NPR logo Don't Stall On Repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'


Don't Stall On Repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Defense Secretary Robert Gates (left) and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen talk before the start of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Robert Gates (left) and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen talk before the start of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Philip Gold is a former Marine. His next book, Closing Ranks: The Citizen's Guide to a New Defense, is to be published by Praeger this fall. He blogs for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at Progressive FormerCons.

Washington, D.C., it is said, runs on money and lies. It also runs on cliches. Among the most common and most pernicious of these cliches: Things cannot change quickly. Still, sometimes Washington has no choice but to accept that something has changed, and maybe it's best at least to acknowledge the obvious.

President Obama has pledged to "work with" Congress to repeal the law that bars gays from serving in the military and deal with its most recent iteration, the "don't ask don't tell" policy established by President Clinton. It's long overdue.

However, some still cling to the "change can't come quickly" canard. Today, the Pentagon told the Senate Armed Services Committee that yes, they agree, sorta kinda, but it will take several years to figure out how to "integrate" gays. As Sherman Potter might have put it, "Horse hockey!" They're already integrated. They have been for ages. Military necessity and the rise of a proper tolerance in the larger society have seen to that. What remains is to demolish the spurious remaining arguments against military service.

No one is claiming that, as individuals, gay men and women can't do the job. The claim is that the mere presence of openly gay service members is inherently destructive of morale and unit cohesion.

Essayist Philip Gold believes Congress should move swiftly in repealing "don't ask, don't tell." Courtesy of Philip Gold hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Philip Gold

Whose morale? Whose cohesion? That of gay service members, or of the small minority who despise them? Morale issues are easily handled. As former Marine Commandant Al Gray said when told that morale was bad, "There will be morale." Back when I was a Marine and we were having major racial issues, the policy was simple. "We can't control your thoughts and feelings. We will control your behavior."

Unit cohesion matters, but it is not the same as effectiveness — the ability to accomplish the mission. Cohesive units can desert, surrender, mutiny. Ask any combat veteran what matters when the first round goes by, and you'll find that it's neither morale nor cohesion based on personal similarities or likes; it's trust based on character and competence. Thus is it ever.

And might it not be asked: Is it the American way to exclude entire groups on the basis of who might not like them? And if avoiding gays is so important to some people that they might not enlist or re-enlist, are they really the people we need fighting our culturally sensitive wars? And who else might they dislike?

In order to integrate gays into the military, all that is necessary is to repeal the legal exclusion and, regarding fraternization, consensual sex and sexual harassment and assault, institute one set of rules for everybody, strictly and fairly enforced as a primary leadership responsibility at all levels. And in so doing, it would be well to remember that gentlemanly and gentlewomanly conduct can remove a lot of friction.

Now there's a concept — gentlemanly and gentlewomanly conduct — that the larger society might wish to consider.

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