March 13, 2007

Time to End "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Marc Comtois

I have to confess that I haven't really put a lot of thought into "Don't ask, don't tell," over the last few years. Now, comes this story about General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday that he supports the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving in the military because homosexual acts "are immoral," akin to a member of the armed forces conducting an adulterous affair with the spouse of another service member.

Responding to a question about a Clinton-era policy that is coming under renewed scrutiny amid fears of future U.S. troop shortages, Pace said the Pentagon should not "condone" immoral behavior by allowing gay soldiers to serve openly. He said his views were based on his personal "upbringing," in which he was taught that certain types of conduct are immoral...

Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University who was instrumental in helping the Pentagon craft the "don't ask, don't tell" law, said it is unusual for a top commander to use morality as a justification for the policy. But he said he has repeatedly heard enlisted members use that reasoning when opposing gays in the military.

"With the enlisted, it's a question of cohesion, but morality is something they always bring up," said Moskos, who declined to comment specifically on Pace's remarks.

I respect General Pace's personal feelings on the matter and Moskos brings up the reason for which I've tended to support the current, "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Now, however, I think that "Don't ask, don't tell" has served its purpose. It was useful because it served as a pragmatic bridge between two different military generations. The older generation of officers, like Pace, understandably call on their personal experience and collective belief that having homosexuals in the ranks is disruptive to overall morale. They know that they would have been uncomfortable working alongside homosexuals and project this onto today's fighting men and women.

Today's soldiers, sailors and marines have grown up in a different time. I certainly don't have any particular insight into the attitudes of today's enlisted or officers. However, I think it's safe to say that they reflect the attitudes of their Gen X / Gen Y generation, who have grown up in an era of total exposure to homosexuals and the gay lifestyle. Thus, I think that most simply don't think it's a big deal to work with or be around homosexuals. They've probably done it already and their non-military peers do it every day.

Is the military a different entity than society in general? You bet. That is why "Don't ask, don't tell" was such an important policy. It was in no way an ideologically pure way to deal with the real issue, but it bought the military some time to acclimate itself to the broader cultural change in attitude towards homosexuals.

In a different time, African-Americans and Japanese-Americans had to prove their patriotism and fighting ability in a segregated military environment. Gay men and women also want to serve their country and, once they prove (if they haven't already) that they can do the job, I think that straight men and women in the military will accept them within their ranks.

Addendum: Incidentally, I agree with Pace on the adultery point. As Jonah Goldberg so eloquently put it, we don't "need to 'liberate' our troops so they can be free to boink other men's wives and other women's husbands," whether they're gay or not, I'd add.

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The times, they sure are a-changin', no?

Posted by: mrh at March 13, 2007 12:48 PM

So... they should be able to serve and die in the service of the same country that won't afford them marriage rights?

Posted by: Greg at March 13, 2007 12:51 PM

First of all, marriage isn't a "right."

Second, it's one thing to work alongside - it's a whole 'nuther thing to "live with": sleeping alongside in bunks, showering, foxholes, etc.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at March 13, 2007 2:16 PM

If you take homophobia out of the equation, there is no real issue with gays in the military. The issue is really one of national security importance and doesn’t involve all gays – only closet homosexuals.

DADT was a political solution that ignored the national security aspect of gays (those who are closet homosexuals) in the military.

Prior to DADT, there was a ban on all homosexuals in the military, which meant that all gays in the military WERE closet homosexuals.

The national security concern about homosexuality is that foreign agents might use a person’s homosexuality against him/her if perhaps the servicemember didn’t want grandma, or the guys at the pool hall, to learn about their homosexuality. A foreign agent could (and would) attempt to extort sensitive military information holding up the threat of outing their target. This isn’t paranoia. I held a top secret clearance when I was in the military and had access to sensitive information. I have seen proof that this really happens. (I’d give specific examples, but then I’d have to kill you.)

People have varying degrees of courage and integrity when faced with such a threat. People who wouldn’t crack under severe torture, might just cave rather than have their mom, dad or dart team, learn of their secret.

Perhaps the best policy would be to only allow openly gay people in the military with a stipulation that, if you lie about it when you enlist, and you are found out later, you’re kicked out with a dishonorable (for lying) discharge. But, I’m sure some would claim they just “discovered’ their homosexuality.

When I was in, the military had a similar policy on pre-enlistment drug use. If you admit to past use, you are required to sign a waiver. But, if you deny it, and are found out later, they kick you right out.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with gays in the military. But I do hope our policymakers do a better job of protecting our national security interests.

Posted by: Perry Ellis at March 13, 2007 2:22 PM

I walked away and it just hit me that what I said was "only openly gay people in the military"

I am not proposing a ban, or a dndt on heterosexuals. I was only suggesting that openly gay people would pose less of a security risk than those who hide their sexual preference.

Posted by: Perry Ellis at March 13, 2007 2:40 PM

Ragin' Rhode Islander: you ain't that pretty.

Posted by: mrh at March 13, 2007 3:53 PM

>>Ragin' Rhode Islander: you ain't that pretty.

Maybe not. But I done hear'd that I gotta purty mouth.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at March 13, 2007 4:35 PM

We have enough trouble retaining military personnel without booting out gays who are willing to serve. If it takes a homophobic flat-earther like Pace to bring about necessary change, mmmkay.

Posted by: rhody at March 14, 2007 1:17 AM