In pushing through the repeal of DADT, however, Gates and the military leadership confront a more fundamental challenge. For more than a generation, ever since 1973, America has had an all-volunteer professional military. The result is a military of unsurpassed skill. But it has also brought a belief widespread in the officer corps that the military is not merely different from American society at large, but also superior to it in its regard for truth, honor, loyalty and discipline—a conviction that too easily spreads to disapproving views about civilian society’s “values.” Any significant contact with the military reveals that.
The U.S. military remains profoundly democratic in its respect for civilian leadership. Burt Lancaster’s intended coup in Seven Days in May is unthinkable. But the gulf between the military and civilian society is real; and it has widened through almost 10 years of grueling wars in pursuit of goals hotly disputed by America’s civilian political leaders. Demanding that the military now accept openly gay soldiers will strike many in the military, whatever their personal views, as an imposition by civilians who have never served and who don’t appreciate the military’s uniqueness.
Precisely for that reason, it could be argued, the decision to repeal DADT is a good one. It reminds the military that they should be representative of the society they are sworn to defend. But only an optimist would expect the decision to be implemented without a struggle.