Political games in repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

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I don’t know which was the bigger snow job – the winter storm in the Northeast last week, or the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) last month.

If you are willing to think outside your comfort zone, read on, but fair warning, my views on repealing the prohibition on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military just might alienate everyone on both sides of the argument.

At the outset, I will tell you that responding to divergent views with cries of “homophobe” will make you silly and irrelevant to me, especially since I am a loner among my Republican fellows in my belief that same-sex marriage should not be barred.

If I am repulsed by romance between two men or two women, why should my attitude control whether they are allowed to enter into the commitment of marriage with its attendant legal protections?

The repeal of DADT, however, is not only a mistake that sacrifices combat readiness to politics, it was done in a way that played the public like a fine-tuned fiddle.

Let’s start with some of the emotion surrounding the issue.

President Obama said (paraphrasing) after signing the repeal bill, “Now those who put their life on the line will no longer have to lie about who they are to serve their country.” Well, that sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

When George Washington gathered the tattered remains of his disintegrating fighting force, many barefoot in that 1776 Christmas eve winter storm, and crossed the ice-swollen Delaware in a daring strike on the enemy in the pre-dawn Christmas morning at Trenton, he salvaged the Revolution with his outrageous plan and victory.

The men Washington led that night pushed themselves beyond any reasonable limit of exhaustion, hunger and exposure to wind, snow, sleet and rain. Were any of them gay? Maybe so, and every one of them deserve our gratitude.

On the bloody beaches of Normandy and across the wasteland of Iwo Jima, among the twisted bodies were probably men who had the secret of being gay. On the black granite wall with over 58,000 names of our Vietnam War dead, I know some were gay or lesbian, I just don’t know which ones or how many. Were any of the doctors, nurses or orderlies who cared for me when I was wounded gay or lesbian? I don’t know.

Many of you will nod your heads thinking these are good reasons to repeal DADT, out of fairness to gays and lesbians who have always been a secret part of our military. But asking about fairness is the wrong question.

Is DADT unfair to gays and lesbians? Sure it is, but there is no right to serve in the military; there are many classifications of people who may not serve. DADT is the grease that makes it possible for gays and lesbians to serve.

The real question, though, isn’t about fair, it is about what contributes to unit cohesion to make an effective fighting force. To see the difference, we must set emotion aside, but the loudest voices in this argument are chock full of the emotional appeal, and without one bit of understanding of combat readiness.

Consider the public cheerleading for repeal by that great military mind, Lady Gaga, who preached to crowds that gays and lesbians wishing to serve should be welcomed, and the Neanderthal homophobes who object should be drummed out of the U.S. military, because such insensitive attitudes should not be tolerated. Maybe you agree with her that small masculine minds must be made to be more tolerant.

What can be more masculine than testosterone-pumped men on the point of the spear killing people and breaking things when ordered to subdue the enemy by force?

These days the virtue of sensitivity easily trumps masculinity, which is slowly being squeezed out of our culture, and we men are to blame for letting it go too far.

How many TV programs consumed by our kids portray men as bumbling, slow-witted boobs in need of constant guidance from their women? Even the joys of kickball are being eliminated from school playgrounds since that game is too aggressive. Are we now uncomfortable there is too much masculinity in our fighting machine?

Much is made that the vast majority of the public favors repeal of DADT. Maybe so, but how much knowledge of preparing for combat is embodied in public opinion these days?

In about 65 percent of WWII generation families, the dad or mom served in the military. Think of it — over half knew deep in their bones what it means to fight an enemy with no assurance our side would prevail.

Today, when you factor out the WWII, Korea and Vietnam veterans, by my measure less than 5 percent know what it means to serve in the military, including those making these decisions in Congress.

Even less than that know what life in combat is like, watching each other’s back, eating, sleeping, bathing together in forced intimacy. In extreme conditions our combat troops sometimes sleep tangled up in each other to conserve body warmth, just one situation where it helps for a gay man to keep his secret.

That is all that is required for gays and lesbians to serve: keep your sexual preferences to yourselves. Even outside of combat settings, that privacy helps make a fighting force work.

Marine Tom Neven tells of a formal inspection when a superior stepped in front of him to inspect his person and asked him quietly where he got his deep blue eyes. While standing at attention and required to answer his superior while staring straight ahead, he stammered, “I get them from my mom,” while the superior stared into his eyes a while longer before moving on. Tom says he knew what was meant.

I would argue that superior’s sexual inclinations are irrelevant if kept to himself, but when revealed become a disruptive issue. If that same superior was suspected of favorable treatment to a subordinate lover, trust and unit cohesiveness suffer.

In combat arms units, especially special ops units, openly serving gays is just one more complicating factor for them to overcome. Complications that interfere with unit cohesion will get people killed in combat.

Of course when you watch TV news you won’t hear these subtleties, you will only hear about fairness to gays and lesbians.

You also hear a lot about the survey of military people on the issue, but TV news won’t tell you about the holes in that process, either. No matter which side you favor, honest people should demand an honest process. I would argue this survey was political cover for repeal from the get-go.

Perhaps you are reassured by the unwavering support of repeal by U.S. Navy Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I am not, but I learned during the Vietnam War to be skeptical of officers at the highest levels who often become skilled politicians. While they took their orders from damn fools in the White House to impose stupid rules of engagement that got thousands of Americans killed in Vietnam, not one general officer resigned in protest.

What about the survey? It went to 400,000 of the 2.2 million who serve in uniform, but just 28 percent responded while 72 percent did not, meaning just 5 percent of those in uniform were actually surveyed.

Ask yourself whether those favoring repeal would dare miss their chance to submit their opinion, and in which direction you might expect a skew with the small sample?

You might also consider the contents of the survey. The crucial question of whether repeal of DADT is a good idea, the central question, was not asked. Rather, survey respondents were asked their views on the effects of repeal.

Proponents of repeal, like Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, simplifies his bottom line as, “… a strong majority … two-thirds, do not object to gays and lesbians serving openly in uniform.”

Maybe that’s a victory, but those who put national security as the first objective might find that other 33 percent to be of grave concern.

Gates, of course, was cherry-picking to get that number, so I’ll engage in a little cherry-picking of my own.

Question 68a asked about repeal’s effect on how the unit members would work together to get the job done. Here are the responses that expect a negative/very negative effect:

Army 31.9 percent, Army Combat Arms 47.5 percent, Marines 42.8 percent, Marine Combat Arms 57.5 percent.

A question about trust yielded responses nearly as bad. If this survey is to be taken seriously, anyone focused on combat readiness would consider these responses to be a huge red flag.

But the survey is for political cover, the fig leaf needed to convince you, the decent people in the public who don’t want to be unfair to gays and lesbians, that now is the time for repeal.

Actually, December was the right time, after the survey report was done and before Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives. That was the last possible window of time, as signaled mid-year when Gates suggested an early vote before the survey was completed wouldn’t be a bad idea.

You might argue this repeal doesn’t go into effect until 60 days after the President, Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify in writing that implementation of repeal “is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”

But all three men have made clear their unwavering political commitment to repeal, and a few signatures won’t slow things down.

While the difficult task of keeping our fighting force combat-ready is even more difficult in today’s setting of sending troops on four or five combat rotations, the loud mouths with caring hearts cannot see the wisdom in letting those who fight make this decision. Unfortunately, it is being crammed down the throats of the service branches, with warnings against resistance already clear.

Looking forward, no matter what effect repeal has on combat readiness, the military machine will surely report good news to you on a successful implementation, because that will be the report required from officers down the line to advance – officers who please their superiors are the ones promoted.

The good men who now serve you faithfully on the point of the spear, in dirty uniforms, living in harsh combat conditions, doing things that would give you nightmares to keep you safe while you dream, might be quietly shuffled out of the military if they cannot embrace the new system, whispered about as knuckle-draggers by the reformers.

Personally, I’d rather keep the knuckle-draggers than the do-gooders shouting, “Homophobe!”

[Terry Garlock lives in Peachtree City. His email is tgarlock@mindspring.com.]