Thursday, April 08, 2010

Phasing out DADT: it’s easy, right?

Wrong. The gradual phasing out of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is opening up a whole new can of worms. Aside from the (at times opportunistic) conservative ballyhooing about the possible impact on unit cohesion and efficiency, the bureaucratic wrangling to ensure that there is no intra-service turmoil is creating its own issues.

For the first time, the military is asking, and gays in the military are left to decide whether to tell or not. Defense Secretary Gibbs has ordered there to be a survey of troops to be concluded by December to gauge the rank and file’s support of repeal of DADT. Part of this survey requires soldiers to share their sexual orientation.

Assuming this is actually necessary for what is essentially an opinion poll, it would seem a solution to privacy issues should be rather simple: keep all responses confidential. After all, the purpose of the study is to find out the opinion of servicemen and women regarding working alongside openly gay counterparts, not how each individual feels.

But confidentiality has not proven easy to come by, nor is there an assurance of security from discharge for coming out of the closet. The DoD has employed a third party to carry out the survey, but if the results were to fall into the hands of officials at the Pentagon, some of the old guard may seek to root out gay service members. As Gen Carter F. Ham, Commander of the US Army Europe and one of two men charged with carrying out the survey (along with Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon’s Chief Legal Counsel) said in an excerpt from the Washington Post, “if a gay soldier ‘were to disclose to me their sexuality, then I'd almost certainly be required to pursue that,’ by opening a formal investigation that could lead to discharge.” Such opinion from the man in charge of the DADT study might give many soldiers pause before divulging private information.

Many higher level officials do not seem to be on board with the effort, and have made little effort to conceal their disdain. Via Gawker: “In a March 8 letter to Stars & Stripes, Army Gen. Benjamin Mixon wrote:

‘It is often stated that most service members are in favor of repealing the policy. I do not believe that is accurate. I suspect many service members, their families, veterans and citizens are wondering what to do to stop this ill-advised repeal of a policy that has achieved a balance between a citizen's desire to serve and acceptable conduct.’”

In this letter, he advised servicemen and women to write to Members of Congress to request for legislation to prevent the repeal of DADT. He was later asked to retract this statement, presumably because it was in opposition to the official DoD line.

This sort of internal opposition cannot offer much hope to the estimated 2% of all military personnel, or 66,000 people, who are gay. In order to bolster the poll numbers in support of erasing DADT, they will have to trust the military at its word that if asked, they are allowed to tell.

In the meantime, there are other oddities. Tom Ricks highlights the fact that if one seeks a discharge by using DADT, there is a sort of catch-22. A lesbian in the Air Force who outed herself hoping for a discharge was denied. Stars & Stripes explained “if you admit to being homosexual you can be discharged from the military, but if you admit it for the purposes of being discharged you won't be."

All of this makes it seem that even along the road to getting rid of DADT, despite the fact that other militaries that have allowed gays to enter the ranks have suffered no loss in efficiency, that the military is going to make it uncomfortable for gays to enter or stay in the military. Persecution need not be official to be present. The military’s message to gays who wish to serve their country seems to be one of “we’ll allow you to fight and perhaps die for the United States, when it’s convenient for us.” If you want a discharge you will not be granted one; if you’re outed you cannot join under current rules; and if you’re currently in, we’re asking—and we’ll leave it up to you to determine what the hell we mean.

All of this at a time when our current number of personnel is stretched to the limits begs the question: why not let them fight? I’m not going to fight. Most American citizens have no interest in laying their lives out on the line in the service of the country, and most of us are apparently not even healthy enough to do so. Why do the Armed Forces seem so eager to turn away valuable manpower? The military institutions seem more eager to do things their way rather than to improve the chances of victory. Perceived this way, DADT is merely a symptom of the organizational issues of the entire US military apparatus.

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