I think every American should have the right to kill Taliban. That includes homosexuals.
But I don’t want to impair our aggregate ability to kill Taliban in order to include homosexuals in the effort. I’m not saying that including openly gay men and women in the armed forces will impair our ability to kill Taliban, just that effectiveness has to be considered in limiting membership in the force.
Effectiveness has two aspects: recruiting/retention and unit cohesion. I don’t know how permitting open gays to serve will effect either of those phenomena, but I am worried by the arguments advanced that it won’t affect them.
First is the claim that there have always been homosexuals in the army, and many have served bravely and effectively in units that have not been disrupted by their presence. The problem with this claim is that it is completely unresponsive to fears about openly gay service members. Don’t ask, don’t tell permits closeted gays to serve, presumably because closeted gays have no effect on recruiting/retention (except to expand both to include closeted gays) and no discernible effect on the performance of their units (although one cannot know what one gay soldier’s crush on another might mean in a pinch). But nothing about the experience with closeted gays tells us anything about a force that welcomes openly gay soldiers.
Second is the concern that we may lose valuable talent, specifically Arabic translators. It seems to me that this argument cuts both ways. If losing gay translators is a problem, then losing straight translators who don’t want to serve with gays would also be a problem. It won’t do to say that homophobic translators aren’t worth worrying about, because the whole point of the argument is that we need translators. Any policy change that produces fewer net translators cannot be defended on the ground that we need translators.
Third is the claim that a growing number, now a majority, of armed forces members say they would have no objection to serving with openly gay unit members. Maybe. But doesn't that imply that a significant minority of the current force and of the potential recruiting pool would be uncomfortable? And if so, would there really be enough openly gay recruits to replace those straight soldiers who quit and those straight young men who refuse to be recruited. BHO is fond of saying how his stimulus bill kept jobs from being lost. Can't we apply the same logic to claim that Don’t ask, don’t tell has prevented many resignations and abstentions from enlistment?
Fourth is the argument that Blacks were integrated in the face of similar hostility. That is true, but when Truman integrated the service, there were way more Blacks looking to serve than there are gays. History records that Truman’s Executive Order, issued in 1948, wasn’t really implemented until the Korean War demanded a larger recruitment pool. Thus, racial integration appears to have helped recruitment. By 1986, nearly 20% of the armed forces members were Black. That cannot be the case for gays. How the recruitment/retention consequences will play out is hard to predict, but the irrelevance of the Black experience seems to me safe to assume.
Finally, there is the affecting claim that forcing gays to live a lie in order to serve their country in a service that values personal honor is just plain wrong. That’s a good point. But then what? Why do people think that one good argument is all it takes for their position to win the day?
And then there’s unit cohesion. Again, the experience of closeted gays is irrelevant. The greatest threats to unit cohesion arise from (i) straight soldiers’ squeamishness about being sex objects of identifiable platoon-mates, and (ii) romantic entanglements of openly gay soldiers with each other. Undoubtedly, there are Brokeback Mountain relationships in the service now, but the number is too small to matter. If openly gay men and women are invited to join, the number of couples, and, worse, triangles, may expand exponentially.
I am not arguing here that homophobia and the resulting animosity between soldiers are a reason to exclude gays (although it could prove to be). I am talking about the real fact of serving in close quarters with someone who views you the way you view the opposite sex. A straight male soldier showering with a gay is entitled to feel as if he were showering with a woman or as if he were a woman showering with a man. An enlightened indifference toward the co-showerer’s sexual preference per se is fine, but it has no bearing on one’s comfort level in the shower with someone whose idea of a sex partner is you.
I don’t pretend to know how admitting gays into the military will work out. I do know, however, that the arguments advanced, other than fairness and “honor,” i.e., the ones not related to recruitment, retention, or unit effectiveness, are all bogus, and it would be nice if something more cogent could be offered in its support.
Finally, there is the matter of risk. Certainly, there is some risk that admitting openly gay service members will have a negative effect on recruiting, retention, or unit effectiveness. Whether that risk is small enough to run depends not only on whether the change is "right" as a matter of social policy, but also on how bad the consequences of being wrong would be and especially, how difficult reversing the policy would be if it harms our military readiness. How would that be known? Would our political machinery ever acknowledge that a drop in recruiting/retention absent a ban on gays was the result of ending that ban? Or would that old stand-by, a demand for impossibly absolute proof, be trotted out? My guess is that the genie will be permanently out of the closet.