Saturday, February 6, 2010

Time To Repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell

There are moments in history when a nation must strive to make the ideals upon which it was founded a reality, when the principles of equality and justice must overcome the forces of tradition and fear. On February 2, 2010, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called on Congress to repeal the 1993 law that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Known colloquially as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law has resulted in over 13,000 military discharges over the past sixteen years. At a time when the military is stretched to its limits, as we fight two wars halfway around the world and contend with threats to our security from multiple fronts, we have lost thousands of troops to a policy that no longer makes sense.

“I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” Admiral Mullen testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “For me personally, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

Discharged not for misconduct, but for a sexual orientation that is biologically and psychologically ingrained, we have lost to prejudice and ignorance some of our finest and most decorated soldiers; those who have served their country admirably and with honor, simply because they are gay. The damage to our national security and military readiness from this unjust policy is substantial. Among those discharged since 2003 are over 300 Arabic and Farsi translators, without whom success in Iraq and Afghanistan is not possible. Although gay service members, like all of our troops, face the threat of death every day, merely because of their sexual orientation they must forever look over their shoulders and live with the fear of being “found out.”

It is a policy based on prejudice, not performance. By singling out a group of Americans for second-class treatment, by forcing them to hide who they truly are and to live in fear of accusation and discharge, the law harms the nation; it makes the military weaker by depriving it of a large number of loyal and talented Americans.

The present policy places our military out of step with many of our allies, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, and Australia, each of which allows gays to serve openly with no impact on military readiness, performance, cohesion, or the ability to recruit and retain troops. It is also out of step with public opinion. As noted in The Economist, a recent Gallup poll found that 69% of Americans believe that gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military. And a 2006 Zogby poll of those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan found that over 70% of service members are personally comfortable around gays and lesbians, and only 37% believe that gays should not be permitted to serve openly. It is undisputed that gays and lesbians have been serving side-by-side with distinction for decades in our military forces.

Air Force Colonel Om Prakash, who won the 2009 Secretary of Defense National Security Essay competition with a thoughtful and scholarly article published in the Joint Force Quarterly, contends that the law has been a “costly failure” whose stated premise – “to protect unit cohesion and combat effectiveness – is not supported by any scientific studies.” Because the law does not explicitly prohibit gays and lesbians from serving in the military – as long as they keep it a secret – it “has led to an uncomfortable value disconnect” as service members must “compromise personal integrity.” The psychological toll alone is too great for many to withstand, as an estimated 4,000 soldiers leave the military every year due to discomfort with an unjust policy. It also places commanders in the difficult position of being expected to know everything about their troops except for one important fact. As explained by Colonel Prakash, the 1993 law:
…was a political compromise reached after much emotional debate based on religion, morality, ethics, psychological rationale, and military necessity. What resulted was a law that has been costly both in personnel and treasure. In an attempt to allow homosexual Servicemembers to serve quietly, a law was created that forces a compromise in integrity, conflicts with the American creed of “equality for all,” places commanders in difficult moral dilemmas, and is ultimately more damaging to the unit cohesion its stated purpose is to preserve.
As a result of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Army and Marine Corps have lowered their moral and aptitude standards to make up for recruiting shortages, granting “moral waivers” to thousands of new recruits, including those with felony convictions. Thus, rather than a highly qualified gay recruit with an exemplary record, the policy favors recruiting convicted felons. Even Barry Goldwater, the hero of the conservative movement forty years ago, recognized the absurdity of the present policy. “You don’t have to be straight in the military,” he once said, “You just have to be able to shoot straight.” If only his fellow Arizonan, Senator John McCain, had the same set of scruples.

In 2006, McCain told a group of college students that he would drop his objections to having gays serve openly in the military “the day the leadership of the military comes to me and says, ‘Senator, we ought to change the policy.’” That day came last Tuesday, when Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates stated as clearly as possible, in McCain’s presence, that it is time to end an unjust, unworkable, and ineffective law. Senator McCain, however, appears to no longer value the opinions of the Generals, as he remains an outspoken opponent of repeal.

Even General Colin Powell, who strongly opposed President Bill Clinton’s attempt to end the discriminatory policy by executive order in 1993, now agrees that the policy needs to be re-evaluated. So does General John Shalikashvili, another former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who recently declared, “as a nation built on the principle of equality, we should recognize and welcome change that will build a stronger, more cohesive military.”

In 1948, President Harry Truman ordered the desegregation of the armed forces, recognizing that a policy that is based on prejudice and fear, that devalues the humanity of an entire class of military personnel and treats them as second-class citizens, is simply wrong. In 2010, these same principles apply to gay and lesbian service members who desire to serve our country with honor and integrity. A military committed to equal rights for all who desire and are capable of serving is a moral imperative.

President Obama is right for seeking the unequivocal repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and I find it heartening that Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen have spoken so eloquently and clearly in favor of the law’s reversal. This outdated law, based as it is on irrational fear and prejudice, sends the wrong signal to young people – straight and gay – who desire to serve our country and who are willing to risk their lives to protect our freedoms. If the United States values liberty, equality, diversity, and fairness, the U.S. military must be a place where soldiers can serve with integrity and honesty. The time for repeal has come.


  1. Mark,

    I’m torn. gays in the military is an important topic, but it is a topic, which, for some reason, bores me. Maybe because the answer is so obvious. Our military is unique among the institutions of our country and it should not be subjected to the social engineering that has degraded so many areas of our society. The military is not the American family that all too often has been destroyed by government manufactured dependence that rewards immorality. But morals can and do rise from the rubble. The military is not Hollywood that is always threatened by firm codes of conduct and so regularly trashes this institution based on honor. But even in this celebrity obsessed cesspool, a movie gem like “The Hurt Locker” is occasionally made. The military is not academia that drops Shakespeare but offers “womyn’s studies” and teaches that America was built by evil white men who stole the peaceful red man’s land and plowed and fertilized it with the bones and blood of the noble black man. But there are still places of learning to be found that offer a classical education. The military is not the criminal justice system that forces police officers to be defense attorneys, practically begging the offender not to admit his wrong doing. But there are still enough tools for a dedicated investigator to bring a bad guy to justice. All of these liberal viruses spreading through the body of America can be stopped with common sense cures, given enough time. The military buys us that time; time for all the wacky elixirs to be tried and time for the fever to break on its own. We can’t, however, allow the military to fall prey to the progressive’s virus of social tinkering, because the responsibility of the military is singular in nature and has nothing to do with equality or fairness.

    Whenever a change is contemplated within the military, whether it is to serve chicken instead of meatloaf in the mess hall on Friday or to allow gays to serve openly, one question above all must be asked: will this change result in our military killing more or less of the enemy? If the answer is less, then the idea should be scrapped and forgotten. If the answer is killing neutral then a host of secondary questions may follow. If the answer is that more of the enemy will be killed, then chicken on Friday it should be and mobile recruitment vans should be immediately placed in the parking lots of every Cher and Elton John concert.

    Contrary to the tone of your post, no one has the “right” to serve in the military; it is a privilege and that honor is denied thousands of people every year for countless reasons (President Obama got it wrong too, when he said, “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies Gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”) and ironically when someone is given the honor of serving, he or she must give up certain rights.

    So in light of these two truths: there is no right to serve in the military and the military exists to kill our enemies, let’s review your post.


  2. Liberals love to announce that the science is settled and you have done that with homosexuality, when you make the blanket statement that “sexual orientation (is) biologically and psychologically ingrained…” I’m neither a biologist nor a psychologist, but I know those are two different things and that the latter can be changed. I also know that debate of the former rages on. And just out of curiosity, please list just three of the “finest and MOST decorated soldiers” that we have lost to don’t ask, don’t tell (do you know something about Audie Murphy that the rest of us don’t?). Please also cite an example of the “substantial damage” done to our national security because of this policy. You attempt this by stating that 300 Arabic and Farsi translators were let go because of the policy, but this ignores the fact that a lack of translators has always been a problem and that the loss of 300 translators is a drop in the bucket. In addition, the statistic you cite may have come from Nathaniel Frank and his book “Unfriendly Fire,” which states that in 2002 the Army had a 50 percent shortage in Arabic linguists and a 68 percent shortage of Farsi translators, making the problem one of a shortage of translators, not of gay translators. Even if there was some weird predilection among gays for the Arabic and Farsi language, it would not be anywhere near enough to solve the problem. In addition, the military routinely contracts out work it needs to be done, so if there was this magic pool of gay linguists they need not enlist to serve their country.

    And once again you compare our country to other lesser (there’s that word again!) countries and suggests that we should be more like the lesser countries. But then comes my favorite part: to justify the end of the ban you quote polls showing that “69 percent of Americans believe that gays should be allowed to serve opening in the military.” Well live by the polls, die by the polls I say, and welcome to the pro-life side of the isle, because if you might recall from our earlier discussion, “69% of Americans are against partial-birth abortion…” and “57% of Americans are against abortion if it is to end an unwanted pregnancy…” You can’t have it both ways; gays in the military means babies not butchered! I however, can have it both ways because: (A) there is not a right to serve and (B) the military’s job is to kill people.

    You cite Air Force Colonel Om Prakash’s “thoughtful and scholarly” article, but a review of that shows that from the first sentence he links the fight for equal rights of the black race to the “rights” of a group of people who share a questionable behavioral trait. This is likely to be offensive to many blacks, especially those who suffered directly from discrimination, as well as to those religious zealots who still dare to think of the homosexual lifestyle as immoral.


  3. As for it being a “scholarly” work, no sooner do we start than we come across the 65,000 figure as the number of homosexuals serving in the military. This is apparently important because he uses the figure twice in the essay. But the footnoted source for this number is a New York Times article by Thom Shanker and Patrick Healy. And what was Shanker and Healy’s source? Twenty-eight retired generals and admirals said so in a letter. Quick, name another scenario in which intrepid reporters from the NYT would take “The Man” at his word? Not being a trained journalist for the NYT and therefore capable of a Google search, I located the original source, which was the Urban Institute. The figure came from an analysis of the 2000 Census, using the following methodology: “The decennial census does not ask about sexual orientation, sexual behavior, or sexual attraction (three common ways used to identify gay men and lesbians in surveys). Rather, census forms categorized individuals in a household by how they are related to the person filling out the form. If this person designates another adult of the same sex as his or her "unmarried partner" or "husband/wife," the household counts as a same-sex unmarried partner household, commonly understood to be a gay or lesbian couple.” A scholarly work would include such information and not rely on hearsay reporting.

    Nevertheless, the article is useful for many reasons. First the Colonel writes and you repeat that the “stated premise of the law (don’t ask, don’t tell or DADT)—to protect unit cohesion and combat effectiveness—is not supported by any scientific studies.” Now does that mean no studies were made or that the studies that were done show no link? Surely if there were studies that helped advance his position he would have cited them in his scholarly work. But if no studies were actually done — hard to believe after 17 years — doesn’t that suggest a need for studies before radical changes are made? Later on in the article, Col. Prakash stated that as of 1993, the birth year of DADT, there were “no direct scientific studies regarding the effects of acknowledged homosexuals on either unit cohesion or combat effectiveness.” And later still, “…there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals serve openly.” Needless to say, Col. Prakash makes a good case for the need of extensive studies before DADT is abandoned.

    The colonel is also honest (or unaware of your research) regarding the cause of homosexuality. Is it a choice? According to the essay, “the research remains inconclusive” and “…research has not yet yielded a definitive answer to this question.”

    The essay brings up just a few of the problems faced in the past and that we would face again, but then dismisses the severity of the problem: “Previously, the military found a lack of sexual privacy, as well as sex between male and females, undermined order, discipline, and morale. Dorm and facilities upgrades will no doubt be required. Sexual harassment regulations and sensitivity training would need to be updated, and guidance from leadership would be necessary. These would not be insurmountable obstacles.” Just what our Navy Seals and Army Green Berets need, more sensitivity training! And how might that make them more effective killers?


  4. Finally, you quote the colonel on the genesis of the 1993 law, which “…was a political compromise reached after much emotional debate based on religion, morality, ethics, psychological rationale, and military necessity.” So what has changed in regard to religion, morality, ethics, psychological rationale, and military necessity? Most religions are not as “enlightened” as the Lutherans and still consider homosexual activity immoral. You-won’t-be-asked-what-gets-you-hot-and-bothered-and-for-the-love-of-Pete-don’t-ruin-lunch-by-volunteering-that-information seems the epitome of ethical. As the good colonel pointed out, the science is not settled yet regarding what exactly causes this particular boat to float. And finally and most importantly, military necessity, which for thousands of years has been the same thing: kill more of them than they do of yours, but better still, leave your enemy no doubt that they will be utterly destroyed if they step into the breach.

    Now please justify the silly notion that because the military does not allow openly gay men and women (3 to 8% of the population) to enlist, that the Army and Marine Corps have had to lower their standards. As Lt. Gen. David P. Valcourt stated, “Today, seven out of 10 American citizens between the ages of 17 and 24... cannot qualify for entry into our services without some form of a waiver, ... and that is a national crisis." You would, of course, be right if America went 70 percent gay overnight, otherwise it is likely that there are many reasons for declining enlistment numbers, including, say, the U.S. being at war since 2001. So if DADT made the long list at all, it would be at the bottom. And just for giggles, here’s an interesting fact regarding moral waivers: According to a study by the Army (a much more reliable source for information than the NYT) the soldiers who received waivers “earned a higher ratio of valorous awards and combat badges” than the non-waiver soldiers.

    Now onto your slander of John McCain, a man who has sacrificed more for this country than you or I could do in ten lifetimes, who you accuse of having no scruples. What I found fascinating is that an article written for the Seattle Gay News was more honest in depicting McCain’s position than were you. The article, clearly slanted towards ending DADT, presented McCain’s case, quoting him fairly, “This successful policy has been in effect for over 15 years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels,” and “We have the best-trained, best-equipped and most professional force in the history of our country, and the men and women in uniform are performing heroically in two wars. At a time when our armed forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon policy.” McCain, it was reported, presented a letter “opposing the change signed by more than 1,000 former generals and other officers.” McCain may be a milquetoast Republican, but he deserves better.

    I just remembered, this topic bores me, so I’ll make this short – er. It may be that DADT should be repealed and that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly, but only if studies are done that suggests that the change will result in no loss of effectiveness to the primary mission of our military.

    Rich R.

  5. Rich,

    Despite my continued amazement that you and I occupy the same planetary zone, I appreciate (cough), as always (cough-cough), your comments. First, as to McCain, you're right, I should have included a reference to his 1000 generals letter that he waived during the Senate hearing -- it was great political theater designed to fend off his right-wing challenger in the Arizona Republican Senate primary race. When McCain said in 2006 that he would listen to the generals on this subject, I did not realize he was talking about 98 year-old WWI veterans. I thought that, after placing so much weight on what the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, had said when he opposed allowing gays to serve openly in 1993, that McCain would now listen to the present Chairman, who so forcefully and elegantly made the case for why it is not only the right thing to do, but is necessary for an effective military. That McCain, despite his past statements deferring to the military leadership, chose to second-guess Admiral Mullen, suggests that his motives in vocally opposing any repeal of DADT is purely political. Particularly since Mullen has the concurrence of two other former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, including Powell (who has re-considered his prior stance), as well as the highly regarded, bi-partisan Secretary of Defense.

    You focus much of your attention on Colonel Prakash's article. I gave this some play because, after all, he is a Colonel who studied the issue and his report won a Department of Defense essay contest. But had that article -- which does have some serious flaws, although not necessarily for the reasons you suggest -- never been written, my position would be the same.

    As can be gleened from your comments, the essence of most disputes concerning homosexuality has to do with whether it is perceived to be a sin and/or a mere lifestyle choice, as opposed to a status that one is essentially born with. This is not something that can ever be proven to a scientific certainty. But let me ask you -- when you were a teenager, did you "choose" to like girls, or did that just happen naturally? For most of us, this just happens naturally -- there is no choice involved. How many straight guys sit around on weekends and think to themselves, "Gee, maybe I'll perform sexual acts with another guy tonight -- just to see what it's like"? Need I say more? Is choice ever involved? If you are straight, is homosexual conduct supposed to be tempting, as if it is something deemed pleasurable, and thus sinful, which impulses we must resist? Anyone who thinks that obviously has issues with their own sexuality.


  6. Rich (cont'd):

    You and I, like 90% or more of the rest of the population, are hard-wired to be attracted to the opposite sex. Thus, why would it be any different for someone who is gay? Every single gay person I have ever known (including certain relatives, friends, former colleagues, and acquaintances) would tell you exactly the same thing -- there was no choice involved in their discovering that they were gay. Just like there is no choice involved in your sexuality as a straight person. It is for this reason that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is equivalent to racial and ethnic discrimination.

    When I hear the argument that the military is not a place to do social engineering, I am reminded of the arguments against having blacks serve with whites more than sixty years ago:

    "Experiments within the Army in the solution of social problems are fraught with danger to efficiency, discipline and morale." (General Omar Bradley, 1948, opposed to integration of the armed forces).

    "There is no more intimate relationship . . . they eat and sleep together. They use the same facilities day after day. They are compelled to stay together in the closest association." (Sen. Richard Russell, 1948, in opposition to President Truman's order integrating the armed forces).

    The fact is that gays have served and fought and died alongside straight soldiers in every war this country has ever conducted. By repealing DADT, we would simply be allowing all soldiers, gay or straight, to serve with dignity. We would stop forcing gay soldiers to live a lie, and we would give officers the ability to have a better understanding of the troops under their command. Misconduct, misbehavior - that will be dealt with. But to discharge someone simply because he or she is gay, serves absolutely no purpose and eliminates many qualified military personnel. I really don't see what the fuss is about. It's time to get over it and move on -- like all those "lesser" countries that don't know what they're doing when it comes to military competence -- you know, like Israel and Great Britain.