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Rethinking Don't Ask, Don't Tell

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 3


For years, I’ve believed that the military “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the subsequent repeal of that policy was a very simple issue.  The sexual orientation of American citizens - gay, straight, or whatever -  should not be a roadblock to an individual’s right to serve their country.  If you are brave enough to put your life on the line for the rest of us, who are we to deny that call to service based on what you do in the bedroom.  However, I have recently read some opposing views that have made me think about this issue in new light. 

Unfortunately, in the current state of human experience, war and the profession of soldiership is a necessary evil.  Regardless of what bumper sticker you choose (“Give Peace a Chance”, “Give War a Chance”, or “My Kid Just Beat UP Your Honor Roll Student”) we live in a society that faces a constant state of violence and regardless of how enlightened we would like to ourselves to be, the bottom line is that we depend on soldiers and their ability to perform in a violent theater.  As Jack Nicholsen so pointedly said in A Few Good Men, “You need me on that wall!”  That is a very important element to remember.  Soldiers do not operate under the same conditions that civilians do.  Their world has the potential to ignite in a stream of barbaric acts that the rest of us at home on the couch watching Two and a half Men cannot fathom.  So we cannot apply civilian sensibilities as judgement criteria for their world.

The key to the military is the unit of men and the unification of those men.  Millions of our tax dollars are spent at breaking these men down through training; stripping away their individuality so that they can function as one group - one unit.  They were uniforms and crewcuts to lessen their individuality.  Ideally one soldier is essentially the same as another.  They need to be able to act without thinking or questioning (which is a central trait of the individual).  Anything that breaks down that singleminded unification of the unit can be disastrous in moments of extreme pressure.  The weak link always snaps under pressure.  The weak link has nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the individual, but it has everything to do with how the unit is able to perform while under profound duress.

I would like to think that we could all get past someone’s sexual orientation.  In a perfect world, it really shouldn’t matter.  But by definition, war is an imperfect world.  I don’t buy into the homophobic belief that gay/lesbian soldiers are incapable of performing their job any less effectively than their heterosexual comrades.  I also don’t agree with a letter in the September 24, 2010 edition of the USA Today’s opinion section in which Paul Manning writes: 

“I am a veteran who shared open showers. It is uncomfortable knowing of a gay man showering in the same 12-shower room. If heterosexual soldiers are attracted to females and forbidden to shower with them, how could it be acceptable for a gay soldier, attracted to men, to be allowed to share showers with other male soldiers?” 

It is clear that Mr. Manning oversimplified the situation to it’s most base level.  Most intelligent people understand that young men and women aren’t flocking to the military for the shower opportunities.  However, what I believe isn’t what is important.  If the men and women who make up the military have homophobic beliefs, are they going to change those beliefs for the sake of policy?  Probably not.  So, imperfect solutions are needed for imperfect situations.  

Which brings me back to the original policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  The purpose of this policy was two-fold.  First, it was intended to turn a blind eye of policy towards the individual orientation.  Again, from civilian sensibilities, this is unequivocally wrong.  Second, the DADT policy attempts to strip away the individuality of sexual orientation.  From a military standpoint this is a consistent response to centuries military preparedness.  

Perhaps we need to get off the couch and look at the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy from a soldier’s perspective.



Apr 16, 2011 10:25am
And what if the soldier was uncomfortable sharing quarters and facilities with someone of a different ethnic, religious or racial background? This is not a rhetorical issue - I am thinking back to the days of Jim Crow, and about issues that simmer even today. Would we then argue that segregation should be allowed to persist, because asking a solider to get over his or her prejudices might impair combat effectiveness?
Apr 16, 2011 5:48pm
I think that you make a very excellent point.
Apr 23, 2011 4:11pm
Good article and comments. How can one generalize all soldiers views on this anyhow, without being biased?
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