Permissible Arms

In defence of our fellow human.

Posted in us military, us politics by Karaka on 5 October 2009

In this edition of Joint Force Quarterly, USAF Colonel Om Prakash’s award-winning article The Efficacy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell doesn’t mince words when he argues that DADT should be repealed. NPR has an article that pretty much sums up why I think it’s important (aside from the obvious):

Belkin says, though there may be more, he can recall only one other military publication that has printed a strong pro-repeal article: a 2003 piece written by Belkin himself for Parameters, the U.S. Army War College quarterly. In addition, he can recall only one other active duty officer, besides Prakash, to air pro-repeal views publicly: a 2005 opinion piece written for the Army Times by an active-duty lieutenant colonel at West Point.

Writing about the law is a common phenomenon at military colleges, Belkin says. Prakash wrote his essay while a student at the National War College. In 2005, a West Point student won the school’s senior thesis competition with a piece that argued that the ban violates military values.

“What’s different about this is that it was published in an official military journal, and it’s pretty important that he would speak publicly,” Belkin says.

As any activist knows, the most powerful voices for change come not from those who the change affects directly, but from those within the institutions perpetuating discrimination and inequality. I read the article over the weekend, and considering that Obama stated repeatedly during his campaign that the repeal of DADT would be an issue for him (though I’m not one to take campaign problems particularly seriously), this seems to be an article with judicious timing.

I encourage you to read it yourself, if only because it seems likely to be pull-quoted a lot when/if this debate ramps up next year. But here’s some of the grafs I found particularly enlightening.

Since 1994, the Services have discharged nearly 12,500 Servicemembers under the law.

The NPR article above ups that to thirteen thousand, with an estimated 65,000 gay/lesbian servicemembers [over time, I assume]. That, for some context, is just under four brigades dismissed, using the upper personnel limit. In raw numbers, a bit wasteful.

In a report released in February 2005, the Government Accountability Office estimated the financial impact to be at least $190.5 million for the previous ten years of DADT policy. However, a University of California Blue Ribbon Commission, that included former Secretary of Defense William Perry questioned the report’s methodology. The commission faulted the GAO for not including recruiting and separation costs that brought the 10-year estimate to $363 million. Also worth noting is that these figures do not account for the additional opportunity costs of high-profile, prized specialties such as Arabic speakers.

See above re: wasteful.

This leads to the conclusion that integration of open homosexuals might degrade social cohesion because of the lack of homogeneity; however, the effects can be mitigated with leadership and will further dissipate with familiarity. More importantly, task cohesion should not be affected and is in fact the determinant in group success. Given that homosexuals who currently serve do so at great personal expense and professional risk, RAND interviews suggest such individuals are deeply committed to the military’s core values, professional teamwork, physical stamina, loyalty, and selfless service–all key descriptors of task cohesion.

Do so at great personal expense…such individuals are deeply committed to the military’s core values. In my view, the crux of this argument reflects the identity of personhood. Homosexuals are people, first, just like heterosexuals are people first. According this basic acknowledgment of personhood is an essential step to the framing of the discussion. Thus, gay equality rights are human rights, and the denial of service in our military is the denial of a human right we grant our citizens, from which you can infer that gay citizens are not believed to be citizens at all. “Liberty and justice for all” extends beyond mere characteristics, and the essential personhood of humans; the commitment of some individuals to a service that requires their compromised integrity speaks, I think, to the value placed on that service, and the humanity inherent in those individuals.

Those opposed to lifting the ban point out that the living conditions of the military would at times make it impossible to guarantee privacy throughout the spectrum of sexual orientation. But would such measures actually be necessary? Considering that estimates put 65,000 as the number of homosexuals serving in the military, would revealing their identities lead to a collapse of moral and discipline?…Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and former Army platoon leader, illustrates an additional point: “Just like in the general population, there is a generational shift within the military. The average 18-year-old has been around gay people, has seen gay people in popular culture, and they’re not this boogeyman in the same way they were to Pete Pace’s generation.”

Brief snarky aside: I mean, how many of them voted for Adam Lambert on American Idol, after all? (Snarky aside concluded.) Look, sixteen years ago you could have tenuously made the argument that gay people didn’t exist because you had never met someone who was gay. Now, given that Mary Cheney is as thrust into the public eye as Ellen DeGeneres, those arguments become impossible to support. As people who are queer come into positions of power, or at least as their family members do, the invisibility of homosexuality in our culture is eroded, and discrimination becomes less supportable. As Nate Silver calculated earlier this year, “By 2016, only a handful of states in the Deep South would vote to ban gay marriage, with Mississippi being the last one to come around in 2024.” It’s not that far away, and we are moving ever closer to the integration of these civil rights.

In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops.

And additionally, as the US services have interacted with other NATO troops, it has been proven as a corollary that American troops can serve alongside troops whose countries have lifted the ban, which presumably included gay servicemen and women.

In an attempt to allow homosexual Servicemembers to serve quietly, a law was created that forces a compromise in integrity, conflicts with the American creed of “equality for all,” places commanders in difficult moral dilemmas, and is ultimately more damaging to the unit cohesion its stated purpose is to preserve.

A succint thesis, one I think Prakash defended successfully.

Based on the research, it is not time for the administration to reexamine the issue; rather it is time for the administration to examine how to implement the repeal of the ban.

I would stand up and clap, but it can’t be textually rendered. Anyway, give the whole article a read. It seems likely that it will be referenced in the inevitably forthcoming debate–after all, Senator Harry Reid has asked Obama to address this issue last month, and Senator Carl Levin stated he would have a Senate hearing on the matter in October. I suspect the Obama administration would like to bump this out to 2010, but they may not have a choice in the matter.


2 Responses

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  1. Starbuck said, on 5 October 2009 at 22:55

    I can’t believe the outrage over gays in the military, particularly those who claim that being gay is a huge discipline problem. Try being a company commander that has had nearly a dozen pregnant female soldiers under his command in the span of 15 months–many of whom got pregnant to either a.) get out of the Army, b.) dodge deployment or c.) get sent home. Two gay Soldiers would be the least of my problems.

    • karakapend said, on 5 October 2009 at 23:00

      You know, it’s funny, I was talking this over with a friend today, and it seems like recruitment would want to cultivate more lesbian women servicemembers; those who would find service personally satisfactory and who would have a significantly lowered chance of accidental pregnancy. I mean, if you’re going for long-term service, it seems rather logical. But the controversy, such as it is, is rarely logical and more frequently hyperbolic.

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