Sunday, July 25, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Posted by Chris at 12/19/2007 9:34 AM...

KC Johnson brings up the recent 60 Minutes story about Don't Ask, Don't Tell over at Cliopatria. Most of the arguments presented favoring the exclusion of gays and lesbians from the U.S. military are the old ones of morality or unit cohesion, but one I wasn't familiar with also popped up: the idea that gay soldiers aren't suited for intense combat operations like Fallujah. U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter says that:

We aren't the Brits. We're not the Europeans. We're not the Swedes. The Fallujahs of the world, the Ramadis of the world that require heavy combat and lots of fire-fighting capability - those are the places the Americans go. The other countries tend to go to the so-called peacekeeper zones, where they have fewer fire fights and less contact with the enemy," Hunter says. "And the European nations show little will to send large contingents of their military people into dangerous places.

I'm sure the Spartans and the Sacred Band of Thebes might contend that their modes of fighting required a fair amount of intestinal fortitude. The Spartans considered the Athenians effeminate because they spent too much time hanging out with their wives. For the Spartans wives were just for procreation and minding the family finances - Spartan men weren't allowed to engage in commerce. In more recent history, I'm sure that Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, might also have something to say about it (and of course, who knows how the American Revolution would have gone without his assistance). Interestingly, the (African-American) men of the 54th Massachusetts faced this same argument before they were allowed into combat. By all reports, the outperformed the white Union infantry at Ft. Wagner.

The British may have something to saw about it, as well. They integrated gays into their forces in 2000, and their soldiers don't seem any less willing to fight than American troops. Indeed, they are the only ones I know of that still does bayonet charges, as happened in Iraq. We apparently don't even issue bayonets as standard equipment. My point is that we (heterosexuals or Americans) don't have a monopoly on warlike behavior or aggressive fighting.

From what I've seen the past few months, Rep. Hunter isn't even correct about the role of NATO forces beyond the British. As someone pointed out over at Abu Muqawama, even the Danes are engaged in heavy fighting in Afghanistan. That's not exactly a police action. Hunter's historical analysis seems abut as firmly grounded as Rudy Giuliani's understanding of how the Iran Hostage Crisis ended back in 1981. When you trot out the past for political purposes, you need to know what actually happened.

The issue of unit cohesion might hold more water, but one of the advocates of this argument in the 60 Minutes piece seems ignorant of the Army's past behavior regarding social engineering. Army Major Daniel Davis claims that, "Our purpose in the military is not social engineering or whatever else you want to call it. It is about fighting and winning the nation’s wars." Clearly, he's not familiar with the Army's integration of African-Americans into its ranks well before the civil rights movement. He claims that his argument that gay service members would weaken unit cohesion is different from previous similar arguments used against the integration of African-Americans or women because it is a moral issue. Major Davis argues that you can't force him to bond with a soldier he finds morally repugnant. My question is this: does the army see this problem with morally conservative soldiers not bonding with those who drink heavily, are sexually promiscuous, gamble, or engage in other behaviors frowned upon by some religious groups? Does this argument mean that we should exclude Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, or athiests because they might negatively affect unit cohesion?

What Major Davis is saying is that we need to allow a specific interpretation of morality based on a religious view should dictate our military recruitment policy - and that we should recruit felons with drug and sex offenses instead. Nothing morally repugnant there.

I don't have all the answers on this, or any other, issue. However, policies like integration of gays and lesbians in the military, or the continuation of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, needs to be made based on rational arguments and evidence, not on poorly supported arguments about bravery or comparative moral interpretations. There might be issues with unit cohesion, just as there were when African-Americans were integrated into the military, but that doesn't automatically mean that we should reject the possibility of allowing gays and lesbians to serve.

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