Friday, June 8, 2007

National Security & "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

One of the principle reasons why the U.S. government argues that the "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy of the military is valid is that it essentially helps national security. The Department of Defense Directive 1332 from January 1981 states:

"Homosexuality is incompatible with military service. The presence in the military environment of persons who engage in homosexual conduct or who, by their statements, demonstrate a propensity to engage in homosexual conduct, seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission. The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the armed forces to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among service members; to insure the integrity of the system of rank and command; to facilitate assignment and worldwide deployment of service members who frequently must live and work in close conditions affording minimal privacy; to recruit and retain members of the armed forces; to maintain the public acceptability of military service; and to prevent breaches of security." (emphasis added)
Since people in the armed services will not be able to function and live and work with those of different sexual orientations, the government bans homosexuals from serving in the armed forces. The government prioritizes the need to raise and support armies for national security over the desire of gay people to serve in the armed forces. The government views the situation in a dichotomous fashion: either have all straight people (or perceived to be straight people) serve in the army or all gay people. Since gay people a minority of the population and not all gay people want to serve in the armed forces, the government reasonably concludes that it must accommodate those straight people and offer them the most comfortable working conditions to have the largest and strongest army possible.

An editorial today in the NY Times, however, refutes this notion that the "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy promotes a strong army and fosters national security. In perhaps the clearest and most cogent response to the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, Mr. Stephen Benjamin writes in a letter to the editor that firing gay military men and women who could be helping the U.S. uncover vital intelligence is indeed hurtful to national security. There is no compelling governmental interest in trying to discriminate against gay people. Mr. Benjamin says:

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” does nothing but deprive the military of talent it needs and invade the privacy of gay service members just trying to do their jobs and live their lives. Political and military leaders who support the current law may believe that homosexual soldiers threaten unit cohesion and military readiness, but the real damage is caused by denying enlistment to patriotic Americans and wrenching qualified individuals out of effective military units. This does not serve the military or the nation well.

Consider: more than 58 Arabic linguists have been kicked out since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was instituted. How much valuable intelligence could those men and women be providing today to troops in harm’s way?

In addition to those translators, 11,000 other service members have been ousted since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was passed by Congress in 1993. Many held critical jobs in intelligence, medicine and counterterrorism. An untold number of closeted gay military members don’t re-enlist because of the pressure the law puts on them. This is the real cost of the ban — and, with our military so overcommitted and undermanned, it’s too high to pay.

In response to difficult recruiting prospects, the Army has already taken a number of steps, lengthening soldiers’ deployments to 15 months from 12, enlisting felons and extending the age limit to 42. Why then won’t Congress pass a bill like the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell”? The bipartisan bill, by some analysts’ estimates, could add more than 41,000 soldiers — all gay, of course.

The USSC has refused to rule on the policy, perhaps avoiding being at the center of a storm of controversy and political unrest. As of today, more than 80% of Americans believe that gay people should be allowed to serve openly in the military.

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