Several recent emails from Proceedings readers and Naval Institute members have made me realize we need to do more to explain the meaning of “open forum.” One member, in particular, wrote to complain that he would not be renewing his membership because Proceedings was showing its “liberal bias” by publishing articles on transgender service.
The Naval Institute’s goal is not to publish a magazine that all our readers agree with every month; it’s not even to publish a magazine I agree with every month. Our goal is to maintain the open forum to allow a healthy debate among those who want the best possible Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Since 1874, Proceedings has published new ideas and opinions—often at odds with the Sea Services’ status quo, programs of record, or stated policies. The ensuing friction, debate, and counterpoints have been good for the profession and are the heart and soul of the open forum.
The transgender issue offers a good example of one way the forum can work. From time to time, at the urging of our editorial board, we solicit manuscripts on specific topics because we want Proceedings to be timely, not because we want to promote a particular viewpoint. At the August 2017 editorial board meeting, one of our board members mentioned that Secretary of Defense Mattis owed the White House a recommendation on transgender service in early 2018. The board agreed that we should find someone to write about the topic in Proceedings no later than December 2017 if we wanted to be relevant to that policy discussion. We reached out to people on both sides of the issue, and the one person who wrote was Coast Guard Captain Jay Caputo—a transgender cutterman who had commanded several cutters and was the service’s leading expert on fisheries protection. Her “Should Transgender Persons Serve?” garnered a lot of online comments—mostly against, but some supportive. We know Secretary Mattis read her article and appreciated the perspective.
Many readers didn’t like Captain Caputo’s article, and we published a number of Comment & Discussion letters saying transgender persons should not serve. But we publish contentious articles nearly every month, and not just on social issues. “Can’t Kill Enough to Win? Think Again” drew a lot of fire. “How We Lost the Great Pacific War” angered some senior Navy admirals. “What Happened to Our Surface Forces?” was very critical of the surface navy in the wake of the 2017 collisions. There are many other examples of controversial topics in Proceedings over the past few years.
Our staff and editorial board do not have a liberal agenda, a conservative agenda—or any agenda. We publish the best content people in the profession send us. Most of our authors (about 80 percent in 2018) are active duty. We want the subjects discussed in the fleet and in the Pentagon to be in our pages and on our websites when they are most relevant.
Most readers will not like—or agree with—every article they read in Proceedings. I would argue we aren’t doing our job if they do. Our essay contests are judged in the blind. We welcome all comers. We consider all opinions. But we depend on submissions. If we get multiple views on an issue, we’ll publish them. If we only get one point of view, we’ll publish it. But if you only see one side of an issue represented, don’t assume we’ve suppressed the other. It means we’ve only received that side, and anyone is free to write an opposing piece. That is what we mean by “open forum”—and we hope you will continue to make it your forum to shape the future of the Sea Services and global security.
Captain, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Life Member since 1993