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"Marriage and Other Unions" and: "The Disease of Militarism"
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
President Obama often sees things very clearly. Most idealists do. He was happy this week to sign the repeal of the much-maligned "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, which he cast as a matter of basic civil liberty. (By the way, it ought simply to be known as the "Don't Tell" law: the military does not ask about anyone's sexual orientation.) It was widely reported, by a too-compliant press, that the existing law – which requires dismissal from the U.S. armed services of anyone who announces him- or her-self as a homosexual – has been the policy of the United States for seventeen years. True, it became law in 1993, but the papers might have mentioned that dismissing known homosexuals from the military services was also U.S. policy before it became law. Indeed, it has always been U.S. policy. The Congress and the President did not overturn a seventeen year old policy, but a 200+ year old policy.Abstract:
So what? you may say. Our understanding of civil rights has advanced; we see wrongs today that were hidden from our forefathers. Maybe. Or it may be that the DADT policy has remained in effect so long because it has served actual, valid purposes. It's hard to know, because our media did not explain or discuss the reasons for the policy, being caught up in the President's enthusiasm for making a civil rights coup, and perhaps matching his level of grasp of military needs, which unfortunately appears to be elementary.
The relationship between a nation's democracy on the one hand, and its military forces – designed to protect and preserve that democracy – on the other hand, is tricky and carries a seeming disjunction. As I recall from my Naval Officer training, it was Adm. John Paul Jones who said that those who protect the nation's freedom must themselves give up much of that freedom. In other words, the military is not a democracy, and those who serve in it give up some of the civil rights they had as civilians. (Indeed, "civil rights" suggests "rights of civilians," and that is the actual meaning.) In the military, soldiers and sailors do not, for example, have the same level of freedom of speech or of association and assembly. They do not have the right to choose their job. And there is no right to serve in the military. The military cannot be forced to make provision for the blind and the wheelchair-bound in the infantry – any "right" to so serve must be trumped by the military's need for effectiveness, if we are to have a useful military force. If my presence in the military is disruptive, I may be dismissed from the service. Military service is and has to be authoritarian. The lives of soldiers and sailors are regulated and ordered toward a single goal: the most effective defense of the nation. Everything else must take a back seat to that goal, including the expectation of rights. So that we as civilians may be at liberty to occupy ourselves with exercising our rights, our soldiers and sailors are required to attend to duty.
Mr. Obama is stepping on a slippery slope with his insistence that soldiers' "civil rights" should take precedence over military effectiveness. I dare doubt that the President has given much thought to which other "rights" may subsequently be demanded in the services. Certainly, homosexual marriage of soldiers will be on the agenda, and he is likely to accede to that, whatever objections he hears from the services. (In the past weeks Mr. Obama rejected the service chiefs' objections to the repeal of the "DADT" policy, preferring the support of his two top personal military advisors, Mr. Gates and Adm. Mullen, for his pre-determined position.) And polygamous marriage in the military may be next, after it has become accepted in civil society, which it soon will be, once homosexual marriage is accepted. (Don't doubt it – it has exactly the same argument as "gay marriage" – check this previous BRJ essay.)
I don't personally have any objection in principle to homosexuals serving in the military, nor do I believe that the service chiefs who testified against the repeal have any. There is no reason to believe that heterosexuals can fight or operate any more effectively than homosexuals. This is not the issue. It is not a matter of prejudice, though that accusation is naturally easier to make than to argue the actual substance of the issue. The difficulties, rather, lie entirely in the practical areas of personnel relations and procedures, and it is these difficulties which have been completely swept under the rug by the media in covering this matter. Not that this is surprising; the media have been doing little but "keeping score" and searching out scandals in their coverage of any issue for some years now. So, to supply some of what has been missing, here are two significant issues, as I see them. One has to do with privacy and use of space, one with effective operation and use of staff. If these issues are overcome, I do not believe the services will have any objection to openly homosexual members serving. But until they are overcome, their objections will be justified.
Privacy and Space.
Perhaps these issues can be resolved without degrading military unit cohesion, and perhaps the Navy can find a solution to the space and berthing problem. If not, any decision to introduce a potentially disruptive element, such as by a reversal of the long-standing "Don't Tell" policy, is likely to have a negative effect on military operations and readiness.