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Repealing "Don't Ask" Will Weaken the U.S. Military

The Pentagon's report misses the point.

10:45 AM, Dec 3, 2010 • By MACKUBIN THOMAS OWENS
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Long before the Pentagon’s report on the expected effects of repealing the current law prohibiting open homosexuals from serving in the U.S. military was released, the conventional “narrative” had already been established thanks to leaks by anonymous individuals “familiar with the report’s conclusions.” That narrative holds that repeal of the current law would create “few risks” for military readiness, retention, and recruiting.

Repealing "Don't Ask" Will Weaken the U.S. Military

The conventional narrative makes much of the claim that most of the service members surveyed believe that repeal would not have a negative impact on military effectiveness. The key to “overcoming resistance” to repeal of the current law, the report concludes, is “training and education.” Well, stand by for politically correct “sensitivity training” run amok. And the Marines and the Army will get it in spades because as the report shows, those services, the mission of which is to conduct close ground combat, are the most “resistant” of all.

Indeed, the report reveals that 45 percent of Army troops and nearly 60 percent of Marines (67 percent of those in Marine combat arms: infantry, artillery, and armor) who have been in combat zones say that repeal would have a negative impact on unit effectiveness. And this is the crux of the problem with the Pentagon report: it misses the point.

The “functional imperative,” i.e. the purpose of the U.S. armed forces is to fight and win the nation’s wars. Success in combat requires trust and personal/unit bonding. But as a number of commentators have noted, the report does not identify a single benefit of repealing the ban when it comes to recruiting, retention, unit effectiveness, and readiness of the force.

Instead, the report seems to be predicated on the idea that the integration of open homosexuals into the military is merely the most recent manifestation of the quest for civil rights that began with African Americans after World War II. According to this view, lifting the ban against military service by open homosexuals is analogous to President Truman’s executive order racially integrating the military services.

But Truman’s order was motivated by concerns about military effectiveness, not civil rights. For a variety of reasons, segregated African-American units generally did not perform well on the battlefields of World War II. Truman’s actions were in response to military-manpower experts who believed that integration would improve the military effectiveness of black soldiers.

The report repeatedly asserts that the actual difficulties of repealing the law will be less than the survey’s responses would indicate. This is where “training and education,” aka political correctness and sensitivity training, comes in.

The fact is that homosexuals serve honorably in the military. That was the purpose of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy compromise adopted by the Clinton administration after Congress passed the current law prohibiting service by open homosexuals. As a result of this policy, homosexuals who are willing to subordinate their “sexual orientation” to their duty are allowed for the most part to serve without interference.

The claim often found in the New York Times and the Washington Post that homosexuals are the victims of “witch hunts” is without merit. From 2004 until 2008, discharges for homosexuality averaged one third of one percent of all discharges. For instance, in 2008, there were 5,627 involuntary discharges for drugs, 3,817 for serious offenses, 4,555 for failure to meet weight standards, 2,353 for pregnancy, 2,574 for parenthood, and 634 for homosexuality, most of which resulted from voluntary statements, not “outing” by others.

The Pentagon report notwithstanding, the current arrangement seems to work quite well. So why the push to repeal the law and reverse the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy compromise?  The short answer seems to be that this is not about individual homosexuals serving in the military but about a broader homosexual agenda.

What will the likely consequences of institutionalizing this political agenda be? The report doesn’t sufficiently address them but a Marine colonel with substantial command time did so in an e-mail circulated some months ago.

What, he asks, does “serving openly as a homosexual” mean? Is all homosexual conduct permitted, e.g. cross dressing when going to the PX?  What conduct is not permitted? 

Will “hate speech” policies apply to the armed forces after the repeal of the law? If a service member uses a term offensive to homosexuals, can he be charged with hate speech? Will commanders be required to take judicial action?  If no judicial action is taken, will commanders be subject to civil or criminal suit by various homosexual political groups and their elected sponsors? 

Will the personal opinion on homosexuality of a service member become an impediment to promotion or assignment to key billets? Are there any assignments to which homosexuals must be or may not be assigned?

Will the Senate and the House Armed Services committees demand sexuality statistics to make certain that homosexuals are being promoted at the same rate as non-homosexuals? Will homosexuals be promoted at a faster rate to "compensate" for previous years of discrimination?

What benefits will same-sex “partners” receive? How long must one have a relationship to qualify as a partner?  Will partners of homosexuals be assigned to on-base housing?  Do former partners of active duty homosexuals retain dependent benefits (like a divorced spouse) when divorce is not a legal option?

Will homosexual service members be permitted to date each other? Live with each other as partners in bachelor officer quarters (BOQ) or bachelor enlisted quarters (BEQ)?  How does this affect fraternization regulations?

Will homosexuals be deployed to countries where homosexuality is a crime? If not, who picks up the slack?

Such questions need to be addressed, but the Pentagon report largely ignores them. More importantly it ignores the impact of the issues raised by such questions on the effectiveness and readiness of U.S. forces and the consequences for retention and recruiting.

The Pentagon report is right to note that implementing repeal of the law can be done, but at what cost to U.S. security? The report makes it clear that military readiness and effectiveness are to be subordinated to a political agenda. The United States military will be weakened as a result.

Mackubin Thomas Owens, a Marine Corps combat veteran of Vietnam, is editor of Orbis, the quarterly journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI). His book, US Civil-Military Relations After 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain, will be published in January of 2011. 

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