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Against DADT Repeal

I have a great deal of respect for my co-authors, among whom McQ is distinguished by accomplishment and thoughtfulness.  Nevertheless, I also know we have a lot of readers who are on the other side of the DADT issue from McQ and Jim, and it seems proper that their perspective should likewise have a defender here.  I'd like to offer a few remarks as to why DADT repeal does not strike me as the wisest course.

1)  The single appropriate determining factor in answering the question "Who should serve in the military?" is the needs of the military.  This is because the military is the last cordon that holds back the world, and the final defender of the space in which our way of life is possible.  It is a special responsibility, different from any other duty entrusted to any other government agency.  This is a well-established principle in our nation's history:  sometimes we have followed this principle even so far as to command involuntary service in the name of the needs of the military, as during the drafts of WWII or Vietnam.  Currently, we seek volunteers, but only those who fit the profile of what the military needs.

The question before the Congress has been, "How much trouble would it be to repeal DADT?"  The proper question is, "What is the military benefit of allowing openly gay soldiers and Marines?"  Is there one?  

Another way of asking the question is by comparison to women in the military.  What is the military benefit of allowing women to serve in the military?  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan provide a substantial and thorough answer:  everything from Female Engagement Teams to the ability to search female areas of traditional Muslim households without creating an honor incident; to women who are of the medical branches providing health care to women and children in rural areas who may never have had it before; one can go on at almost endless length about the contributions that women have provided to the military's efforts.

Is there any similar area in which having open homosexuals will improve military capabilities?  There are certainly areas where they will harm our ability to operate in the current COIN efforts in these traditional Islamic cultures.  

2)  Some have pointed to the linguist capacity, and other particular points of expertise, possessed by gay soldiers who have been discharged.  These are capabilities possessed by individuals that we do need, and may well need on the battlefield.  However, all of these capabilities are being brought to the battlefield via civilian service or contractors.  Thus, we can obtain the services of individuals with special skills, without creating the cultural incidents associated with having the official representative of the United States personally embody what host cultures will consider a major sin.  

Thus, military necessity does not suggest that this is a wise course:  it is not helpful when the group is considered as a group, and it is not necessary to obtaining the skills of particularly talented individuals.

3)  DADT was always a terrible law, and should never have been enacted in the first place:  it is never a good idea to say that we have standards, but are willing to wink at them.  That is an argument for repeal, but given (1) and (2), it is an argument for repeal in the other direction.  However, many servicemembers who are gay have served under DADT honorably and well.  Those who wish to serve under these terms, and who do indeed have the self-mastery to abide by the terms for their time in service, are owed our thanks and a particular respect for their sacrifice in this regard.  While we might reasonably be concerned about the quality of any young man (or woman) who defines themselves chiefly in terms of their sexuality, these who have set theirs aside for a time in order to serve are worthy of the respect of us all.

For that reason, I think it is wisest to oppose DADT's repeal:  neither to restore the old policy, nor to change to a new one.

Some additional considerations:

4)  There is an argument from military benefit that goes along the lines of:  "We should do this now, while we can do it at the military's own pace, because it's going to happen one way or the other."  I think that is highly dubious as a proposition.  The reason we think it is going to happen one way or the other is that the politicians are following the current cultural shift in favor of acceptance of homosexuality; but there is good reason to doubt that shift will be a lasting one.  For one thing, relatively more religious populations are reproducing at far higher rates than non-religious in America; for another, among immigrant groups, the largest share are coming from regions such as Latin America which have strongly anti-gay cultural sentiment.  Thus, the probability is that this is the high-water mark for the cultural shift toward accepting gays:  the future trends point in the other direction.  Politicians being unreliable allies at best, it will not be long before we see them shifting before the changing wind.

Therefore, it seems likely that 'not doing this now' will prevent having to re-institute some more restrictive policy later.  It may also protect long-term gay servicemembers who may come out in a sense of victory, only to have their careers destroyed later on.

5)  Cassandra and billo point to the problems of sexual assault and harrassment in the comments to McQ's post.  I have nothing to add to their commentary except to agree that it is a persistent problem in spite of the military's best, sincere, and sustained efforts to combat it.  

6)  It has been noted that the combat arms and the Marine Corps remain particularly opposed to the change.  That should not be a small consideration.

7)  Finally, there is an argument that the failure to allow gays to serve is particularly unfair.  That would be true if and only if it weren't for point (1).  Put another way:  if any category of people had a right to serve, it would be those who currently serve and have long and honorably served.  After all, they have sacrificed much in their service.  They have shown commitment and honor.  They have the precise experience and training we need.  The military has a huge investment in them.

However, every year we let go vast numbers of older soldiers and officers because of the 'up or out' standards.  Many of these do not wish to be let go!  Many of them are let go in spite of being more expert than their replacements.  Many are let go because they took up some special opportunity outside the normal career path that gives them special insight or qualification -- but also took them out of the 'standard' progression in a way that cost them later on in their careers.

We do this because it is in the interest of the military to make space for younger officers, to give them a reason to remain committed to the force, and to refresh the ranks.  It is, in other words, military necessity.

If they must be subject to that necessity, in spite of long service and special qualification, so must everyone.  

I do not mean to show disrespect for anyone -- neither those who have served well, nor those who wish to do so, nor my fellow authors.  All this, however, strikes me as true and correct.

UPDATE:  Comments closed after 245 because Typepad takes forever to load the discussion when the string gets that long.  The discussion was excellent, with relatively little of the unpleasantness often associated with this topic, and some solid arguments on both sides.  I'll post a further discussion section later today

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