Taking Sides: Repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

By David Goldich & Andrew Webb

In the long term, repealing DADT probably portends little, if any, danger for our military, if done for the right reasons . The infantryman has no qualms with repealing DADT if it makes our military better and his unit stronger. Emotional pleas and moral posturing, however, are unimpressive arguments to the Soldier who is in danger. Proponents of repeal can eschew the recommendations of all the service chiefs and have acquiescence toward their liberal worldview. But they must be prepared to accept a military whose primary purpose no longer is to prepare for war as best it sees fit. The triumph of emotion over military prudence can be as dangerous as any loss on the battlefield. When the needs of the services are bypassed in favor of histrionics that, for example, compare our personnel policies to Wahhabism, disaster has been, and will always be, the result.

This debate should not be about identity politics. Nor should it be about what may or may not be feasible for other countries with vastly different military responsibilities and national characters. It is about the fighting effectiveness of the U.S. military, and, in particular, those who predominantly fight. Because the officer corps inevitably dominates the military, most discussions about repealing DADT are highly officer-centric, with scant attention paid to the attitudes of enlisted personnel, particularly those in the combat arms. What may pass muster in staff meetings and officers' clubs does not necessarily represent barracks culture or thought. The service chiefs acknowledged as much when they unanimously stated in congressional testimony that careful study about the attitudes of the entire force would be necessary before implementing repeal. We would be wise to heed their advice.

Supporters of repeal should insist on studying and then explaining how repealing DADT will benefit not our individual moral health, but our fighting prowess and collective military might. Explain how repealing DADT will make the military better. The military constantly strives to improve and will listen to informed analysis, because the cost of inaction in the face of likely progress is measured in blood.

Homosexuals can and do serve. I have yet to see any reasonably methodological attempt to ascertain the attitudes of enlisted personnel in combat arms-specific occupational fields on repeal. Nor have I seen any empirical evidence that repealing DADT will strengthen the military. Until there is a compelling military reason to do so, Congress should not repeal the current law.

Mr. Goldich is a Quantico, Virginia-based defense analyst. He served two tours in Iraq (2006 and 2007) as a Marine rifleman with the 2d Tank Battalion. He later was attached to the 3d Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment.

Why Make Lying a Prerequisite for Service ?

By Andrew Webb

A number of arguments have been made against the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), but none is persuasive. One that perhaps is most often raised cites deeply felt opinions, beliefs, cultural cues, and attitudes individuals bring from civilian life. That argument was made in the 1940s against the racial integration of the armed forces, and it is the saddest and most telling argument. Sad because it indicates our ostensible leaders distrust their subordinates to transcend cultural prejudices. Telling because it demonstrates that opponents of repeal are unsure of their leadership abilities. Have they never had to execute disagreeable orders ? Subordinates take cues from their leaders; if leaders mask personal beliefs, even unpopular policies can be implemented with minimal fuss.

Opponents also say that it is meaningless to repeal DADT without changing the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) ban on sodomy—Article 125. They say it would be nonsensical to let gay men serve openly while still banning what widely is imagined to be male homosexuals' only means of sexual expression. Even assuming that what opponents imagine is true (and that fraternization is not an issue) why should private off-base consensual sex during off-duty hours be of any concern to commanders ?

There also appears to be a lack of awareness that the statute applies to males and females, heterosexuals and homosexuals. The Manual for Courts-Martial defines sodomy as anything other than penile-vaginal sex. That being the case, virtually all heterosexuals are guilty of some form of sodomy at one time or another. Yet gay men are singled out for prosecution.

Another argument is that allowing people of all sexual orientations to serve openly will invite illicit behavior on board ships and elsewhere. True leaders can always find ways to deal with disruptive conduct; they shouldn't assume that all gay men and lesbians will engage in proscribed conduct and exclude them based solely on that unfounded assumption. This also assumes that military men and women (gay or not) can't be trusted to tame their sex drives and act professionally and respectfully toward their comrades. Experience shows that they can and do.

A related objection to repealing DADT notes that the chain of command, discipline, and morale would be undermined were sex to be exchanged for favorable treatment. For those very reasons such behavior is punishable under the UCMJ and is considered sexual harassment. To have a blanket policy that excludes lesbians and gay men on the baseless assumption they're somehow incapable of not seeking special treatment in exchange for sexual favors is the epitome of disrespect.

Then there's the unit-cohesion argument. In an award-winning national security essay, published in Joint Force Quarterly in 2009, U.S. Air Force Colonel Om Prakash wrote "the stated premise of the law - to protect unit cohesion and combat effectiveness - is not supported by any scientific studies." But opponents nonetheless still drag out that argument, perhaps with the idea that the more often a lie is spoken, the more likely it will be believed. (Interestingly, that issue seems to exist mostly in the minds of Baby Boomers, not their children.)

Finally, there is opposition based on what I'll call the "ick" factor: lack of privacy. Gay men and lesbians are already present in sleeping and working spaces, open showers and heads. The problem for people who can't get past the "ick" factor lies not in homosexuals' presence per se, but in knowing they're present. I have three words for people like that: Get over it. Non-gay men flatter themselves that they're irresistible to gay men. Trust me, as a class they're not—especially when you live and work with them daily. (Military women, it is worth noting, seldom express concern that lesbians may be in their midst.) In any case, there is no reason to believe that gay and lesbian service members will feel compelled to come out en masse once the ban is repealed, so knowing that they're present largely will be a non-issue.

Those who object to repealing DADT reveal an inability to see the greater good. Accomplishing a mission despite one's personal views is the hallmark of professionalism. And yet many who consider themselves military professionals make these specious arguments against allowing capable personnel to be part of the mission.

The bottom-line question is this: Should service members who are performing functions vital to national security, who are responsible for extremely expensive equipment, who maintain the security of classified information, and who in all respects perform admirably, be required to lie about one facet of their lives in order to fulfill what they consider to be the privilege and patriotic duty of serving in the armed forces ? President Obama and Admiral Mullen think not. I agree.

Mr. Webb is a 1975 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy and a frequent contributor to Proceedings . As an openly gay civilian he worked as liaison between the University of California-San Diego's HIV Neurobehavioral Research Center and the Naval Medical Center San Diego's HIV ward.



More by this Author

None found for this author.

Events and Conferences

None found for this author.


Conferences and Events

Maritime Security Dialogue

Fri, 2016-07-08

You are cordially invited to: Delivering on the Vision for the Future of Submarine Warfare A discussion with Rear Admiral Charles...

2016 Naval History Conference

WEST 2017

San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership