It’s been a long road, but supporters of equality in the armed forces will finally get, at least, a congressional hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Unfortunately, as elsewhere, the Republicans already have overly simplistic talking points lined up. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: distraction. From McCain (R-AZ) and Boehner, we’re hearing that a war is just not the time to shake up the armed forced. We can’t let what accommodations will have to be made become the driving narrative for the debate.
Rather, the issue must be staffing and readiness, issues around which there should be a fierce urgency. The middle of a war is emphatically the time to talk about expanding the voluntary corps. Expulsions based on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell were down in 2009, to around 450 from over 600, and far short of the historic annual high of nearly 1,000. But losing staff unnecessarily in a time of war, especially from in-demand positions like Arab linguists, is the equivalent of writing off friendly fire. Permitting gay soldiers to serve openly could result in a functional surge, returning much-needed soldiers to their posts, just where and when they’re needed most.
Crisis has often been an engine for accelerating social change. In World War II, General Eisenhower worked slowly towards the desegregation of the army because, owing to the exigencies of combat and training, segregation was simply impossible. Strapped for manpower, the Union Army first enlisted, then actively recruited, and finally provided equal pay for black soldiers. And the Emancipation Proclamation was initially, in some ways, a document of military necessity. Last week, Obama referred to military integration as “the right thing to do.” Historically, moving towards equality is also the smart thing to do.