What Would the Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Mean for Our Troops?
There are a number of issues at play concerning the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell':
- The liberal community pushing for the changes is often the most critical of the military, especially its ROTC programs and its past deployment from Vietnam to Iraq; in contrast, those most supportive of the existing military protocols are the most critical of the proposed changes. How does all that political calculus work out? Do liberals suddenly embrace ROTC programs and become more pro-military; or do conservatives get less engaged with the military? Does the new policy have no effect on either? We do not know, but we can only note the irony that the liberal community usually associated with the most hostility to the military since the Vietnam era is now suddenly the most interested in changing how the military operates daily. Does a U.S. military with openly gay enlisted personnel and officers suddenly become beloved by the left as emblematic of a new enlightened America?
- The policy seems to affect combat troops differently than it might non-combat personnel, in the sense that how the policy is seen by Marines in a forward base near the Hindu Kush might matter in the short term more than among Air Force personnel at a supply depot in Nevada.
- We do not the know the full effects of a policy in wartime that does not distinguish between heterosexual and homosexual behavior. Will more gays gravitate to the military in the new enlightened climate and will that in turn discourage recruitment of others, especially those from the more conservative south and midwest to join?
One could argue that much of the success of the US military, especially its officer corps, derives from its profile—more southern, more Christian, more traditional and nationalistic—being somewhat different from that of the upscale coastal suburbs. Will that change or not—and what would be the effect on combat operations if it should?
Clearly, the record in Afghanistan is that the US military remains exceptional in comparison with its European counterparts, especially in its eagerness to accept hazardous combat assignments. If the stereotypical Gung-ho types shy away from the military, will that matter; or will we learn that homosexuality makes no difference to them? The data is ambiguous and may suggest that while troops in general may be indifferent to gays, those troops most likely to fight in ground combat operations may well care.
Does the policy refer to admissions of being homosexual or to homosexual acts per se? That is, knowing that fellow soldiers are gay in their private lives may not be as startling to comrades under arms as displaying homosexual affection in off-combat hours. Gays will argue that we have analogous situations already with women and men serving side by side who obviously are attracted to one another, sometimes date in private life, and on occasion engage in inappropriate conduct while on duty. But does homosexuality add a new dimension to those affinities in military units that function differently from those in the civilian world? More importantly, currently men and women are not serving long periods intimately together on the ground in combat. Would fighting side by side those whom one has a natural physical attraction toward change, improve, or imperil combat morale? History is ambiguous I think on that count.
Bottom line? I don't think anyone has any idea how overt homosexuality will affect combat operations, and even less idea whether they should worry about that uncertainty during ongoing fighting in Afghanistan.