My recent article on the proposed repeal of the 1993 Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell law drew a considerable amount of feedback, most of it private. One of the more significant public responses came from David Rittgers, a legal analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.
Rittgers takes me to task for being “too quick to dismiss the fact that other first-rate militaries have allowed gays to serve without damaging readiness.” However, I never made that argument. I said that allowing gays to serve would damage combat effectiveness, which is an entirely different matter. “Readiness” is merely a measure of a military unit’s ability to deploy for combat in a timely manner; “combat effectiveness” is a measure of how well it will fight once it arrives. Readiness is a function of manpower, materiel and training, which are fairly objective criteria. Combat effectiveness is something more subjective and difficult to measure in advance. Not only are the two unrelated, they are often antithetical. For instance, a newly-raised unit will have all of its personnel and equipment in excellent condition; it will have passed all of its training exercises, and thus will score very high for readiness. But until tested in battle, its combat effectiveness is an unknown quantity—it may fight well or poorly, depending upon a host of unknowns—unit leadership, the appropriateness of training and tactics, and, of course, small unit cohesion. So, a unit with a high combat readiness score may not have high combat effectiveness.
Conversely, a unit with high combat effectiveness may not score well for readiness precisely because its combat effectiveness was acquired in battle. In combat, the unit proves itself, learns what works and does not work on the battlefield, becomes inured to the stress of combat, and develops a high level of morale. In doing so, it will lose men and equipment, and the equipment that remains will be in need of maintenance and repair—all of which detract from “readiness.” As a perfect example, one can look to the Battle of the Bulge, where the recently-deployed 106th Infantry Division relieved the veteran 2nd Infantry Division. By all measures, the 106th had a higher state of readiness, while the 2nd, which had been in continuous combat since Normandy was understrength and worn out. But when the Germans attacked, the 106th broke, with two entire infantry regiments surrendering en masse. In contrast, the tired but battle-hardened 2nd Infantry Division fought tenaciously and stopped the German offensive at Elsenborn Ridge; its combat effectiveness was not related to its readiness.
Rittgers also takes issue with my assertion that neither the British nor Israeli armies have experienced extended, high-intensity combat since allowing gays to serve:
Israel certainly has experience with an extended, high-intensity war. Since its birth it has faced the threat of invasion and terrorism, and the forecast for the last few decades has been scattered machine-gun fire with a chance of rockets by mid-afternoon.
Except for the United States, Britain remains the largest donor of forces to Afghanistan (now America’s longest war), according to the ISAF website. This excellent dispatch from Michael Yon portrays them as a first-rate force. There’s even a female combat medic on patrol with Yon. I see no difference between American and British experiences in Afghanistan to support Koehl’s claim.
While former Marine Corps Commandant General Alfred M. Gray famously remarked, “If they’re shooting at me, it’s high intensity,” there really is a spectrum of conflict, and what Israel has experienced in recent years—the Intifadas, the Lebanon war of 2006, and the Gaza incursion of 2009—fall under the category of “low intensity operations,” lacking both the intense level of violence (particularly the mass employment of heavy weapons) and the tempo of operations that would categorize true high intensity operations. Israel’s last experiences of high intensity war were the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 1982 Lebanon war with Syria—both of which occurred prior to Israel allowing gays to serve. Both also were of relatively short duration (3-6 weeks), as opposed to the months and years that characterized combat in World War II and Korea.
The situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is similar. The high intensity phase of the Iraq war was over in a couple of weeks, while there never really was a high intensity phase of the war in Afghanistan. Both U.S. and British military operations in those areas since 2003 can also be characterized as low intensity operations which have not, with a few exceptions, actually stressed combat units to the breaking point.
Finally, there really is the matter of scale and scope. The British army, while tactically and operationally excellent, really is quite small (114,000 active troops), and the number deployed in Afghanistan is just 10,000 men and women. As for the Israel Defense Force (IDF), it has 176,500 active personnel, including the navy and air force. Most of these are short-term conscripts; long-term professionals constitute only a small percentage of the total. And, as I noted, the IDF does not undertake overseas deployments, which obviates one of the factors that would make gays serving openly disruptive in the U.S. military. So, from my perspective, the impact of gays on combat effectiveness cannot be determined one way or the other from the experience of these two armies.
I found it interesting that neither Rittgers (nor any of my other critics) even bothered to comment on the role of women in combat—even though half of my article dealt with that subject (Rittgers did make an oblique reference to a female medic with a British unit in Afghanistan). Since the basic thrust of my argument was sexual tensions of any sort (eros) are inherently corrosive to unit cohesion, it applied equally to both women and gays, albeit with a somewhat different dynamic in each case. And there is extensive evidence demonstrating that the presence of women in military units undermines combat effectiveness (readiness, too, but that’s a different story). If the presence of women is disruptive because of the sexual dynamics they introduce into small units, how would gays be any different? My position, at least, is consistent: eros has no place on the battlefield, and its presence undermines the agape among men that is the foundation of unit cohesion.
Rittgers ends his response by simple reiteration of his premise:
Gays are currently serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am certain that many of their brothers and sisters in arms suspect or know that they are gay, and don’t care. Ending DADT will not harm military readiness.
It is true that gays are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Gays have served in every army in every war since we began recording the history of warfare. But they are not serving openly now, and with one exception, never have served openly. Since they are not self-identified as gay, their sexual inclinations do not enter into the equation. Gays can hide or suppress their orientation in a way that women cannot hide their sex. We don’t put women in combat units because we recognize how disruptive this would be; gays serving openly would have the same effect as women because it would no longer be possible to hide or ignore the sexual element they introduce into small group dynamics. That this causes gays in uniform to “live a lie” is, at the end of the day, irrelevant: it’s a volunteer force, and they chose to live the lie, for whatever reason. Service in the military is not a right, it is a privilege. All soldiers serve for the good of the country and the service, and the military rejects people for a whole host of reasons, physical and psychological, if it believes their presence would undermine the ability of the military to perform its primary mission.
Finally, I will simply state that my article was not about readiness, but about combat effectiveness, and throughout his response, Rittgers has not really addressed that subject at all.