A Legacy of Wrongs Righted

21 Dec

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”  a compromise ploy that made few happy when instituted, will be dead before the end of the year. It was a bad policy, and a wrong has been righted. But the tone of the cheers I have heard for its demise seem to miss the point: why it took so long to go, and what its true implications will be.

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...

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 Snarky idiot commenters at HuffPo accurately sum up the collective young American zeitgeist reaction to the repeal of DADT: “What took so long?” “Welcome to the 21st Century!” “It’s about time the military caught up.” Any such comment reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of the military itself, how it works, or even why we have one in the first place.

The US Military exists to kill and destroy our nation’s enemies. Full stop. It is not a mirror into which we see the best or worst of our country. It is not a subset of America to mold and shape to our desires. It is a fundamentally discriminatory organization. You can’t be too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny (so you can’t lift heavy gear), too out of shape, too unhealthy, disabled, or wish to overthrow the US government. You can’t join the infantry if you are a woman or a special unit unless you pass a number of academic and physical tests. The military is an undemocratic organization defending democracy, disciplined with rules abhorrent to the larger society and subjecting its members to stresses not found in the civilian world, because of the importance of its mission. I lost any shred of modesty or decency I had in the military, and have never found a non-sexual situation since in civilian life where co-workers spend as much time sleeping, showering, and being naked together. Such inconvenient facts complicate policy.  

These points are not new, but obviously bear repeating. The military is not general American society writ small, nor a petri dish. US military bases are not college campuses where the young people wear funny clothes. Most soldiers are happy to not question the wars they are asked to fight, but don’t want to be tinkered with or manipulated for outside political or social grandstanding.

Repealing DADT was the right decision not for broad civil rights reasons, or because we want the military to uphold American values, or because its the 21st Century, or because this is the next step in the LGBT struggle. Repealing DADT was the right decision because the US military needs as many smart, capable volunteers as it can get, and being gay or lesbian – unlike being too fat or too stupid or a criminal – does not make you a bad soldier. And it never has. The tragic, open secret in the US military is that while homosexuals were being discharged under DADT in some units, in others they served (and continue to serve) openly. I had several work for me while I was in command – everyone knew, and no one cared. The vast majority of the US military is under the age of 30. Individually, most could care less who is gay and who isn’t, and though not easy, the military is now ready to change collectively.

Being gay doesn’t make you a bad soldier, and neither did being Black. Which brings us to the next point: the implications for the future. Lost in the current “Who bunks with whom?” debate is the long term effect this policy change will have. In my opinion, the military will lead the way on gay marriage the way it did on racial integration 63 years ago.

Members of the military are paid different allowances for housing and food based upon how many dependents they have. Dependents are counted up in the military the same way they are on your taxes – you and your spouse each count as one. Gay soldiers have every reason to expect that their spouse, who they married in Vermont, would receive housing and medical care the same as any other spouse. Anything less is discriminatory. Before you know it, there is a de facto federal recognition of same sex marriage.

This policy on dependents has yet to be finalized. But it would be fitting for the military to be sniped at for being behind the times, only to be a national leader when all is said and done.

10 Responses to “A Legacy of Wrongs Righted”

  1. STEEL December 22, 2010 at 12:54 am #

    McCain should be  ashamed of himself and the US government should have no business telling consenting adults who can or cannot form a life contract together (otherwise known as marriage).

  2. Brian December 22, 2010 at 5:26 am #

    I’m happy for the Lgbt bunch, but DADT offered a way out for a soldier sick of being redeployed to two wars based on the lies of two presidents and which have zero to do with defense of our nation: “Uh, Colonel, sir, I’m gay. Where’s my ticket home?”

    Too I wonder what kind of person, other than the stupid, the vicious, the ignorant or the mercenary (“I could’nt get a job.” “It’ll help with college.”) would volunteer to murder people in such wars.

  3. Brian December 22, 2010 at 5:27 am #

    It doesn’t matter, by the way, but I’m a U.S. Army veteran, 1964-1967.

  4. LeoInTheSnow December 22, 2010 at 7:29 am #

    Gosh, Brian, we’ve been describing an ideal culture, a pure meritocracy where people may advance based strictly on the basis of personal effort and results, for decades and decades. The military, but for its civilian leadership imposing biased regulations like DADT (thanks, President Clinton!), is exactly that. I’d ask the question: what kind of person would NOT feel the appeal of the ideal realized? And, where else might they find that?

    Even in our universities and in scientific communities, many disciplines are “men’s clubs”. People can find that meritocracy only in one place.

  5. Leo Wilson December 22, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    OH, and… it does matter. thank you sincerely for your service.

  6. Pauldub December 22, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    Excellent piece. Not only for the perfect description of the military, but for putting your finger on the best reason for the repeal of DADT as it pertains to the Mission.

  7. Eric Saldanha December 22, 2010 at 10:58 pm #

    Well done, Brian, especially the point that, like integration of the armed forces 60 years ago, DADT repeal will not mean the death of our military. Just a small quibble….it was actually Harry Truman’s Executive Order (i.e. civilian command) that integrated the military in 1948. He would never have gotten legislation through a Congress replete with Southern Democrats.

    But, again….great post.

  8. Ethan December 22, 2010 at 11:18 pm #

    Nice post, good points.  I could quibble a bit, but you know what: too happy about having a brewery today to start verbal fights!

  9. Brian Castner December 23, 2010 at 9:24 am #

    @ Eric: I know the process was not exactly similar – I was just trying to imply the sea change was equivalent. Interestingly, I heard some analysis recently that tied the two events together even more closely. Unfortunately, the military drug it’s feet after the 1948 order, and was still “implementing” it at the start of the Korean War. It was infantry ground commanders that truly integrated the military by demanding reinforcements and new soldiers, no matter the skin color. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan killed DADT as much as any other influence.

    @ Ethan: Why quibble when 1) I’m always right, and 2) you could drink beer! Enjoy.

    @ Leo: I agree – the military is far from perfect, but is as close to a meritocracy as we have today.

  10. BobbyCat December 23, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    The military is all of that, from the military perspective. But the military is whatever the civilian leader deem it will be. By design. The military is also not a band of vililantees or thieves, mercenaries or indiscriminate murderers. Around the world, our military is a reflection of us. If they murder or torture or commit atrocities, that’s a reflection on all Americans. So if our leaders want our military to reflect the melting pot of American society, then gays are welcome. They need to be. (And from what I hear, gays are usually the fittest people in the room)

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