Monday, December 20, 2010

Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Nothing has really changed

When Bill Clinton was elected President, I was in the Navy, in the midst of my four year enlistment. There were two big talking points in my unit about President Clinton's election: 1) that he had never served in the military--the first president in the modern era to have not done so and 2) that he had campaigned to a certain extent about ending the ban on gays in the military.

Interestingly, the first was a much greater concern than the latter. The truth is there have been gays in the military undoubtedly since the Declaration of Independence was signed. Randy Shilts wrote and terrific book on the subject called Conduct Unbecoming describing the lives and careers of gays and lesbians in the military since the Vietnam War. The fact is, ask a military member and chances are they can tell you and probably name fellow service members who are gay. But President Clinton made a pledge to end the ban on openly gays serving in the military.

The military leadership, as to be expected, was opposed to the idea. The fact is that it was a policy decision and like all policy decisions, particularly in the Clinton Administration, it was subject to compromise--which is how we got the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. It was a compromise built on lack of spine by the Clinton White House. In order to get elected, Clinton felt he needed the votes of gays and lesbians (I still don't believe this to be true) and in doing so, promised to do something that was, at least in theory, within his purview. The funny thing is that as someone who had not served in the military, President Clinton didn't understand the fundamental nature of civilian leadership of the military. As the commander in chief, the President could have simply said, "Don't discharge anyone from the military just because they announce they are gay." It is an order, and if the Joint Chiefs didn't like it, Clinton could have fired them, they serve at the pleasure of the President.

But with the Don't Ask, Don't Tell compromise, like most political compromises, you got the worst of both worlds. You continued to have a military leadership who thought they could continue to act like they previously did, discharging soldiers for being gay and, honestly, looking for some rather flimsy excuses. You still had gay service members who enlisted or were commissioned, didn't like the military and then get discharged by simply coming out. In the meantime, the military still had gay service members. Nothing had changed.

Now that a repeal of that dumb law has passed and you can have openly gay service members in the military, what is going to change? Probably nothing. Sure there are same gay activist military members who are going to celebrate, but probably a very small minority. The fact is the push for the repeal of this law didn't come very hard from the gay service members, at least as far as I can tell, not from active service members. Rather the push came from the people who drive "identity politics." Comparing gays in the military to minorities in the military didn't not win the argument, rather what one the argument is the realization that since 1776, there have been gays in the military and there shouldn't be a law that should force someone to hide who they are, even in the military. I would guess that the vast majority of gays in the military will remain closeted, but at least they no longer have to face the end of their chosen career if they are inadvertantly outed or viciously outed by someone else. That is the justice that is deserved.

The truth is, in the military, "identity politics" is based upon the color of the uniform you wear. The identity is Marine, or Navy, or Air Force or Army. Within the services, you might have distinctions based on unit. Identity politics based upon race, or sexual orientation or nationality are a luxury for civilians, because when the excrement hits the wind generating device, it won't matter if the person next to you is a black soldier from Chicago or a white Marine from Moline, Illinois. It doesn't matter to a ground pounder in a firefight in Afghanistan if the Air Force pilot about to drop a 500 lb., laser-guided nasty-gram on the enemy is a lesbian from Long Island or if the Naval aviator is a gay man from Seattle so long as they hold up their end of the bargain and do their job. The assessment of them is based on competence in their job, not what they look like or where they came from or what gender they prefer to sleep with.

A Marine Corp Captain, Nathan Cox said it best in his recent op-ed:
In the end, Marines in combat will treat sexual orientation the same way they treat race, religion and one's stance on the likelihood of the Patriots winning another Super Bowl. I do not believe the intense desire we all feel as Marines to accomplish the mission and protect each other will be affected in the slightest by knowing the sexual orientation of the man or woman next to us.

The only people the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell really matters to are the Human Rights Campaign and other gay/lesbian advocacy groups. Everyday, our nation calls upon our military to lay their lives on the line to give groups like HRC the freedom to espouse their point of view. In the end does it matter if those service members are gay or straight? After all, last week there were gays in the military and this week, those same gay people are still in the military. Nothing has really changed

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