An Interview with Professor Diane Mazur: Towards a More Perfect Military?

Michael F. Shaughnessy – Its main point is that the military is most healthy when it respects constitutional values.

Michael F. Shaughnessy

Eastern New Mexico University

Portales, New Mexico


1) Professor Mazur, you have just written a book entitled A More Perfect Military : How the Constitution Can Make our Military Stronger. Who publishes this book and what were the main points that you were trying to make?


“A More Perfect Military” was just published by Oxford University Press.  Its main point is that the military is most healthy when it respects constitutional values.  Unfortunately, since the end of the Vietnam draft, our civilian branches of government–the President, Congress, and the courts–have been trying to distance the military from the Constitution.  They assume that constitutional values get in the way of military effectiveness, but that’s not true.


2) Let’s go back in history to those thrilling days when George Washington was leader of the Revolutionary Army. Now, I am not a historian, but was there ever any problem with gays or lesbians or bisexuals in the Army back in 1776?


It’s hard to say, because at that time we really didn’t think of people as being “gay” or “straight” the way we do today, either in the military or in civilian society.


3) Fast forward to the Civil War- I know that some former slaves actually fought for the South. Any problems during that time period?


I’m not an expert on the Civil War era.  “A More Perfect Military” focuses on the modern military, particularly the all-volunteer force and how it has changed the military, not always for the better.  Today the military is more distant from civilian society, more resentful of civilian leadership, and more politically partisan.


4) What does the Constitution say about “alternative life style” in any of the amendments- does it restrict the ability of a person that is either gay or lesbian from serving?


One thing that’s interesting about the Constitution is that it wasn’t designed to limit the rights of people. It was designed to limit the powers of a new federal government and, in the amendments, to protect certain rights of individuals against government intrusion.  The Constitution doesn’t say anything about sexual orientation, but it does have a lot to say about liberty, in the 5th Amendment, and that’s what courts have relied on in protecting a zone of privacy for personal intimacy.


5) Now, some people may say that “morale” however you define it, is not a good reason for prohibiting service in the military. But I am somewhat afraid of individuals that have psychological problems, or mental health issues or psychiatric problems with guns and bombs and grenades and the like. Where do you draw the line and who draws it?


Both Congress and military leaders serving under the Commander-in-Chief will draw those lines.  The key is not that the military can’t draw lines, but rather what kind of lines can it draw under the Constitution?  For example, government can’t draw religious lines in deciding who can serve in the military.  However, the vast majority of reasons the military might reject someone for service don’t involve any special constitutional protections.  Issues involving women in military service, or gay people in military service, are more difficult because the Constitution limits the ways in which government can draw those sorts of lines.


6) Obviously we screen individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental retardation out of the military. In your mind should we also screen out those who are legally blind or visually handicapped or visually impaired?


Yes, at least as long as we’re going to have a relatively small military in relation to the tasks we ask it to perform.  The military has an interest in making sure its people can serve in as wide a range of duties as possible, without limitation.  In a much larger military, there could be room for individuals with limitations.


7) I was in college during Viet Nam, but I had friends that went and told me it was HELL. I capitalize HELL here to make a point. Should soldiers, who are already in a very difficult situation have yet another thing to worry about in terms of the courage, skills and abilities of their peers?


I suppose members of the military could find a million different reasons to distrust their colleagues, because members of the military differ from one another in a million different ways.  They come from all walks of life, and from all around the world.  The military is very successful at getting people to look beyond what makes them different.


8) In the Air Force, they fly planes and each pilot has their own plane, yet they often rely on teamwork. At what point does a commanding officer have the right to restrict a pilot?


Pilots are subject to many restrictions, which are often enforced at the complete discretion of the commander, based on the commander’s sense of the pilot’s ability to perform up to standard.  The harder question is what sorts of things should we leave to the commander’s discretion?  What if, for example, a commander doesn’t think female pilots can do the job, regardless of their records of performance, skills, etc.?  We once kept women out of planes, and off ships at sea, for exactly that reasoning.


9) I hate to bring this up, but I have to be blunt and honest. You may have heard about Fort Hood. Apparently, people in the military cannot even trust the medical personnel who are supposed to be there to help them. Any thoughts?


This event was a symptom of how strapped the military is for good people, despite all the glowing words we hear about military recruiting. 

Everyone who worked with Major Hasan could see that he had serious problems and was incompetent at his job, but everyone pushed him through because there was no one else to take his place.


10) What have I neglected to ask?


It’s been a pleasure.  Thanks for the questions.

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November 9th, 2010

Michael F. Shaughnessy Senior Columnist

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