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DADT: I <3 Admiral Mullen

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As y'all probably know, the Pentagon has finished its survey of the armed forces about the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. The report's conclusions essentially say that repealing DADT won't be a big deal, though some groups of military people surveyed were unhappy about it. (In particular, Marines in combat units were especially resistant, with about 60% saying repeal would have a negative effect.)

(I've seen three different percentages quoted by different sources, so 60% is fairly approximate. But while I'm here, note that 84% of combat-unit Marines who've actually served with gay people said their unit cohesion was fine; it's the combat Marines who haven't served with gay people who are worried about it.)

(Side note: Sadly, in the font I use for entry titles on my blog, “<3” looks more like a broken heart than a heart. So just to be clear, that title was meant to indicate that I'm really pleased with Adm. Mullen this morning.)

Today's New York Times has an article about McCain's resistance to repeal. There's a great sequence where Defense Secretary Gates says “With time and adequate preparation, we can mitigate [the unhappy people's] concerns,” and McCain says no we can't, and adds, “Mr. Secretary, I speak from personal experience.” Oooh, the personal experience trump card! (It's not entirely clear from the article what exactly he meant by that—whether he's talking about personal experience with gay servicemembers or whether he's just saying “Hey, I was in the military, so my views represent all soldiers everywhere!”) But then Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says this:

I've been serving with gays and lesbians my whole career[....] I went to war with them aboard a destroyer off the coast of Vietnam. I knew they were there. They knew I knew it. We never missed a mission, never failed to deliver ordnance on target.

Take that, John “personal experience” McCain!

(I should note that I used to have a lot of respect for McCain, but that respect has been steadily eroded over the past three years, and not much of it is left.)

The article goes on to a couple more great moments. First:

Both Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen [argued that] delaying would result in [...] the potential for repeal to be ordered by what Mr. Gates called “judicial fiat”—meaning, he said, that the military would have no time to prepare for the change. “Those that choose not to act legislatively are rolling the dice that this policy will not be abruptly overturned by the courts,” Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen also spoke against the argument of “not now,” voiced by many of the surveyed combat troops, that a time of two wars was not the right moment to impose social change on the force. Admiral Mullen told the committee that he had no expectation that “challenges to our national security are going to diminish in the near future, such that a more convenient time will appear.”

I hereby declare Admiral Mullen to be officially awesome. I might even go so far as to say fabulous.

And btw, Gates is showing himself to be pretty awesome too:

”I can't think of a single precedent in American history of doing a referendum of the American armed forces on a policy issue,” Mr. Gates told the panel. “Are you going to ask them if they want 15-month tours? Are you going to ask them if they want to be part of the surge in Iraq? That’s not the way our civilian-led military has ever worked in our entire history. The 'should' question is to be decided by the Congress.”

But wait, there's more! A Fox News article also quotes Mullen:

Mullen added that “there is no gray area” in the debate when it comes to standards of conduct in the military.

“We treat each other with respect or we find another place to work. Period,” he said.

Oh, and by the way, props to Lieberman, for once. In response to McCain fretting about homophobic servicemembers possibly quitting the military:

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., [replied] that the policy itself had resulted in loss of soldiers—because thousands had been tossed out for admitting they are gay and because would-be gay service members have been deterred by the policy from signing up for duty.

And now back to my new hero, Admiral Mullen, for one more comment:

Saying he expects less turbulence, “even in the combat arms world,” than some would predict, Mullen added, “In fact, it may be the combat arms community that proves the most effective at managing this change, disciplined as they are. It's not only because our young ones are more tolerant. It's because they've got far more important things to worry about.”

Mullen said that U.S. military members are already working on the battlefield with NATO forces from countries where being gay is not a disqualification from service.

“I don't recall a single instance where the fact that one of them might be openly gay ever led to poor performance on the field,” he said. “Gay or straight, their troops patrolled with ours and bled with ours.”

That's all the Mullen quotes I have this morning, but there are also some good non-Mullen quotes in a CNN article.

For example, from the conclusion of the report itself:

The general lesson we take from ... transformational experiences in history is that in matters of personnel change within the military, predictions and surveys tend to overestimate negative consequences, and underestimate the U.S. military's ability to adapt and incorporate within its ranks the diversity that is reflective of American society at large.

Relatedly, R. Clarke Cooper, who the article notes is “an active duty Army reservist and head of the Log Cabin Republicans,” says:

There was not this much study or review or even a complicated process that occurred when there was racial integration of the forces back in 1948. And there wasn't even this excessive review with co-educational integration of sexes in the forces.

And along the same lines, I'll close with one more quote from a veteran:

“In the 1940s, there were a lot of predictions that senior noncommissioned officers would leave the ranks if segregation was ended,” said Aubrey Sarvis, a veteran and current executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which advocates on behalf of gay and lesbian troops. “Well, that did not come to pass. Thirty some years ago, there were dire predictions that if women were allowed to attend the service academies, there would be a mass exodus from the ranks. That, too, did not happen.”

7 Comments

Just a comment about the percentages and public opinion—I don't know if you read Nate Silver, who makes the point that most of the opposition to repeal of DADT is not actually support of DADT.

That is, there is a hard core of people who prefer the rule from before DADT, which was that not only could they ask but they were supposed to ask, and either telling or lying were discharge offenses. The DADT compromise never made much sense, and makes less sense now. The support for it is probably down under 15%, I would guess from Mr. Silver's chart.

That's a chart of public opinion at large, not within the military. I'm inclined to imagine, without evidence, that there is even less support within the military for DADT (and more support for outright exclusion). I bring this up to point out that continuing DADT is not really a viable option, one way or another, and has very little public or political support. The objection to inclusion is not (mostly) support for the status quo, although of course they would prefer the status quo to full inclusion.

Thanks,
-V.


Great stuff, Jed. I like Mullen a lot too. And Gates. The basic decency and thoughtfulness and logic of those two guys (let alone all the other compelling people and arguments) is so refreshing. The Daily Show had a good segment on McCain vs Mullen.

I am not sure if this argument has been made before on this thread but here is something from a very Republican colleague of mine. He is a decorated US Navy Veteran and served as a cryptologist for the Naval Security Group. Was a rescue swimmer as well. His point against the current regulations is that there are no secrets in small units in the military in terms of sexual orientation. Everybody basically knows everyone's else orientation. So the regs give unfair "blackmail" fodder to straight people...e.g., "I'm going to expose you and get you drummed out if you don't do X." And that kind of power dynamic is very, very unhealthy.


V: Extremely good point; I had sort of had something along those lines in the back of my head, but hadn't quite been able to bring it into focus or articulate it. Thank you! And thanks to Nate Silver; I only stop by fivethirtyeight once in a while, so I had missed that piece you linked to. Very nicely done.


Jay: Cool, I'll have to look for that Daily Show segment.

And excellent point about blackmail fodder; I've seen people say some vaguely related things, but I don't think I've seen that particular argument, and it's a good one.

And underlying that argument is, among other things, another important point: it suggests that DADT just plain doesn't work. If everyone's orientation is an open secret, then the whole point of DADT—which as I understand it is to keep homophobic straight people from having to think about the horrible fact that they might be serving with someone who's gay or lesbian—is undermined.

This brings me back to Nate Silver's and Vardibidian's point above (I'm now going off on a tangent, not talking about the specific things you noted):

Straight soldiers who are afraid of showering with gay soldiers, or sleeping in the same room with them? They're already doing that. The question the country is facing isn't "should that be allowed to happen?" It's "Should the gay people in question be allowed to openly say that they're gay?"

To be somewhat fair to the straight soldiers who get freaked out about this, I think a lot of them are probably worried that openness will result in gay people hitting on them. (And others are worried that it will result in that ~most evil of homosexual practices~, “flaunting.” But don't get me started on that.) It's a fear that doesn't make much rational sense, for all sorts of reasons, but at least it does suggest a (probably imaginary) difference between DADT and serving openly. Sort of like: “Everyone knows Charlie is gay; the only thing that's keeping him from hitting on me is knowing he could get kicked out.”

But I don't want to be too sympathetic to that point of view, because it's unfounded. The military has rules about conduct. Forcing servicemembers to lie about themselves and their lives is too high a price to pay to assuage some servicemembers' fears that some other servicemembers might behave badly at some future time.


PS: I love the Daily Show's segment title: "Queer and Present Danger."


PPS: The rest of the Daily Show segment is mixed, but has some very funny bits in it. And although Stewart takes one bit of McCain's statements out of context, the rest of the McCain-skewering is thorough and well-deserved.

And wow, Lieberman's statement is even better than I thought:

"It's just wrong, and un-American, to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation."

Wow. I never thought I'd say this, but go, Lieberman!


One more thought supporting y'all's comments. The WaPo says:

"Sixty-nine percent of the respondents to the Pentagon's recent survey said they served with men and women they knew to be gay."

If the responses are statistically representative (McCain says they're not representative, but I don't think he understands polling or statistics; Gates (iIrc) says they are statistically representative), that means that about two-thirds of the military already serves with known gay and lesbian people.

So here again we're seeing that the question isn't "should there be gay and lesbian people in the military?"; it's "should the open secrets of the gay and lesbian people in the military already be officially acknowledged and no longer punished?"


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