Green Room

It’s All About the “Tell”

posted at 1:14 pm on October 11, 2009 by

Obama pledged last week to fulfill his campaign promise to end the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on open homosexuality.  It’s probably time to reiterate some important points on that subject.

I wrote a much longer piece on this a few months ago, and will not rehash the whole argument here.  For links and documentation, and the extended arguments, please visit that one.

What I’ll do here is outline, first, the main arguments made by the “open gay service” advocates, and then the principal ways in which ending DADT would damage the military.

The Arguments for Ending DADT

1.  Gays already serve in the military, and are not undermining military readiness or unit cohesion.  However, their inability to be open about their orientation discourages gays from joining or staying in the military.

2.  The latter dynamic has, in a popular talking point, been encapsulated as “losing Arabic linguists” at a time we can ill afford to.  The argument many people buy into is that DADT is forcing us to dismiss Arabic linguists, and is therefore a dysfunctional policy.

The Arguments that Open Gay Service Would Harm the Military

1.  Open gay service cannot be achieved without a thorough politicization of the military.  Gay activists would ensure that everything from personnel policy to unit leadership became “about” people’s individual opinions on homosexuality, and on publicly displayed gay behavior.  DOD’s leadership, the servicemembers, and their families would all have to deal with demands for the uniformed military to march in gay parades, demands for military bases to host gay-themed events, demands for military family services to endorse and support gay unions, and a host of other social issues.  The lawsuits would start immediately.

2.  This dynamic would quickly permeate the military’s promotion and leadership systems, and make promotion contingent on a soldier’s or sailor’s positive affirmation of the overtly-advertised sexual orientation of others.

3.  Admitting gay activism to the military is an excellent way to guarantee challenges to freedom of religion and conscience.  All the major religious texts contain language proscribing homosexual behavior, and although neither Christian nor Jewish nor Muslim chaplains ever make a point of preaching on this topic, many of them would also, if asked, affirm their belief in the texts of their faiths.  So would many soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

4.  The combination of 1, 2, and 3 would distract the military from its true and valid purpose, and cause morale to decline.


The freedom of everyone to remain silent on this issue, neither endorsing homosexuality nor objecting to it, is maintained by the DADT policy.  That is why it was selected in the first place.  The military would face a nightmarish morass of lawsuits, and hijacking of leadership time and organizational purpose, if gay activists were able to press their agenda throughout DOD.  Most Americans, if presented with the actual dilemmas that will arise, would favor reverting to DADT.  Why should an Army major with combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan suddenly find his promotion to lieutenant colonel held hostage to an endorsement of homosexuality?  Why should a Navy petty officer with twelve years of service and sacrifice, including months at a time away from her family, have to affirm her support of homosexuality in order to become a chief?

One reason the military is such a big prize for gay activists is that this is how their agenda must play out, in one of the world’s most top-down organizations, premised on unity and obedience.  If DOD can be leveraged at the senior civilian level to endorse homosexual demonstrations – gay officer organizations, gay NCO organizations, gay pride month, gay-themed events for unit personnel – it will become necessary and expected for commanders and unit leaders throughout the services to show positive allegiance to, and endorsement of, these manifestations.  Failure to do so will guarantee the prejudicial attention of gay activists and their lawyers.

If you think this is an exaggeration, please visit my longer piece and review the long and growing list of things just like this being encountered in the civilian world, from the US State Department to the San Diego Fire Department to local school systems and express delivery services.  Military policy, out of self-defense if nothing else, would require leaders at all levels to evince positive affirmations about homosexuality, in order to get Congressional partisans and activists off DOD’s back, and allow it to spend some time on its primary function.

The average gay servicemember is not interested in becoming a poster child for the gay activist agenda.  Such personnel serve successfully because they, like the overwhelming majority of their uniformed fellows, are willing to live and let live.  It is true that gays serve now.  DADT doesn’t prevent them from serving.  What DADT does prevent is their service being leveraged on behalf of gay activism.  That is the crux of the matter.

Some questions Americans need to ask themselves:

— Do you think people should have to affirmatively endorse homosexuality, or explicitly disavow the pronouncements of their religious faith regarding it, in order to be promoted in their professional work?  If so, would you require a Muslim Air Force officer to disavow the Koran’s statements about the status of women, before he could be promoted?

— Is forcing the military to endorse homosexuality a good use of the taxpayer money going to national defense?

— Which is more important:  requiting the yearning of gay servicemembers for greater openness about their personal lives, or keeping the military focused on its actual purpose, rather than preoccupied with adapting to every requirement of a gay activist agenda?

— Does it really make sense that we can only have enough Arabic linguists in the military if we allow openly gay service?  My longer piece works through the case for why this problem is both misstated and overstated by the media.

J.E. Dyer blogs at The Optimistic Conservative and “contentions“.

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Notice – they use a stock photo to make it look like there is “300,000” marchers. When it is really… a few hundred, or low 1000.

Nihaody on October 11, 2009 at 1:21 PM

Nice treatment of the argument, JED, though I think that proponents would fall back on a “it’s just right and other countries have survived it,” while I think that those on the other side might also reach further, even at risk of starting up the “culture war” stuff that you generally steer clear of.

For instance, some military theorists would argue that eventually, if at first perhaps imperceptibly, further eroding the “manliness” of warrior culture will eventually harm military effectiveness. Some of the same people will argue that women in uniform already has done the same thing – just in ways that we haven’t realized or been forced to confront yet, since our technological and other advantages over our main adversaries enable us to encumber our military with non-military purposes.

Few of us (including me, especially arguing with you!) are willing to go quite that far, or anyway will have to be very careful or never make it past the first political land mines, but, if we’re not willing to think in the most ruthless ways about the military and what we expect of it – today and a generation from now – then those in favor of the gay agenda will say you’re just panicking like those who didn’t want to let women serve (more or less) equally, or those who opposed racial integration.

Since most of the same people think the US military is too big and too adventurous anyway, they’ll be unmoved by worries about its effectiveness. Seeing it bogged down and weakened and turned into a social laboratory will be a feature, not a bug – even if they never or rarely admit it. In other words, for a declinist administration, it would constitute another opportunity to undermine the real world counterparts of our “exceptionalism.”

CK MacLeod on October 11, 2009 at 3:38 PM

CKM — as always, you capture arguments nicely, and there is indeed an argument out there that tolerance of open homosexuality would erode the masculine qualities that underlie military operations. Pictures of gay pride parades are always a good way to give people a visceral goose in that regard. And one of my key points is that if DADT is revoked, those gay pride parades will definitely be an issue for the military, just about immediately.

Your last paragraph is the key, though, because our political approach here should not be vainly trying to convince gay activists and their leftist confreres that men running around in G-strings and feathers undermine esprit de corps in a masculine outfit. They’ll just dismiss that with a hand-wave. They do so all the time, arguing that warfighting today is or should be a matter of pushing buttons and watching computer screens anyway, so what does it matter what you’re wearing?

Instead, the high payoff political approach is convincing middle-of-the-roaders that their sense of wanting to be nice to gay people would actually result in a concrete, debilitating, and unjust burden to the military that there is no valid reason to heap on it.

Show them the combat-veteran sergeant who can’t get promoted because he didn’t want to participate in gay pride month with his unit. Show them the carrier air group commander with 5000 hours of carrier aviation and dozens or hundreds of combat missions behind him, who has reached his terminal rank because his religious beliefs won’t allow him to commemorate Harvey Milk Day in the airwing, as (God help us for the comparison) Martin Luther King, Jr Day is commemorated.

The examples are so many, of the demands gay activists will place on any organization they can recruit plaintiffs in. This isn’t something they can argue away with a hand-wave, because their history of lawsuits and complaints is so long, and so pervasive throughout society. Gay activists will demand that gay couples be able to make out in public on military bases, as long as neither is in uniform. After all, straight couples can. Forget the adults on the base: there are families with children on all major bases, living in quarters, shopping at the exchange, playing at the parks, swimming at the pool. The military will be faced with the choice of either eliminating facilities and services altogether, or allowing public displays of gay behavior as they do of straight behavior.

Remember, gays can already serve right now. It’s not to be able to serve that activists want DADT lifted. It’s to be able to engage in what we typically think of as gay behavior.

The average civilian hopes he never has to really confront it… feels lucky if he lives where that’s not an issue… just keeps his mouth shut at work and avoids discussing it as a political issue… doesn’t much care if his colleagues are gay, as long as they’re not in his face about it… arranges his life as he has to — if it comes up — to keep his kids from being exposed to radical or ostentatious displays. This doesn’t make him a bigot. But if DADT is lifted, gay activists will make sure that precisely this attitude, the attitude held by the vast majority of Americans, is called by the military — officially — bigotry.

I think the great American political center would understand very well, seeing things in this light, that any normal person’s morale, sense of integrity, and trust in his fellows and his seniors would suffer under that condition. He’d want to do his time and get out. He’d feel betrayed and exploited.

You mention the integration of women, and it’s a good case in point, because it was in some ways a bumpy ride, attended by lawsuits and career-ending political witch-hunts against good men. Take that history and multiple it by 100, and you have a sense of the problems lifting DADT would create for unit cohesion, morale, professional pride, and other quantities that underlie the military’s ability fo promote and keep the best leaders, both among NCOs and officers.

The key difference here is that when women were admitted to more occupations and more integrated service — as indeed, in ways both the same and different, when blacks were integrated — the newcomers’ intention was to meet all the same standards and succeed through conformity. With gay activism, the intention is not for the newly-open to conform with the traditions and long-held attitudes of the institution, but to transform them, and challenge them with subversion. That, not even the military can handle without seeing a decline in morale and performance.

J.E. Dyer on October 11, 2009 at 6:12 PM

Your last point – about integration to conform vs. integration to transform – is one I don’t believe I’ve ever heard expressed in so many words. It also touches on gay marriage. It gets muddy, I think, because so many would-be defenders of the military or marriage against racial integration argued that, regardless of intentions, inclusion would be objectively transformative.

In a different, saner world – and a less litigious, politically and culturally divided society – it would be possible to say, “OK, gay guys, in – just be cool about it.” As you point out, the very un-cool legal briefs have probably already been largely written except for captions and recitations of particular events, and merely expressing the wish “be cool about it” would probably get you on the wrong side of a California judge.

CK MacLeod on October 11, 2009 at 6:36 PM

CKM — indeed. The reason it really is different, as between women and blacks on one hand and gays on the other, is that gays can already serve, in conformity with the rules and traditions observed as the norm. In their case the issue is not one of introducing new people, but of introducing new behavior.

The argument that introducing women or blacks introduced new behavior breaks down immediately, as a decisive point — because the purpose of integration was not to introduce new behavior. The question of DADT has to be argued on the basis of its purpose, which is precisely to introduce new behavior. The people can already serve. It’s the behavior the political activists want officially acknowledged and endorsed.

J.E. Dyer on October 11, 2009 at 6:42 PM

Sheesh, what a contrast between J.E. Dyer and Meggie Mac.

OhioCoastie on October 12, 2009 at 1:22 PM

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