Beginning of the end for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”?
Posted by sanityinjection on February 4, 2010
It’s starting to look that way. President Obama wants to end this policy and allow homosexual men and women to serve openly in the US military.
15 years ago, when President Clinton first considered the question, there was heavy opposition from within the armed forces to what they saw as a politically motivated move being forced on them by Washington. The result was the compromise “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, in which homosexuals were allowed to serve provided they did not disclose their orientation.
I stress the word “compromise”. I’m not aware of anyone who ever viewed DADT as an ideal solution to the problem. I supported the policy as the best way of moving forward – I thought it was the right call at the time and have never had cause to reconsider that judgment.
However, a lot of time has passed since then. Attitudes toward homosexuality have evolved, not only in society as a whole but within the military itself. There is a new generation of soldiers who came into the armed forces with gay and lesbian friends and generally are scornful of the DADT policy. Also, the very fact of DADT has allowed individuals who, while not publicly “out”, are basically known informally to be homosexual, to serve in combat in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, other servicemen and women have become more comfortable with the idea of “sharing a foxhole” with a homosexual soldier – because they’ve done it.
In other words, unlike in Clinton’s time, there is now substantial support *within the armed forces* for doing away with DADT. For those of us who take seriously issues like unit cohesion and morale as they affect military capability, this is an extremely important point. When you add the fact that our armed forces are stretched thin to the bone, with every able man and woman a valuable asset, the military may well feel that it cannot afford the luxury of foregoing the services of men and women willing to serve their country but unwilling to make a secret of a central facet of their identity.
But make no mistake, this is a major change for the US military. It will be far-reaching, and there will inevitably be wrinkles that have to be worked out. So I support the position taken by Defense Secretary Gates: We’re going to do this, but we’re going to do it carefully and thoughtfully and not in a rush. If that means a year or more before the new policy is fully implemented, so be it. There will be time for all kinds of official studies to show, in the words of one GOP Congressman, “concrete, in-depth evidence that readiness concerns require a change and that such a change would not degrade wartime military readiness in any measurable, significant way.” This will give the politicians the cover they need to vote a change in policy – cover they don’t have at present and would not be eager to go into the 2010 elections without.
There is reason to be optimistic about the military’s ability to handle this well: when President Truman ordered the racial integration of the armed forces, it was accomplished much more rapidly and smoothly than in civilian society. I believe that DADT was a policy that served its purpose when it was created. I also believe that its usefulness is coming to an end and it is time to move forward with a new policy that is better suited to the military of the 21st century – but as with a military mission, we must lay the groundwork first before sending in the troops.