Opinion

Don’t ask, don’t tell, 
don’t change

Politicizing the military doesn’t just worsen our security, it’s
bad civil-military relations

Let’s start with one basic, almost indisputable fact: the likely effect of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) will be to make our military weaker. Judging by the recent survey of servicemen, the Marine Corps will suffer the greatest impact: of those marines who say they’ve actually served with a homosexual leader, co-worker, or subordinate, they reported that in 28 percent of instances it worsened their unit’s ability to work together, in 26 percent it reduced unit morale, and in 25 percent it harmed the unit’s performance. Virtually no Marines reported that having an effectively open homosexual in their immediate unit had a positive effect.

Furthermore, if DADT is repealed, 38.1 percent of marines said they would think about leaving earlier or definitely leave earlier than planned, while only 2.2 percent said they would think about or definitely serve longer than planned. This is on top of an already high surveyed attrition rate; 34.2 percent reported that they would probably or definitely leave following the completion of their present obligation. On the net, if we assume that half of the “probably”s and “think about it”s follow through and leave at the end of their current assignment, the repeal of DADT will raise the percentage of marines leaving as soon as legally able to 55.5 percent.

Even if we supposed that green recruits could effectively replace the half of our veteran corps that plans on leaving over the next few years, from where would we obtain them? Roughly 30 percent of our marines report that they would likely have never joined had DADT not been in place. And most homosexuals (who, if election exit polls are to be believed, represent less than three percent of the population), don’t find the right to openly serve to be very important factor in whether they join the military — less than one in six of those currently serving in the Marines say they will come out of the closet after DADT is repealed.

Perhaps the surveys are wrong, and the integration of open homosexuals into our military will proceed as smoothly as it has in other countries. It’s dangerous, however, to make this assumption — the U.S. context, with its high fraction of evangelical Christians and cultural conservatives, is different from that of, say, Britain or Canada. If we chose all our policies based upon success abroad and without regard to context, we’d have Saudi Arabia’s energy policy, Uzbekistan’s port security, and Monaco’s welfare program.

“So what?” you might ask. Isn’t this a matter of equality? If a third of our Marines are so uncomfortable serving with an openly gay member that they would leave the corps, isn’t that their issue, not ours?

There are three problems with this. The first is that there is no “right” to serve guaranteed by the constitution. The military excludes many classes of people as a matter of course: single parents with custody, the very young, the old, the insufficiently educated, the physically unfit, and so on. And even those who are allowed in have a range of restrictions placed upon them when it comes to speech and rights. There is no obligation by the U.S. government to make military service available to anyone.

Secondly, the trade-off seems hardly to our advantage. Homosexuals already have the opportunity to serve in our military — the opportunity to serve openly is a marginal improvement, and if it comes at the price of repeatedly decimating our armed forces, then it comes far too dearly.

Lastly, and most importantly, making trade-offs of this nature sets a dangerous precedent. The number one executioner of republics are their own standing armies. There are few more suicidal routes a democracy can take than merging their military affairs with their civil. This is why, when it comes to military policy, there can only be two goals: bigger dog or better cage. Whether it is the debate over the military-industrial complex, or private military contractors, or what to do with a general like Stanley A. McChrystal, there are two options: either we enhance the ability of our armed forces, or build higher the walls we have erected to keep them separated from our domestic politics.

Using the military to advance a domestic agenda is unacceptable. I am sure President Obama has little intention to use the military as a political tool for more nefarious ends than helping win the next election, but he must recognize that the military does not exist for his own political expediency. Generations of statesmen have fought hard to constrain the military, to keep it bounded within a specific political mandate. To act as if those walls were not there, to make the military a component in some sort of social policy at the expense of its effectiveness is the height of recklessness.

DADT is a fair compromise between tapping the military potential of a small minority and avoiding the disruption that that minority’s inclusion creates.

13 Comments
1
goodmanl over 7 years ago

Keith,

I usually agree with you because you usually respect the standards of evidence. Not so much today.

First of all, the responses from the survey are inherently flawed. Most straight soldiers probably have incorrect perceptions of what will happen when DADT is repealed; they probably think their unit will fill up with Kurt from Glee, or they'll get hit on, neither of which will happen.

You also dismiss comparisons to other countries who allow gays to serve, saying their militaries do not actually fight and their people aren't as conservative as ours. You fail to mention Israel, which fights as actively as the US military, and which probably has a MORE conservative populace. There have been no problems with gays in the Israeli military.

As you mention, most gays in the military will NOT come out when DADT is repealed. That does not mean that the repeal is only a small benefit for gays in the military; rather, as Andy writes in the opposing editorial, it means that they can stop being fearful of being outed by saying the wrong thing or having word of a boyfriend or girlfriend back home reach their unit. The other huge benefit of repealing DADT, that Andy doesn't mention for some reason, is preventing sexual assault. Straight women are more likely to give in to sexual demands by men and tend to fear reporting sexual assault for fear of being denounced as a lesbian.

I also noticed that you use the word gay once and homosexual five times, compared with Andy's use of the word gay exclusively. To me, this means that you're biased against gays, and this bias is coloring your judgment. (Google Tyson homosexual if you think I'm crazy about this last point).

2
John over 7 years ago

Interesting perspective. FYI - http:OutMilitary.com is providing a supportive environment for gay and lesbian active duty military, vets and supporters.

3
Hyhybt over 7 years ago

"Lets start with one basic, almost indisputable fact: the likely effect of repealing Dont Ask, Dont Tell (DADT) will be to make our military weaker."---That's not a fact. It's an assertion, and one that needs a lot of support that, so far, doesn't exist before it can rationally be used as the basis for an argument.

4
Drew over 7 years ago

"The first is that there is no 'right' to serve guaranteed by the constitution." No, but the Constitution does guarantee equal protection, and DADT prevents non-heterosexual servicemembers from joining LGB-related associations, telling people they're LGB, or being able to petition for redress. Many other countries have allowed LGB servicemembers to serve openly without incident, and as Lucas noted, Israel is even more conservative than we are.

When addressing a serious subject that affects millions of American servicemembers, I'd hoped that The Tech would at least have had the respect to get its columnist to read why courts ruled against DADT. Instead, we got a bunch of discredited arguments.

5
JIm over 7 years ago

From a recent Keith Yost article:

"Benjamin Disraeli is once said to have remarked that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. As a man who views the world through empiricist lenses, Ive never been fond of the saying (I prefer to think of the three categories as lies, damned lies, and personal anecdotes), but there is some truth to the maxim."

Later in the same article:

"They are motivated not out of concern with the statistics themselves, but by their ideological preferences and partisan allegiances."

... observed the man whose entire premise here is based on statistics. Which, incidentally, show that a minority of active soldiers have a bee in their bonnet about gays in the military.

But true to form, Mr. Yost suggests that the views of a few should decide the policy of many regardless of popular opinion. Big surprise.

6
Marcus Aurelius over 7 years ago

4: The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment - I assume this is the specific article of the Constitution you are referring to - is a constraint on the STATES, not on the federal government. Even if it did apply to the federal government, opportunity to serve in the military cannot reasonably be argued to be a form of "protection" offered by the government. Protect me! Send me to Iraq!

It is also true that homosexuals do serve openly in foreign armed forces. Here's another fact - we, and not they, are the world's superpower. Keith Yost already explains why successful integration of gays in other country does not necessarily mean it will work here.

5: A minority of all active personnel won't mind serving with openly gay colleagues. But a majority of combat troops - those on the front lines and the spearhead of American power projection - do have problems with it. It's a minority but a critically important minority which opposes repealing DADT. It's also disingenuous to say that 30-35 is a "small" minority. Military effectiveness will be hindered if that much leaves.

The armed services are not a sociological laboratory or a "microcosm" of our diverse society. They comprise a war machine and personnel selection and retention are purely employment decisions based not only on the fitness of the individual but also larger cost-benefit calculations - for example, if we let gays come out, how many people will leave? How will that affect the ability of the military to execute its mission? How does deterioration of military effectiveness affect our ability to conduct foreign policy, and ultimately, defend our national security and interests? Those are far more important concerns.

7
5 over 7 years ago

"A minority of all active personnel won't mind serving with openly gay colleagues."

Are we reading the same statistics? Because that isn't what the figures included with this debate say at all.

"But a majority of combat troops - those on the front lines and the spearhead of American power projection - do have problems with it."

Note: 44.3 is NOT a majority.

"It's a minority but a critically important minority which opposes repealing DADT."

You are suggesting that we pander to the views of a minority (reminder: less than 50 per cent is a minority) rather than those held by the majority. Stupefying, but not altogether surprising considering your basic premise.

"It's also disingenuous to say that 30-35 is a "small" minority."

Thanks, but if you're still talking to me as '5' I never said "small" no matter how much your quote tries to imply that I did. Fact is: it's the minority view. Period.

"Military effectiveness will be hindered if that much leaves."

Saying and doing are quite different things. I'll be interested to see how this plays out, and how many of these troops follow through on their implied promise to leave.

This also assumes that once DADT is completely history not a single LGB person will see it as a positive step and enlist when they would not have under DADT (or prior). Sure, it would be a very small number - a minority perhaps? But as we've seen the minority can make all the difference. Right?

By the way, be sure to follow up with statistics on the mass exodus of troops fleeing the military over this.

Are those crickets I hear?

8
5 over 7 years ago

I'll do it for you:

Time Magazine, February 18, 2011, from an article by Mark Thompson - quoting Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos:

"When asked if any Marines have fled the force or if recruiting has been hurt by the change, Amos was blunt. 'I haven't had any indication yet at all -- not at all' of such an impact. 'I think it'd be naive to think that somewhere down the road there's not going to be issues -- I think there probably will be, in probably all the services -- but I don't think its going to be of a magnitude that's going to cause much more than a blip.'"

A blip. Hmmm.

Thanks for the boogey-man scenarios, but the Commandant of the Marines doesn't even agree with you.

9
Anonymous over 7 years ago

After World War II, Harry Truman desegregated the military by executive order, and he didn't even survey the troops to see if any bigots in their ranks didn't feel like obeying their commander in chief. Let's hear some arguments from the Keith Yost of 1948:

"Virtually no Marines reported that having an African American in their immediate unit had a positive effect."

"Roughly 30 percent of our marines report that they would likely have never joined had segregation not been in place."

"Black people already have the opportunity to serve in our military the opportunity to serve in combat is a marginal improvement, and if it comes at the price of repeatedly decimating our armed forces, then it comes far too dearly."

"The number one executioner of republics are their own standing armies."

This old Keith Yost sure does sound awful, doesn't he? He defends institutionalized racism simply because it's in the armed forces, and even hints that white soldiers might overthrow the government if they have to share their barracks and water fountains with black soldiers. Sixty years later, with America and its military still intact, we can shake our heads at the fact that people used to believe such garbage. I'm glad the Keith Yost of 2011 is nothing like this.

10
Drew over 7 years ago

6: The Supreme Court has already ruled that reverse incorporation allows the same standards to be applied to federal programs. And the idea that not employing LGB people is somehow not discrimination is absurd. As with any other government body, it is illegal to discriminate in employment absent a compelling state interest.

Yost argues that because Canada and the UK are less homophobic than the U.S., we have no idea how repealing DADT would end. Yet we already have many, many test cases of countries more homophobic than we, and there is still nothing to suggest that it would negatively impact our armed forces.

11
Marcus Aurelius over 7 years ago

7: 60 of those in combat units oppose repeal of DADT. This was from the Defense Department's own survey.

"Pentagon plays down survey results showing most combat troops oppose repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'"

http:www.cleveland.comnationindex.ssf201012pentagon_plays_down_survey_res.html

You mentioned that most of the top brass expressed assurances that repeal would be no problem, but put yourself in their shoes. There are fewer levels of command between them and a commander-in-chief who robustly supports repeal. They can attach whatever conclusions they want to draw from the internal servicewide survey about DADT policy, but the numbers are the numbers.

12
Mitt over 7 years ago

Turns out, what people say is not what they do. So, there is unlikely to be a mass exodus in the marines, even thought they say they'll leave.

Overall, even if such marines leave, the question is - why? Is it because have homosexual people will fundamentally alter their work environment in a negative way? How so?

In fact, the fact that so many people claim they'll leave means like this is a big deal. Why should it be? Are the marines the people who care more about their fellow soldiers' ability to fight rather than them being gay?

This is good as a step towards making this a Don't Care.

13
JIm over 7 years ago

"60 of those in combat units oppose repeal of DADT. This was from the Defense Department's own survey."

The 60 per cent points to a very specific question about task cohesion. Not "opposes repeal". Be sure to include that: combat troops who have the biggest problem with homosexuality also do not believe that they have ever worked with a gay person. So how are they qualified to comment?

Indeed: "The Pentagon report on 'dont ask, dont tell' also found that 69 percent of those surveyed believed they had already worked with a gay man or woman. Of those, 92 percent reported that the units ability to work together was very good, good or 'neither good nor poor.'" (New York Times, 11302010) Troops with experience in this don't share the view that cohesion will be negatively impacted. From the DoD report: "These survey results reveal to us a misperception that a gay man does not 'fit' the image of a good warfightera misperception that is almost completely erased when a gay Service member is allowed to prove himself alongside fellow warfighters... As one special operations force warfighter told us, 'We have a gay guy. Hes big, hes mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay.'"

"Pentagon plays down survey results showing most combat troops oppose repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'"

The bulk of that article confirms what I have been saying all along, i.e.: "When asking that same question of Marines who have worked with a gay person, 84 percent said they thought unit morale and cohesion hadn't been affected."

"You mentioned that most of the top brass expressed assurances that repeal would be no problem... There are fewer levels of command between them and a commander-in-chief who robustly supports repeal."

Good point! And they agree: "At the end of the day, whatever the decision of our elected leaders may be, we in uniform have an obligation to follow orders." (Admiral Mike Mullen, in the cleveland.com article)

"They can attach whatever conclusions they want to draw... but the numbers are the numbers."

The premise of Yost's article was that a repeal would make the military weaker (the "indisputable fact"). There is as yet no indication that it has or will, regardless of the cherry-picked opinion-poll statistics anyone clings to about troop departures or unfounded perceptions of cohesion. Further, the leaders of US troops do not believe that it has or will either (to anywhere near the degree that Yost describes).