Tag Archives: US military

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.