February 4, 2010

Alcohol Use, Adultery, Fraternization, and Body Art

On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen appeared before Congress to discuss the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy, which prohibits gays and lesbians serving in the armed forces of the United States from openly admitting their sexual orientation.  Both men advocated repealing the 16-year-old law, with Admiral Mullen saying:
No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens... Allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.
A day later, former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell lent his support as well:
I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I will be closely following future hearings, the views of the Service Chiefs and the implementation work being done by the Department of Defense.
While this is a watershed moment for gays in the military, it is nonetheless only the first step in ridding the American services of a rule that not only discriminates against men and women who serve honorably, but which diminishes the capacity of the armed forces.  If the recommendations of Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen are followed, a year-long assessment of the impacts of this change by the Pentagon would have to be completed, and then, of course, Congress would need to pass legislation ending DADT.

Predictably, this set off a round of deeply concerned bigotry from people like the Family Research Council (FRC)'s Tony Perkins, the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon, the serially-incorrect Bill Kristol, and perhaps most comically, Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, fretted that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military would lead to "alcohol use, adultery, fraternization, and body art."  All of these critics focused on what they perceive as the threat to unit cohesion from the presence of homosexuals.

The idea that the presence of openly homosexual personnel diminished unit cohesion is, to put it succinctly, unsupported by anything approaching fact.  A long list of nations - including our close ally Great Britain and a dozen or so NATO countries - have allowed homosexuals to serve openly with little difficulty or drama.  Further, a recent comprehensive, award-winning examination of the issue of open military service by homosexuals in Joint Forces Quarterly had this to say:
If the ban on homosexuals was lifted, it is worth considering what impacts there would be on the Services. There are potential lessons to learn from other countries that have lifted the ban on homosexuals serving openly. There was no mass exodus of heterosexuals, and there was also no mass “coming-out” of homosexuals. Prior to lifting their bans, in Canada 62 percent of servicemen stated that they would refuse to share showers with a gay soldier, and in the United Kingdom, two-thirds of males stated that they would not willingly serve in the military if gays were allowed. In both cases, after lifting their bans, the result was “no-effect.”44 In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops.
The 1993 “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law was a political compromise reached after much emotional debate based on religion, morality, ethics, psychological rationale, and military necessity. What resulted was a law that has been costly both in personnel and treasure. In an attempt to allow homosexual Servicemembers to serve quietly, a law was created that forces a compromise in integrity, conflicts with the American creed of “equality for all,” places commanders in difficult moral dilemmas, and is ultimately more damaging to the unit cohesion its stated purpose is to preserve. Furthermore, after a careful examination, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals serve openly. In fact, the necessarily speculative psychological predictions are that it will not impact combat effectiveness. Additionally, there is sufficient empirical evidence from foreign militaries to anticipate that incorporating homosexuals will introduce leadership challenges, but the challenges will not be insurmountable or affect unit cohesion and combat effectiveness.
It is time to stop shaming honorable men and women who want to serve their country because they are attracted to a member of the same sex.  And it is time to stop sacrificing the much-needed service of valuable personnel because they make the religious and socially prejudiced uncomfortable.  The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell has been a long time coming, and we will be a better nation for striking it down.

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