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.
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.
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