Framing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

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.

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6 comments

  1. And of course, Republicans would love to keep us perpetually at war, for many reasons… And then it would never be time for equality.

  2. The problem is that both are valid concerns.

    Our current wars are not like WW2 and the current loss of strength presented by DADT isn’t anywhere near the same as keeping racial minorities out of the armed services or not them hold combat MOS’s if they were allowed in.

    Personally I say let the gays serve openly, but I’m honest enough to admit that I just don’t know how much of impact it would have on operational efficiency, so this might not be the best time to do so.

    1. Which is it? Are gays a miniscule group, meaning the loss of strength from DADT is small, or are they a significant group that poses a significant threat to operational efficiency (because homophobes won’t work with them)?

      This isn’t about bolstering the military’s numbers with willing gay soldiers, though it is about gays that fit specific and necessary roles. It’s about equity.

      And it’s about DADT not being effective. Gays are being discharged at a consistent rate, meaning there are gays in the military, serving discretely, to be discharged in the first place. Homophobes in the military should currently be afraid that a squadmate might be secretly gay; with the repeal of DADT, at least they’d know.

      1. I’m a bit torn on this, but I thought about it and came to the conclusion that we’re both engaged in spurious arguments on the matter at hand.

        My full opinion the matter is too long for a comment. If you want, you can read it here.

        Essentially, I was mulling it over and realized that cause and effect arguments, for or against it, were immaterial.

        1. I read your more detailed post. I agree that any speculations about effects is irrelevant; DADT is plainly wrong and a bad law, whatever the effects of repeal.

  3. When oh when will American’s get over this issue?
    I am a senior military officer in the Australian Defence Forces, and am a graduate of USAF Air War College. We have had homosexuals in our military for years now (its not even an issue), and the sky hasn’t fallen in. It hasn’t effected discipline or espirit de corps, it hasn’t changed the way we do business, and quite frankly, no-one even cares any more about whether or not someone may be gay.

    I have served with openly gay officers and enlisted, and had them serve in units I hav commanded. It is a meaningless, non-issue.

    Do it, get over it and move on to something more important.

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