And So It Begins
posted at 4:11 pm on March 8, 2010 by J.E. Dyer
It was Hamlet who exclaimed, when events proved his suspicions about the murder of his father, “O my prophetic soul!”
Readers, you may consider yourselves fortunate that that’s the only line of Hamlet’s I intend to invoke here. It is apposite, however, because events have begun proving my predictions from last year about what it would mean to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the US military.
Repealing DADT isn’t about gays serving. They already serve. Repealing DADT is about gays telling. It’s about achieving endorsement of homosexuality, and gay activist agenda items, through both military regulation and military culture.
I made the point here, and will make it again, that it is not possible for the military to merely “tolerate” openly-avowed homosexuality, in the way civilians think of tolerating it. What the military does now, with DADT, is tolerate homosexuality. It officially doesn’t ask, and doesn’t even want to know, unless one servicemember’s activities create a discipline or readiness problem. (As many people correctly point out, there are a whole lot of ways of creating discipline problems, and junior enlisted personnel ingeniously push the envelope on all of them. It certainly isn’t just gays who sometimes create discipline and readiness problems.)
What the military does under DADT is more analogous than not to what you do – you civilians, in your civilian lives – to tolerate homosexuality. DADT was designed and intended to prevent people’s sexual orientation from becoming an issue on which there had to be confrontation, for either individuals or the institution. It was intended to keep the military out of the business that repeal will inevitably get it into: the business of taking sides on the issue of homosexuality.
The military operates wholly on affirmative policy. That means that it either approves things or bans them; there is no neutral state, if the thing at issue is officially acknowledged. The military is, moreover, a “lifestyle” organization, meaning – as servicemembers themselves say – it owns you 24/7. It can’t tell you what to think, but it tells you what to act like you think – and it metes out punishment (in performance evaluations and advancement as well as military justice) to those who don’t act like they think the institutionally required things.
The military also welcomes your spouse and children and offers them a host of support services. And as veterans of the “military family” know, that comes with a whole regulatory and cultural environment of its own. One four-year hitch may not be enough to familiarize a young spouse with this truth, but any military wife, husband, or child of a career servicemember would validate it. From housing to recreation to exchange retail services to the post chapel, if the military acknowledges homosexuality at all, it will have to have affirmative policy regarding endorsements and recognition, and/or regulation, of people’s behavior.
Are you aware that the military has explicit regulations covering cosmetic tattooing? It doesn’t prohibit cosmetic tattooing (e.g., having your eyelids permanently darkened) for female service personnel. So it regulates the practice – just as it regulates hair length and style for all servicemembers, the jewelry with which they can adorn themselves – both while in uniform and, in some cases, while out of uniform – and how they keep their fingernails. It also regulates, of course, their weight and body fat content.
The military offers religious ministries for recognized religions. But if your religion isn’t a major, recognized religion, the military doesn’t offer you services. It has an affirmative policy on that. In fact, its policy has been under challenge from Wiccans, some of whom claim status as a religion and have demanded recognition by the military.
The military has an affirmative policy on what it will sell in the exchange retail system, including men’s magazines and where they will be displayed. It has affirmative policies at every major base regarding personal behavior, including “public displays of affection,” or PDA, at the recreational facilities (ballfields, swimming pools, hobby shops). It has policies on where males and females can gather together and where they can’t.
And in its personnel evaluation systems, it assesses servicemembers explicitly on their energy in, and aptitude for, upholding the services’ policies against social bias. Today, the military requires no affirmation from servicemembers, for their tolerance of homosexuality to be tacitly assumed. If DADT is repealed, and homosexuality openly acknowledged in official military policy, the basis will then exist for gay servicemembers to complain if others do not affirm them, in whatever ways the military – and Congress, and the courts – arrange.
This is how it will play out, and we are seeing the first signs of it already. Allahpundit wrote week before last about the “disinvitation” of Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, from a devotional speaking engagement at a prayer luncheon on Andrews Air Force Base, reportedly due to Perkins’ “recent public comments” about repealing DADT. As AP said, it’s hard to find any “recent public comments” from Perkins that would seem to warrant a disinvitation from a devotional event for political reasons.
But that’s how things work in the military. And the truth is, you want them to work that way. It’s not the military’s job to host speakers from both sides of every issue it might become embroiled in. That’s time-consuming, eats away at leadership’s working hours, it’s inherently political anyway, and it’s just not what the military is there for. Congress, the Heritage Foundation, the Center for American Progress, the New York Times, Glenn Beck’s show, Hot Air, HuffPo – all that messy political stuff is what they exist for.
So the military tries to head off at the pass any prospect of becoming embroiled in inherently political disputes. It knows full well that gay advocacy groups will make it a political issue if someone who is known to oppose repeal of DADT is a specially-invited speaker at a military-hosted prayer luncheon. So rather than let the whole thing become a political mess, the military takes preemptive action.
This is what the military is going to do at every decision point. Get used to it. If DADT is repealed, your military will be endorsing things you would vote against. It will be endorsing things you would keep your kids away from when they’re done in public. And it will become the battleground for gay advocacy groups wanting to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which provides that the federal government recognizes only traditional marriage, and that traditional-marriage states need not recognize gay marriages concluded elsewhere.
The challenge to DOMA is already being mounted as part of the military study on repeal of DADT. It had to be. This had to happen, and it was easy to foresee long ago, which is why I predicted it last year. Gay partners will of course demand the same family services and acknowledgment of relationships that traditional families get in the military. And of course, the Defense Department will be governed in this matter by DOMA. Changing what DOD does will mean gutting DOMA or getting it overturned. However the issue is handled, it will become a precedent for every other federal agency and all the states, and is likely to generate a flood of new lawsuits.
Keep in mind, none of this will be about military readiness or the ability of anyone to do his job. Those have been the issues at the heart of the political confrontation over women in the military. Women are smaller than men and not as physically strong; there is justification for being concerned about their ability to do some jobs. Women also get pregnant and present a specific discipline and readiness concern that doesn’t arise without their presence in forward-operating units.
The big difference between “women in the military” as an issue and “open gay service” as an issue is that the former is about readiness. The latter is just about official recognition of sexual orientation. There is no question gay men and women can do any military job that other men and women can. The central question with proposing to repeal DADT isn’t readiness at all, it’s politics. It boils down to whether the military will be required to recognize and endorse homosexuality. DADT allows the military to be neutral, and servicemembers to avoid declaring their sentiments one way or the other. If it is repealed, neither will remain possible.
And one final note is that that’s not because of what the military is. It’s because of what America is. If the US military could acknowledge homosexuality and yet also allow others in the ranks to believe it’s wrong and refrain from endorsing it, or even just allow them despise it, shy away from it, or crack jokes about it, as young men in particular often do, there would be no problem. That’s how some other militaries come to terms with open homosexuality: they let straights who don’t want to endorse it go their own way. This means – yes – gays sometimes get their feelings hurt. It may even mean they are discriminated against unofficially, by seniors who base judgments about them (e.g., regarding promotion) in part on their sexual orientation and lifestyle. The seniors may even be right – as they are likely to be, much of the time – and they aren’t then second-guessed as an institutional operating principle, or assumed to be wrong or to have unlawfully discriminatory “thoughts” in their heads. (None of this means gays have no recourse against being assaulted, of course; they have that because they are human beings, not because they’re gay.)
But we don’t do it that way in the USA. The reason repealing DADT must mean the military will put its institutional imprimatur on homosexuality, and require everyone in uniform to demonstrate fealty to the military’s affirmative endorsement of it, is that in the USA, we coerce institutional closed-mindedness by not only punishing thought and speech with litigation, but actively seeking thought and speech to punish.
You may have the courage, personally, to defy a Senate investigation and a bank of activist lawyers – but you wouldn’t if you had the military in your charge, and your main job was being ready to fight and win America’s wars. If you were in that position, you’d roll over; you’d do whatever it takes to fend off the political circus-freak show and concentrate on readiness, operations, and the job you signed up for. If your conscience wouldn’t let you make the affirmations America’s political culture now extorts at gun-point, you’d serve out your time and separate from the service.
It’s not the military’s job to fight back against America’s political leaders. That’s your job. I recommend undertaking it armed with knowledge. Pay attention to what the gay advocacy groups are demanding, and watch the military react. Understand what the advocacy groups want to do, and remember how defenseless the military has been in the past, against political correctness enforced by ending the careers of long-serving officers. The fear of punishment for breaching political correctness is what gave us the fiery death of Navy Lieutenant Kara Hultgreen – the aviator who should never have been allowed to continue in the carrier pipeline – and the jihadist massacre by the Army’s Fort Hood shooter, whose personnel jacket glowed neon-red well before his attack last fall.
Political correctness is inherent in military culture. What the American people decide is what its precepts are. Please think well before you decide on this one. This isn’t about gays serving; they already do, and for the most part with honor. This is about gays telling – with everything that may imply.
Cross-posted at The Optimistic Conservative.