updated 6/3/2008 3:32:25 PM ET 2008-06-03T19:32:25

Sociologist Charles Moskos, an expert on the attitudes of servicemen and women who helped formulate the "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays in the military, has died.

The retired Northwestern University professor died of cancer Saturday at his home in Santa Monica, California, his family said. He was 74.

His surveys on military personnel issues, such as morale and recruitment trends, made him widely quoted in the news media. But he was best known for the advice to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that led to "don't ask, don't tell."

Under the policy, passed by Congress in 1993 in the early months of President Bill Clinton's administration, gays are allowed to serve in the military, but they are prohibited from engaging in homosexual activity or talking about their sexual orientation.

He acknowledged that the policy, which had critics on both sides of the debate, was imperfect.

"It's like what Churchill said about democracy — it's the worst system possible, except for all the other ones," Moskos said in 2006. But he said allowing gays to serve openly would hurt the morale of the military rank-and-file and make many recruits uncomfortable.

To critics who called for the Pentagon to be more flexible about gays, he noted that "don't ask, don't tell" is the law.

"Any change in the status of homosexuals in the military requires congressional action," he wrote in a letter to the editor of The New York Times in 2005. "Your editorial implies that the military should disobey the law. Who is hiding from reality?"

He also was a strong advocate of military service for young people from all segments of society. He argued it would increase public support for the military.

"Imagine if Jenna Bush were in Iraq today," he said in 2004, referring to President George W. Bush's daughter. "We would be much more committed."

Moskos himself was drafted after his college graduation and served two years in the Army.

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