Today, I read a column in the Washington Post entitled Gays and the Military: A Bad Fit. It was entirely frustrating, but it served some good, because it motivated me to finally write that post about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Without further ado (and because Casey is staring at my blog, hitting refresh, and waiting for me to post this), here you go. My comments are in bold.
Gays and the Military: A Bad Fit
By James J. Lindsay, Jerome Johnson, E.G. “Buck” Shuler Jr. and Joseph J. Went
With the nation engaged in two wars and facing a number of potential adversaries, this is no time to weaken our military. Yet if gay rights activists and their allies have their way, grave harm will soon be inflicted on our all-volunteer force.
Letting gay members serve openly doesn’t change the makeup of the military. Gay Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen ALREADY serve in our armed forces and there is absolutely no evidence that they have weakened our strength. Our all-volunteer force isn’t falling apart. It’s insulting to suggest that our military is so unprofessional that the troops would mutiny if they found out that some people—with whom they’ve been serving without problem—are gay.
The administration and some in Congress have pledged to repeal Section 654 of U.S. Code Title 10, which states that homosexuals are not eligible for military service. Often confused with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” regulations issued by President Bill Clinton, this statute establishes several reasons that homosexuality is incompatible with military service.
Section 654 is based on several distorted facts and a number of unfounded opinions, but aside from that, it DOES NOT state that homosexuals are not eligible for military service on the basis of being homosexual alone. It states that homosexual behavior is not accepted by the military, but provides for certain circumstances in which it can be permitted. For example, a normally heterosexual soldier can go out and have a homosexual encounter when he gets drunk one night, and that’s alright. A homosexual soldier can have a long term devoted relationship, and that’s not ok. Yep, certainly seems to be promoting a culture of self control and discipline.
Section 654 recognizes that the military is a “specialized society” that is “fundamentally different from civilian life.” It requires a unique code of personal conduct and demands “extraordinary sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice, in order to provide for the common defense.” The law appreciates military personnel who, unlike civilians who go home after work, must accept living conditions that are often “characterized by forced intimacy with little or no privacy.”
I’m not even sure how this supports their argument. Are they suggesting that homosexual soldiers are incapable of “extraordinary sacrifice”? Doesn’t the fact that so many gay soldiers are currently serving and DENYING a part of their of identity because the military thinks they should be ashamed of it mean that they are actually more used to sacrificing than heterosexual soldiers, who can easily discuss relationship problems or bring their significant others to military functions?
While there have been changes in civilian society since this statute was adopted by wide bipartisan majorities in 1993, the military realities it describes abide. If anything, they are more acute in wartime.
In our experience, and that of more than 1,000 retired flag and general officers who have joined us in signing an open letter to President Obama and Congress, repeal of this law would prompt many dedicated people to leave the military. Polling by Military Times of its active-duty subscribers over the past four years indicates that 58 percent have consistently opposed repeal. In its most recent survey, 10 percent said they would not reenlist if that happened, and 14 percent said they would consider leaving.
If just the lesser number left the military, our active-duty, reserve and National Guard forces would lose 228,600 people — more than the total of today’s active-duty Marine Corps. Losses of even a few thousand sergeants, petty officers and experienced mid-grade officers, when we are trying to expand the Army and Marine Corps, could be crippling.
First, the Military Times poll was not drawn from a representative sample of the military population, but rather from a self selected group of people who read their publication. Anyone who’s taken a class in basic statistics and research methods knows you can’t draw solid conclusions from flawed data. Second, there is a difference between attitudes and behavior. Servicemen in the 40’s were opposed to integration of the services, but when they were told to accept it, they did. West Point students pledged to leave the service if women were admitted in the 70’s. They didn’t. Approximately half of British and Canadian troops said they would not serve with gays, but when their respective bans were lifted, they didn’t. Let’s talk about some more reliable statistics:. In 2004, an Annenberg poll found that a slight majority of junior enlisted favored openly gay service. In 2006, a Zogby poll of Iraq and Afghanistan vets found that 72% were “personally comfortable” around gays. [Source:Palm Center Policy Memo] Around half of the troops knew of or suspected that someone in their unit was gay. Somehow, they’ve managed to continue effectively functioning. Shocking. The authors must have missed those studies. I would expect more attention to detail from retired flag officers.
And the damage would not stop there. Legislation introduced to repeal Section 654 (H.R. 1283) would impose on commanders a radical policy that mandates “nondiscrimination” against “homosexuality, or bisexuality, whether the orientation is real or perceived.” Mandatory training classes and judicial proceedings would consume valuable time defining that language. Team cohesion and concentration on missions would suffer if our troops had to live in close quarters with others who could be sexually attracted to them.
A “radical policy”? Not really. It just says you can’t discriminate based on someone’s sexual orientation – whether it’s their actual orientation or just what you think their orientation is. Notwithstanding the fact that you should just be able to say, “Hey, you know how you’re forbidden from discriminating against people based on gender and race? Now you can’t do it based on their sexual orientation either,” such anti-discrimination training could prevent things like the pointless murder of Barry Winchell from reoccurring. A waste of valuable time? Not so much. Cohesion in the military is based on task cohesion, which is actually stronger than social cohesion anyway. Letting gays serve openly wouldn’t hurt that.
We don’t need a study commission to know that tensions are inevitable in conditions offering little or no privacy, increasing the stress of daily military life. “Zero tolerance” of dissent would become official intolerance of anyone who disagrees with this policy, forcing additional thousands to leave the service by denying them promotions or punishing them in other ways. Many more will be dissuaded from ever enlisting. There is no compelling national security reason for running these risks to our armed forces. Discharges for homosexual conduct have been few compared with separations for other reasons, such as pregnancy/family hardship or weight-standard violations. There are better ways to remedy shortages in some military specialties than imposing social policies that would escalate losses of experienced personnel who are not easily replaced.
Is “zero tolerance” of dissent something new to the military? Now I’m not in the military (yet), but I’ve always been under the impression that in the military you don’t get to decide which policies you agree with and will abide by. They tell you to do something, you do it. If you don’t do it, you don’t get promoted and you get punished. If you’re really opposed to being told what you can do and when, you are dissuaded from enlisting. Essentially, these officers are saying they don’t think people should be forced to abide by this policy, but forcing people in the military to abide by policy is nothing new.
And comparing homosexual conduct to pregnancy/family hardship and weight-standard violations is like comparing apples to oranges and bananas. For one, if pregnant, women are given the option to leave – not told that they have to. In the Navy, they’re not even allowed to leave unless they can prove “overwhelming and compelling factors of personal need.” When they’re no longer pregnant, they go back to work. Being overweight can keep you from doing your job; it can endanger your life and the life of those around you. And, sort of like pregnant women, when you’re not overweight anymore, you can get back to work. I would like to see the statistics on losses from pregnancy and weight standards, because I’m not quite sure I’m buying this statement. Even if I did, the military deals with those losses because there’s no way around it. You can’t tell women not to get pregnant, you can’t tell people not to get overweight (although you can stick them on strict training regimens)… but you can somehow tell people not to be gay? No. Those are completely avoidable and unnecessary losses.
People who are gay are always going to be gay. Their sexual orientation does not endanger the lives of people around them. The integration experiences in other countries suggest that being open about sexual orientation also decreases the probability that their sexual orientation will endanger their lives. When a person is free to report harassment to his chain of command without fear of being discharged for homosexual conduct, the frequency of harassment decreases.
There’s also a problem with the authors’ statement about the losses of experienced personnel who are not easily replaced. I’ve already expressed my doubt that many people will actually leave, but guess what else? The gay soldiers being discharged aren’t easily replaced either. The GAO estimated that 800 of the 12000 servicemen discharged under DADT held mission critical positions: pilots, linguists, medics, intelligence analysts. The cost to replace them and train new service members was over $363.8 million.
Some suggest that the United States must emulate Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada, which have incorporated homosexuals into their forces. But none of these countries has the institutional culture or worldwide responsibilities of our military. America’s armed forces are models for our allies’ militaries and the envy of our adversaries — not the other way around.
What about Israel, the UK, and Australia? Convenient omissions maybe, because these countries have also integrated gays into their militaries, and with high levels of success. No one disputes the strength of the Israeli military, or the strength and worldwide responsibilities of the UK. No one is suggesting that the United States military needs to model itself after Denmark, the Netherlands, and Canada (and Israel, the United Kingdom, and Australia). Rather, they are countering the belief that allowing gays in the military will reduce military efficiency and cause mass numbers of servicemen to flee the service by providing examples where these things did not happen.
As former senior commanders, we know that the reason for this long-standing envy is the unsurpassed discipline, morale and readiness of our military. The burden should be on proponents of repeal to demonstrate how their initiative would improve these qualities of our armed services. This they cannot do.
How can telling our service members that they must respect all their peers regardless of their sexual orientation hurt discipline? It seems to me that it would demonstrate the strength of our services to follow through on orders that they may not personally support. How can the addition and retention of qualified soldiers—especially linguists, pilots, medics, and intelligence analysts—hurt morale and readiness? It can’t. They cannot do because you are all close minded bigots—and that is not a word I use lightly.
Consequently, our recent open letter advised America’s elected leaders: “We believe that imposing this burden on our men and women in uniform would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all echelons, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the All-Volunteer Force.”
You can believe that all you want gentlemen, but it is an ignorant and unfounded belief. There is no proof that allowing gays to serve openly would undermine recruiting and retention or impact leadership. If military officers cannot enforce a policy on their troops, they are lacking the leadership required to be military officers. Further, parents do not “lend” their sons and daughters to military service. Young men and woman choose to enlist because they want to serve their country. If they feel they cannot serve their country because the person to their right or left happens to be a homosexual, perhaps they should find another way to serve their country. Just as we would not indulge their prejudices against the opposite sex or different religions and races, we should not indulge their prejudices against people with different sexual orientations.
For further reading, I strongly recommend Unfriendly Fire by Nathaniel Frank.