Thursday, February 4, 2010

Nobody Asked, But I'm Telling: Thoughts on Getting Rid of DADT

Beyond the Cheerleading, DoD Needs to do "Due Dilligence" on Possibly Throwing out Don't Ask Don't Tell

Somewhere near the corner of National Identity Boulevard and Rugged Individualism Road, we can expect to see a major car wreck in the next few months. As if the Obama Administration didn't have enough to tackle (even before trying to fix two hundred years of desperation in Haiti), stand by for a sexual identity war the likes of which have never been seen. And, similarly to every other major civil rights debate, the Department of Defense is front and center.
During the State of the Union address, President Obama repeated a campaign promise to can the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy regarding homosexuality in the military. "DADT" was the product of a bipartisan compromise after Clinton's first legislative effort--repealing the ban on homosexuals serving--was crushed by lack of institutional support and a lackluster effort by Congressional Democrats, then the majority. DADT is codified under Title 10, and can be viewed in its entirety here:

DADT did not repeal the ban of homosexuals serving in the military. Instead, it provided a mechanism for them to serve--so long as they remained "in the closet." Outing yourself, or being outed--usually with some sort of empirical evidence such as photographs, etc--is grounds for dismissal. Dismissals used to be "Other Than Honorable" but modern guidance directs most cases to be labeled as "Honorable." According to statistics fielded by the Boston Globe, between six and seven hundred soldiers are dismissed from the military each year--the overwhelming majority for outing themselves.

In testimony this week first before the Senate Armed Services Committee and later before the House Armed Services Committee (and also on Twitter), Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen not only revealed a "blue ribbon" panel to investigate avenues of implementation of opening military service to homosexuals, but their 'personal' support of such an initiative. This marks the first time that a current SECDEF and CJCS have endorsed a legislative change (in 1991, then Chairman General Colin Powell was one of the biggest opponents). The endorsement has led to Senate accusations that the Department of Defense leadership is trying to circumvent the Constitutional legislative process and is ignoring the impacts to the uniformed military in a time of two wars.
The potential impact to the Department of Defense cannot be understated. Admiral Mullen testified that he believes the issue to be one of personal and institutional integrity: the military's core values are compromised by its members pretending to be who they are not while talent is discouraged from applying due to bias against them. In addition, the retention of members that are compelled to resign and or admit their sexuality would allow the department to hold onto trained personnel--essential in a time of war. The viewpoint espoused by Admiral Mullen is naïve. Integrating homosexuals into the military--openly--is not going to be a simple matter-of-fact action that can be accomplished with a pen stroke. Serious issues, with impacts that will transcend the department and reach into the rest of the federal government and even the states, will have to be reconciled. Amongst them:

- Where is the line drawn? Gays and Lesbians? Transgenders? Transsexuals? Is serving in the military a constitutional right, or, as noted Civil-Military Theorist Samuel Huntington says, "does the military's functional imperative [ability to break things and kill people] trump all?"

- Berthing (where the troops live in barracks and ships): will homosexuals and their heterosexual counterparts live together? If so, why do heterosexual males and females live apart? That comes with significant cost!

- Gay Marriage: Will the department recognize same-sex unions that are validated by individual states? Is it lawful for the department to recognize some and not others? Does this mean that benefits will be extended to dependents? That comes with significant cost!

- Culture: The military has traditions such as the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. In accordance with DADT, only male-female couples are allowed to attend such events. Will they go away, or will they continue? How will the military's aggressive heterosexual culture adapt to accommodate homosexual families? What will they have to change so as not to offend? What will that do to unit cohesion?

- Diversity: One of the most contentious issues in the military today (not that you'd know it by leadership testimony) is the effort by leadership to promote more women and minorities in order to produce a more rainbow military. Accusations have been leveled at the Naval Academy and other commands throughout the DoD that military members of certain gender and race are awarded "extra credit" and the road for them plowed by superiors mindful of appearances. The US Navy has initiatives to increase the number of minority members of the department's civilian Senior Executive Service, the Officer Corps, and the Senior Enlisted ranks. Will homosexuals be included in this? Certainly you would think they would, as a minority element. Will this increase the disenfranchisement of the largest demographic (white heterosexual Christian male, single, age 18-24)?

- Reality: Much has been made of the Netherlands model for having the military open to homosexuals. I have personally embarked Dutch Marines onboard my ship, and seen their interactions with American Sailors and Marines. While acknowledging that Europeans are "just out there" in their behavior, I can say that we had many incidents of Sailors and Marines wanting to fight the Dutch when they encountered homosexual sex, were "hit on," or were victims of sexual harassment. Similarly, I have read reports of Americans responding harshly at Iraqi and Afghani allies who (as a matter of cultural normalcy), were found engaging in homosexual acts or hitting on their American counterparts. I recognize that American discipline would eliminate much of these problems (as it does now with service members serving "in the closet"); however once being homosexual in the military is no longer forbidden, would it be reasonable to assume that an increased amount of newly lawful demonstrated homosexual behavior / speech would incite our largest heterosexual demographics? What will that do to unit cohesion (see culture)? In case anyone doesn't know, lack of unit cohesion translates into decreased morale, in turn leads to less combat effectiveness.

When it comes to homosexuals in the military, I don't know the answer. DADT is an imperfect solution. Whenever I am confronted by a social problem regarding sexual identity, my politics crashes into the question "could I stand by this ideological belief, look my gay friends in the eye, and tell them that this is how it's going to be?" When it comes to child adoption, I can't. I believe my gay friends would be outstanding parents. I really do. I think that their prospective kids will face a lot of unique challenges, but I believe in my friends and their hearts and capabilities. But when it comes to national defense, I draw the line at our capability to kill bad guys and to break their gear. We cannot pretend that America's warriors will not be affected by this. And in the middle of the Global War on Terror (yes, it is still going on despite what the administration claims), we cannot afford to degrade our combat capability. I have yet to see a compelling argument to show that such a legislative action will not grossly degrade our combat capability, and in turn, make us a much more vulnerable nation.

America prides itself on rugged individualism. But sometimes our individualism is not compatible with every organization. The US military is a martial organization that requires a specific breed of person. The US military molds you to fit what it needs. You cannot be an individual. You are a member, a teammate. Significant thought, consideration need to go into determining if the team can continue its essential winning ways with open homosexuality.