Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Weighing in on the Repeal of DADT

Don’t ask, don’t tell will no longer be in force in the coming months after the Senate voted to repeal it. It is certainly time.

Over the years, over 14,000 soldiers have been discharged because they admitted to being gay. This makes little sense at a time when the US is embroiled in two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We simply need every soldier we can get. It is also true that some of the gays discharged performed important jobs such as Arabic translators that we can especially ill afford to lose.

Some of the conservatives who opposed the repeal highlighted concerns about military effectiveness. Yet, a study by the pentagon and testimony from the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff indicate that repeal poses little threat. It is true that there seems to be higher-than-average levels of opposition from the Marine Corps. I doubt that this opposition will ultimately hurt the Marine Corps much though. People who volunteer to put their lives at risk have an abiding love for America and an intense desire to see that it is safe. I have a feeling their patriotism will override their concerns about serving alongside gays.

At the end of the day, soldiers fight in situations where their lives are on the line and where they have to learn to trust those they fight with. If a soldier is wounded, will he really care whether the medic coming to save his life is gay or straight? When the military was integrated, there were surely many white soldiers that objected. Yet, individual units eventually got over their discomfort and managed to become effective fighting forces. In the long run, the effectiveness of the military was not hurt. I predict the same will come to pass with gay soldiers.

Interestingly, I am unsure about one of the arguments given in favor of repealing DADT, namely that all citizens have a right to serve in the military. Clearly, we don’t believe that everyone has a right to serve in the military. We don’t take people who fail to meet certain weight or height requirements. The army would reject someone who weighed 400 pounds because it would be harder to participate in combat and he may well prove a burden to his unit in combat. We don’t allow children to fight because they haven’t developed all of the faculties which would make them effective soldiers. A right to fight in the military is not a specifically enumerated right in the constitution.

Yet in all of the scenarios listed above, the conditions clearly prevent a person from being an effective soldier. But I simply don’t see how being gay would prevent someone from being effective. Homosexuality does not make people less able to bear the physical rigors of combat, or give them less of an ability to react or think through trying situations. As Barry Goldwater once said “you don’t have to be straight to shoot straight.” In fact, the number of gay soldiers discharged indicated that putting them out for their sexual orientation is more likely to hurt the effectiveness of the military than allowing them to serve openly.

Moreover, even if there is no “right” to serve in the military, that doesn’t mean we should not consider the morality of DADT. People are forced to choose between serving their country and denying a fundamental piece of themselves. Soldiers who had bled and suffered for their country for years were kicked out on a moment’s notice. Allowing those brave soldiers who have sacrificed so much for their country to serve without fear of discharge only seems just.

I am curious to see what precedent the repeal sets for other changes to the military. Specifically, will this give momentum to advocates of allowing women to fight in combat? Surely, that is something military policymakers will take up in coming years.


  1. Well said Marcus - I am glad this finally passed - if only we can starting getting some more bills through congress, this country might actually turn around...

  2. President Obama gave a rousing and powerful speech today regarding the repeal of DADT. The President will have much to be proud of when he leaves office and this most certainly will go into the history books in a favorable light. I am glad that he managed to get this repealed now as it would have been more difficult in January with a very conservative Congress coming into power.