Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Don’t Ask

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.


  1. Larry- I must say that I am totally disappointed in your views in this post. I can only describe your comments as being homophoebic, and quite shallow .

    You seem to completely disregard the experience of some other significant major countries who have no problem with having "open" gays (whatever that means) serve in their armed forces. England, Israel, Canada,to name just a few. Those countries armed forces have had no problems,with having gays serve "openly" in the military, and studies by independant research think tanks (Rand and others) have seen absolutely no diminution in the effectiveness of the armies (or navies of those countries).

    By the way, how do you define an "open gay" from a "closeted gay". Do you really believe that there is anybody in todays Armed Forces who doesn't know when there is a "gay" soldier or sailor or flyer in their unit. Come on Larry- you either got to be kidding, or are terribly naive.

    I also believe that your analogy to Truman's order and the recruitment of blacks in the military in inapt. I served in the military (although for only 6 months of active duty) in the 50's and their was more prejudice against Jews than there were against Blacks.

    The key to success in the military is unit cohesiveness- and gays in the military (whetther closeted or not) have not had an effect upon unit cohesiveness. Don't believe me- read the Rand report.

    Larry- have gays coming out of the closet and their rooming together with straights ruined our universities? Have they ruined the way docotors and staff work in a hospital's OR or ICU? Have they ruined the effectiveness of the police or fire departments ina everey city. Can you point to any study to show that there has been the slightest effect. You should back up your assertions and feeling with some documentation.

    Fnally, do you really believe that evcery gay person is out there stalking every straight person as a potential sexual partner? If you do,there is so much to learn about what sexuality is all about.

    You really missed the mark on this blog.

  2. Homophobic? Is there one negative word or implication in the post about homosexuals? I am talking almost exclusively about homophobia as a fact of life that affects how straights react to gays. I am concerned that straights will leave or not join an army they regard as "sissified." I could be wrong about straights in that regard - they may be less homophobic than I think. But the post is clearly a comment on straight psychology. Why you see it as homophobic escapes me. Perhaps you can explain.

    Analogies to other spheres of activity are irrelevant. What university relies on unit cohesiveness to preserve our national security?

    As for the other armies, every culture and the demands on each service, and the laws (specifically a draft) may or may not be instructive. Rand may be right. I'm just not so optimistic about our straight soldiers' tolerance.

    The question of whether there really are any closeted gays in the military is interesting. But the number of gays serving is reduced by the ban on their service, so I'm not sure that how things are under this regime is indicative of how things would be under a less retrictive one.

    All of which brings me back to my original protest. I have written a post about straight attitudes, and you have called me homophobic. How does that work?

  3. One more point. I said that straight soldiers may be uncomfortable living in close quarters with people who regard people of the straight soldier's sex the way he regards and is regarded by members of the opposite sex. How this translates into a claim that "every gay person is out there stalking every straight person as a potential sexual partner" eludes me. As you say, if I thought that, I would be wrong. Fortunately, I don't think it, nor have I actually written anything that supports an inference that I do think it.

    Again, you are taking something I said about straight attitudes and trying to make it a statement about gays. Why?

  4. larry- The following are what I would classify as homophoebic comments;

    1."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"
    2. "but it has no bearing on one’s comfort level in the shower with someone whose idea of a sex partner is you".

    In addition, when you read the entire piece, (especially you distinction between open and closeted gays), it has the feel and rhetoric of homophoebic, biased statements that I have read before from people woh are actually biased and homophoebic

  5. Larry- In the comment "every gay person is out there......" is from the perspective of the gay person, not of the straight soldier. I really don't believe that every gay person looks upon a straight person has any truth and validity to it, and that is clearly what you imply in that sentence

  6. Irwin -

    OK. Now I understand about the homophobia. I disagree, but I understand.

    Not every woman looks at every man as a sex object, and not every man looks at every woman as a sex object. And yet I would be uncomfortable showering with a woman (in a barracks!) for some reason. Wouldn't you? And if you would, can you articulate the reason? And if you can articulate the reason, can you explain why you would not, on that same basis, be uncomfortable showering with a gay man?

  7. I don't want anonymous comments, and I have just rejected one on this post that is full of the sort of snot that anonymity seems to encourage.

    Irwin's comments should suggest that I do post disagreement from people I know. Anonymous flames, not so much.


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