It appears that Congress and the White House are close to a compromise that will end the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (DADT) policy that forbids openly gay men and women from serving in the U.S. armed forces. The compromise will allow the Pentagon to complete its study of the issue, but will remove the current legal prohibition on changing the policy, and draw up implementation procedures. The reported compromise also will give the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs a final veto over the revised admissions policy.
The original DADT policy was adopted in the first year of the Clinton administration. During his election campaign, Bill Clinton had promised to permit gays and lesbians to serve in the military but he was unprepared for the political backlash, both within the military and on Capitol Hill, to his proposal. After protracted negotiations, the DADT policy was adopted with the blessing of Clinton, the Pentagon and Cong. Barney Frank, one of the only openly gay members of Congress. Cong. Frank, who is also one of the funniest members of Congress, admitted that the 1993 compromise was less than he wished, but that it nonetheless was an advance over the previous blanket prohibition.
I am sure Cong. Frank is right, and that the half-loaf in the early 90s has made it easier to procure the full loaf now, but still, the policy always seemed very stupid. For example, conservative critics of any policy that would allow gays to serve openly always cite their concern for "unit cohesion." But, one of the bases of unit cohesion is a sense of equality among the troops and deference to their commanding officer. If one soldier knows that another is gay, or that his or her commanding officer is gay, it is not difficult to see how they could use that knowledge to intimidate and blackmail the gay serviceperson, and the nasty effect such intrigues would have on unit cohesion. As well, from a security perspective, it is not difficult to see how anyone seeking to recruit spies among U.S. military personnel would think that they could successfully start with gay members of the military. (N.B. The reason gays could be targets is because DADT forces them to hide something that could be exploited by others. The problem I see here is with DADT, not with being gay.)
It is also the case that the military, still engaged in two wars, can scarcely afford to lose talented soldiers and that those currently engaged in investigating and prosecuting offenses against DADT could be better used.
More importantly, inviting someone to lie about something so basic to their personality is a recipe for the most profound threat to unit cohesion. The military is built on trust and integrity. You need to know that you can trust your comrades to do their duty just as you train yourself to do yours. It is an obvious threat to that trust that some percentage of our men and women in uniform are told now: Au contraire! You must lie!
DADT was a necessary compromise that has outlived its usefulness. The objections to its removal are the same that were heard when President Truman racially integrated the military. Young people, and most of the soldiers who serve on the front lines are young, are the least likely to harbor anti-gay bigotry. It is time to end DADT: Let’s hope the Congress realizes it.
Michael Sean Winters