Military Historians Divided over Boycotting Texas for Conference

Historians in the News
tags: military history, abortion, Texas, boycotts

The Society for Military History is divided over holding its annual conference in Texas next spring, as long planned, in light of the state’s new ban on abortions after six weeks and other controversial legislation involving voting rights and transgender youth.

The conference location debate escalated in recent days, following a letter to members from Peter Mansoor, society president and General Raymond E. Mason Jr. Chair 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 current course. Moving the conference at this late date would cause serious financial harm to the society,” to the tune of $90,000 in contract cancellation penalties. Hotel employees and local businesses also would be affected, he said. (Craig Felker, executive director of the organization, said Tuesday that the current penalty for cancelling the contract was about $221,300.)

Beyond 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 society must be nonpartisan and apolitical and make decisions based upon the society’s mission.”

To “take action against the Texas legislation,” he argued, would “take us beyond” the society’s mission of advancing military history, “into politics.”

Mansoor based his opinion, in part, on a policy on public statements that the society’s governing council adopted during the Trump administration. Prior to adopting this policy, the society’s council signed on to a statement by the American Historical Association condemning the Trump White House’s 2017 ban on travel from a number of majority-Muslim countries. Dozens of other historical organizations signed on to the AHA’s statement, too. But facing criticism from a vocal minority of its members that the society had acted inappropriately politically, the council voted to limit further public statements to those involving exceptional circumstances, as determined by the society’s Board of Trustees, and only when those circumstances have some bearing on the society’s mission.

Mansoor, who declined an interview request, said that no decision about the conference has been made and that the council is meeting on Oct. 11 to discuss the matter. Yet some members have argued that releasing a letter on society letterhead expressing a strong opinion against moving the conference suggests that a decision has already been made. Moreover, members have argued in discussions now spilling over onto social media, isn’t Mansoor’s letter a political statement in itself -- the kind of statement that he argues the society shouldn’t be making? And isn’t taking no action to move the conference a political decision?

“In making a statement that you won’t make a statement about political fights you make a political statement that you find certain view points acceptable and welcome them,” Adam H. Domby, an associate professor of history at Auburn University, tweeted at the organization. “It would have been better to say nothing.”

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed

comments powered by Disqus