Don't ask, don't tell, don't change

Perhaps young American men and women will fight better when openly gay soldiers are included in the ranks, though I’ve heard no one make this claim. Instead, advocates for gays in the service have by and large avoided a discussion of unit cohesion, relying instead on arguments falling into three categories: training costs, civil rights and individual performance…

LAST, and most frequently heard, is the seemingly businesslike argument that what’s important is an individual’s performance. Hundreds of service members are mustered out annually for failing to stay closeted, regardless of job performance. Indeed, we seem to have here an odd exception to the American idea that people should be judged by their actions rather than their makeup.

But it would be a serious mistake to imagine that personal performance is what matters in combat. Combat is not a contest between individuals, like poker or tennis; it is a team event whose success depends on group cooperation and morale. So the behavior that concerns us is not individual achievement but the social dynamics of relationships and groups. The issue is whether and how the presence of openly declared homosexuals in the ranks affects the solidarity of the unit.