Rethinking DADT

Full disclosure: I write this as someone who has never served in the military.  However, both of my parents did and I have lived on and grown up around military bases and am a strong supporter of our armed forces and their critical mission.

On Saturday, the US Senate voted to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ("DADT") policy which prevents openly gay people from serving in the military. Eight Republicans voted with 57 Democrats for passage and the measure will go to President Obama for his signature as the House has already passed the bill.

Once signed, the necessary rule changes will be done gradually by the Pentagon in an effort to ensure minimal disruption to the functioning of the military, not least to combat unit cohesion.

DADT was enacted by Congress in 1993 in an effort to make sure Bill Clinton didn't allow openly gay people to serve in the military, a promise he made similar to the one Barack Obama made during his campaign. It's been a hot-button issue for Democrat politicians (including Clinton) since then.

In the past, I have written against repeal of DADT, arguing that it does not represent bias since all it's asking for is a lack of information" I realize "gay rights" groups disagree with my interpretation, but I don't care very much about the views of "victims" groups since I tend to see them as just one of the ways that our society becomes balkanized with one identity group trying to get special treatment from government or from society, usually from heterosexual white males.

For example, I wrote this: "Do you think military officers would consider it good behavior by soldiers or sailors if those young men or women spent more than 3 seconds expressing their heterosexuality during work hours?  If anything, repeal of DADT will not allow or even encourage gays to behave in a way which would not normally be permitted of non-gays.  It’s just the next step in adding a super-protected victim class to another area of American society. "

I also mentioned one possible path the repeal of DADT could take us down:

My view is that the military is not a place for diversity training.  It’s all about the mission.  And, like it or not, many members of our military are young, hardly worldly, not especially well-educated, and not necessarily broad-minded.  It is far more likely that repealing DADT will lead to disruption of order on bases or ships. Indeed, I can easily imagine a litigation-minded gay soldier serving just a little too openly and perhaps taking some verbal or physical abuse in order to be able to sue the government for not protecting his “rights". That is to say his non-existent right not to be offended (if he takes verbal abuse), or his actual right not to be beaten up – which should be mitigated if you do something which you know is likely to cause a negative reaction in those around you, especially a bunch of tense young soldiers whose definition of diversity is whether to have a Miller Lite or a Coors Lite.

While I still think these are real risks to military operation, I can't help but return to the words of wisdom my friend Don Boudreaux always demands people ask when thinking about economic policy: "Compared to what?"

I'm drifting, or perhaps have drifted, to a different conclusion about DADT based on that question, not least from learning that over 14,000 servicemen and women have been drummed out of the military under DADT since the policy's implementation 17 years ago.

Readers of these pages will note that I rarely change my view on an issue, but then I usually write mostly about economics where most of the answers are, to a committed capitalist, fairly obvious.  But my view on DADT has made a substantial evolution:

Can the military, which is to say can our nation, afford to lose an average of over 800 volunteer soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen each year, especially while we're fighting two wars?  And given the known, or at least perceived, hostility toward gays within the military, doesn't it stand to reason that these volunteers might perhaps be some of the most committed to serving their country given the extra hardship they go through to do so?

I've reached a conclusion that we shouldn't prevent openly gay people from serving in the military based on fears which don't have very much evidence behind them and fears that a few people will misuse our military and courts for their own benefit.

Indeed, the best answer to my fear of someone trying to extort money from the military or a member of the military based on having "rights" violated is perhaps for this nation to get a better handle on its court system, its judges, its legislators, and the tendency of juries to think of large institutions (whether public or private) as unlimited sources of money for those who claim even minor victimhood.

One of the biggest domestic risks to our military, as shown by the murderous Major Hasan at Ft. Hood, is political correctness.  The same fear of doing the right thing out of fear of being called racist is perhaps the major risk of failure of repeal of DADT: Military and non-military tribunals must show early and often that they won't serve as lottery tickets for gays who present cases of feeling offended or even being insulted.  If gays choose to make their lifestyle an issue at work or around coworkers, they should do so prepared for certain consequences.  That said, those consequences must not include any physical harm or professional disadvantage (such as being passed over for promotion) unless their behavior damages the operation of the military, in which case that person should probably be discharged anyway -- and in which case a military or civilian court should generally defer to the military's judgment.

Perhaps another way to deal with the risk of the sorts of lawsuits I describe above is to attach some sort of penalty (e.g. monetary, busting in rank, dismissal) to someone who files such a suit and is found to have intentionally caused the actions of others for which he or she is now suing.

I maintain my view that the military does not have diversity training in its mission statement, nor should it ever.  Their job is primarily to break things and hurt people.  But if patriotic non-heterosexuals want to take part in that mission, I no longer see a significant enough reason to stop them.

Bottom line: It's a travesty that more than 14,000 people who have wanted to serve in the US military have been denied that opportunity -- and that the nation has been denied their loyal service -- because they have a preference to sleeping with someone of the same gender.  Gay and straight military personnel should, to the greatest extent possible, keep their private lives to themselves, particularly during work hours, just as all normal people do during their work hours regardless of their sexual orientation, and get going with their critical mission of protecting our nation.  It is one of the highest possible callings and it has become clear to me that sexual preference simply can't be a disqualifying characteristic in and of itself.

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A friend of mine who served in the military, including working in the Pentagon, and is still an officer in the reserves, offered these thoughts:

I agree with you. I have grown to accept the idea, but am also violently opposed to using the military to change society. Just because you can impose thoughts on individuals and challenge/force to do things they wouldn't do in society--ie kill someone or take risks that will kill them--through the structure and discipline of the system does not mean that you should do it for everything. To do so unnecessarily, for the sake of social change, verges on fascism and abuse of power that this country was built to oppose.

However, the sad thing, and here is where we may differ a bit, is that the military has essential grown to be more sophisticated overall than the general population of the US. Exposure to nearly 20 years (Desert Storm, 1992) of continual large scale military operations on an unprecedented tempo has raised a military that has truly seen the world; they have become cosmopolitan in their own way. They have been exposed to exotic and archaic cultures and social practices. They have seen modernization and regression. They remain far more integrated on a daily basis, socially, than most of our comfortable, lazy, hypocritical society living their individual lives here in the US. It is for this reason that maybe the military is ready to handle this change before the rest of America.

The fact still remains that nothing should be done to risk American lives and there are still pockets of the military that are not prepared to handle this, most of them operational. It is a fact that nearly 25% of the DepSecDef's support staff is gay. That theme is not a product of this administration. The military has grown to accept this already. Any transition from DADT should leverage on these functions to continue the progress towards acceptance. It is no different in many respects to the role women played and the process they went through to gain acceptance. It has only been since my commission into the military that they were able to go into operations. They same approach should be taken for openly serving homosexuals as we continue to see and encourage social progress.

  • freak
    Comment from: freak
    12/21/10 @ 04:50:57 pm

    Different perspective from mine and, I'm afraid to say, I think you've fallen victim to the expansion of rights cry. So, first of all, nobody has a right to serve in any branch of the military. Everybody has a duty to serve one's nation and service in the military is, for those who are needed, an honor. Second, our military forces are the best trained, best equipped (our technological edge, for now, is significant), best motivated, best disciplined, and most demanding. Head to head, nobody even comes close (no, not even Israel's forces). I'd rather be defended by a platoon of Marines than a brigade of infantrymen from any other country on earth. So, in truth, DADT will have little impact on our forces' primacy. But, I think it will weaken our forces. This will not make an operational difference on the whole, but in individual circumstance, in individual situations, single engagement may have slightly different balance of outcomes. Not because homosexual sailors, airmen, soldiers or marines are any less capable. Nor because of inherent homophobic tendencies in our fighting men and women. No, I think that the presence of openly homosexual war fighters will have an impact, a subtle one, on troop cohesion and camaraderie. War zones, warships, battlegrounds are intimate, messy affairs. Soldiers perform best when they bond fully with their brothers-in-arms and when there is no thought to any distraction. I think that, in a slight, imperceptible way, this bonding will weaken. Of course, I still don't think the introduction of women into combat duties, together with men, was a good idea (no problem putting women in combat with women). I remember training with women in my midshipman class (a long time ago, very few of them). They were as capable, motivated, and hard-charging as any of the men. Nevertheless, their presence changed the dynamic within the force (and I compared notes with other midshipmen who generally agreed). Go around the confidence course with a woman in the group? Behavior changed. Long comment. Maybe not coherent. Maybe I'm just a cranky, intolerant, curmudgeonly old man; maybe not. Let me summarize: 1. The end of DADT will not jeopardize our national security or put the strength of our military in question with any of our allies or enemies. 2. On the other hand, there will be some losses that might have been avoidable. To the extent that a single American life is priceless, this is a tragedy. Freak.

  • Comment from: Rossputin
    12/21/10 @ 06:53:29 pm

    Freak, As H.L. Mencken used to say, you may be right. But I do not thing I've fallen into an "expansion of rights cry." My take is more that if the military could have 25K more volunteers, many of whom might be more capable than some of the current volunteers, it should take a very compelling reason to keep them out. At this juncture, I don't see a compelling enough reason. My argument is NOT from the point of view of rights for gays but rather the good of the military and the nation. I think allowing women in combat and on long tours at sea is a worse idea than repealing DADT. RGK

  • kjdiamond
    Comment from: kjdiamond
    12/23/10 @ 11:30:40 am

    I don't see how anyone that is supportive of free markets from an economic perspective can argue for DADT. If someone has the qualities and capabilities to perform at a high level, then that person should have access to the same opportunities regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. Just because a man sleeps with another man doesn't mean that soldier won't kill and be killed in defense of this country or his unit. That all being said, I am opposed to FORCING the military or any entity for that matter to hiring with quotas. That has to end. A free and open market within all aspects of one's life will allow those with the capabilities and skills to excel.

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