As promised, President Obama has resurrected former President Clinton’s effort to enable gay people to serve openly in the military, pledging to work with Congress and the military to overturn the law often referred to as “don’t ask, don’t tell." When couched in terms of multiculturalism, diversity, political correctness and innate fairness to all, there are cogent arguments to support this effort.
It is arguably difficult to embrace or defend a policy that denies an American citizen the right to serve his or her country based solely upon sexual orientation. And, the fact that many if not most of our allies, notably Great Britain and Canada, allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly fuels the debate.
There are also the arguments by pseudo-intellectual moralists who support social experimentation as the panacea for all ills.
Critics of don’t ask, don’t tell are uncommonly fond of reminding us of the cost of the program in not only the copious discharges but also the denying of service to Middle Eastern linguists and intelligence specialists. In all seriousness, I am not aware of nor have I found anyone else who can verify qualifications as linguists or intelligence specialists as endemic to the gay community.
There also exists an extremely popular myth among the policy’s opponents that military commanders throughout the chain of command actively conduct “witch hunts” to seek out and discharge gay men and lesbians. As one who has been there and intimately familiar with the procedure, I can state unequivocally that it is untrue. In reality, one of a commander’s worst nightmares is finding an overt gay man or lesbian in his unit – it reduces manpower and causes additional and unwanted paperwork.
The constantly floated concept that discharge of open gay people imperils military readiness by forcing out or refusing entry to skilled or otherwise valuable personnel is also a red herring. Statistics compiled by both the DOD and the Congressional Research Service (pdf) reveal that they comprise less than three fourths of one percent of those discharged before completing enlistment. Conversely, it is worthy of note that more than four times that number were discharged for failing to meet weight and fitness standards.
While it is praiseworthy that gay menor lesbians are patriotic Americans with a desire to serve their country, the 1993 statute, Section 654, Title 10 U.S. Code finds no Constitutional right to serve in the armed forces. Moreover, the statute states “The extraordinary responsibilities of the armed forces, the unique conditions of military service, and the critical role of unit cohesion, require that the military community, while subject to civilian control, exist as a specialized society; and the military society is characterized by its own laws, rules, customs, and traditions, including numerous restrictions on personal behavior, that would not be acceptable in civilian society.”
The very mission of our military, that of fighting and winning the nation’s wars to preserve our national defense, offers the best argument against repealing the law. We cannot afford, either in the name of social engineering or equal opportunity, to denigrate the effectiveness of the armed forces through social experiment. If it were desirable for the military to reflect the makeup of the population, 30 percent would be obese and the median age would be 35, neither of which is desirable in war-fighting circles.
It is no secret that many who favor repealing the law have neither served nor will ever be called to do so, particularly among the most vocal media critics. It is the law of the land and as such is the responsibility of Congress along with the advice and counsel of those who fight the wars to determine the demographics of the armed forces. During my 30 plus years of service, my sexual orientation was neither questioned nor made an issue; accordingly, I see no harm in the status quo. Zeal, patriotism and desire to serve notwithstanding, those who cannot or will not abide by the laws, traditions and customs of the military are a liability.
Polling data generally supports retention of the statute with career officers and noncommissioned officers the most opposed to its demise. The potential for the most harm to the good order and discipline and military cohesiveness is found in the entry level training–recruits are subjected to extremely close quarters and an ultra stressful regimen under the supervision of drill instructors whose sole objective is to transform them into soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Social engineering is hardly relevant to combat readiness and training.
Columnist Thomas Sowell epitomized this in 1993 with “Military morale is an intangible, but it is one of those intangibles without which the tangibles do not work.” One of the Marines 1970s recruiting pitches said it best: "The Marine Corps does not want to join you."
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.