATTEMPTS AT SELF-OVERSIGHT, 1815-1973 

Chair:            Richard H. Kohn, University of North Carolina

A Radical Change of System: The Creation of the Navy Board and Civilian Control in the U.S. Navy

Thomas Sheppard, University of North Carolina

The U.S. Army vs. the Fahy Committee: Implementation of Racial Integration of the Army

Richard Cranford, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College

Autonomy, Capacity and the Publicity Strategy of the U.S. Army, c. 1941-1991

Thomas Crosbie, Yale University

Comments:    Lance Betros, Army War College

SSS, air power and double effect

As I noted in an earlier post, I presented new research on organizational responses to sexual assault in the military at the Southern Sociological Society last Thursday. Happy to have received some helpful comments, particularly from other scholars of the military. A standout presentation was by staff at the Air Force Academy, who described a course where students are first taught about the sorts of legal and moral issues that have been common during the COIN/ GWOT era, and then implement their teachings in highly realistic combat drills, which include the use of a drone. That same day I happened across a cheap copy of Tami Davis Biddle's Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare. The combination of the USAFA experiment and Biddle's argument about strategic bombing got me thinking about the long history of air power's "double effect".

If the intention is to kill an adversary, and the side effect is terror in a civilian population, then the use of air power is justified according to some metric of minimizing that side effect. (This might create a moral burden to educate a civilian population about your air power capabilities, which would be a strange sort of propaganda.) The other possibility, of course, is that the goal is to instill terror in a given population and effective targeting is a side effect. Biddle's book (and others, e.g. Dodge's Inventing Iraq) stress that air power decisions also follow a third pathway, back to domestic politics. The true goal for some on the air staff may be organizational in nature, i.e. to gain resources in an existential struggle with the sister services. Killing enemies and terrorizing the population may in that case both be side effects. Which of the two is given priority may shift as the conditions for assessing making the case for air power itself shifts. 

New article: "The US Army’s Domestic Strategy 1945-1965"

Thomas Crosbie, "The US Army’s Domestic Strategy 1945-1965", Parameters, 44.4 (2015): 105-118.

Just published in Parameters, the scholarly journal of the U.S. Army War College.

In the article, I argue that in the post-WWII era, several high-ranking officers in the Army dramatically misjudged the future place of the military in American society, anticipating a militarized culture with mass conscription, universal military training and the like (think Israel today). I describe this set of assumptions about civil-military relations as "Army Utopianism" and trace its emergence through operational policy (i.e. planning on how to wage war) and information policy. The information policy component draws from new historical documents that I don't think have been studied before, including two public relations plans detailing all sorts of strange ways that the Army could promote itself to its many publics. 

Upcoming Conference Presentation: SSS, New Orleans, Mar. 26 at 2:15

March 26, at 2:15 (Southern Sociological Society, New Orleans)
I'll be presenting preliminary findings from my new project (with Jensen Sass) on military sexual assault scandals. Over the past two years, there has been a flurry of public interest in the topic, but viewed through a longer historical lens we can see that this has been a recurrent topic of news interest since the early 1990s. Why didn't those earlier stories produce broad public interest? And given that the earlier stories didn't gain much traction, what sort of impact should we expect from the current round of scandal?

In our approach, which is a qualitative study of (i) news coverage of the four armed services, (ii) SASC hearings, and (iii) organizational developments, we're concerned with making three points.

First, we want to strongly reject naturalistic assumptions that an increase in violent sexual acts leads to more media coverage and thus more interest from top commanders. We've been living with this knowledge for a long time.

Second, we present a more detailed causal chain connecting media reports of sexual violence to commanders' work and from there to organizational responses. This is more or less along a theoretical arc developed by mediatization scholars (e.g. Couldry, Hepp, Lundby...). In short, media coverage sometimes forces top commanders to shift their performative stance, which may then lead to a cascade of organizational change.

Third, we hope that the causal argument will provide some leverage on what we should expect. There is reason to hope that today's heightened interest will normalize the topic to such a degree that lasting organizational change will take place. But this hope must be hedged against two alternatives: the performative is taken for the real; and real change is stalled due to coming budget cuts.