Prepare for battle over 'Don't ask, Don't tell'

Marine homecoming

Despite a campaign promise of ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” President Obama appears to be in no hurry to end a policy that has rendered gays as second-class citizens within the U.S. military.

It’s easy to understand Obama’s caution. This is one issue he can’t win. If he jettisons “don’t ask, don’t tell,” he is certain to be accused of demoralizing the military during time of war. If he doesn’t end it, he is equally certain to be lambasted for betraying a key liberal cause.

The military has already fired the first salvoes in what promises to be a bloody struggle. In a Washington Post Op-Ed, four retired generals and admirals argued that ending the ban would harm morale, spur 200,000 soldiers to leave the military in protest, and deter thousands from enlisting in the first place. These retired commanders have been joined by a thousand more who are circulating a letter of protest.

They’re fighting a rear-guard action, but in the end, they will lose. Not least because the military itself is changing. Military analyst Andrew Exum, a platoon leader in Afghanistan and Iraq, notes that those opposing gay soldiers are the Cold War generation. The younger warriors in today’s military don’t really care about sexual orientation as long as a soldier does his or her job.

I have always considered the whole gays-in-uniform issue to be completely bogus. We will spend $534 billion on defense next year. And for all that money, all those schools and hospitals that will never be built, we will receive a military that is barely able to cope with a ragged bunch of insurgents in two Third World nations.

If the U.S. military isn’t up to the job, it’s because we buy weapons that were meant to stop Soviet tanks instead of barefoot guerrillas. It’s because the Air Force and Navy are more concerned with beating Army in the budget battle than destroying the Taliban on the field of battle. It’s because our commanders are still struggling to catch up with today’s warfare, and never mind tomorrow’s.

Two gay soldiers sharing a sleeping bag are the least of our worries. It reminds me of Clint Eastwood’s line from “Magnum Force,” when Dirty Harry is told that a bunch of sharpshooter cops are probably queer:  “If the rest of you could shoot like them, I wouldn’t care if the whole damn department was queer.”

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11 Responses to Prepare for battle over 'Don't ask, Don't tell'

  1. Jon Pyle says:

    Couldn’t agree with the generational argument more. I actually recently wrote about an openly gay college football player and his teammates reaction is incredibly positive because he’s a good player. It’s pretty simple for younger folks, do your job and you’ll fit in just fine. Great post though. Look forward to hearing more about the issue.

    • Michael Peck says:

      The times are a-changing. What’s worrisome is how the senior ranks of the military are out of step with American society. I think gays and lesbians will be accepted as the younger generation rises up. But it’s going to take a while.

  2. Brian In NYC says:

    “In a Washington Post Op-Ed, four retired generals and admirals argued that ending the ban would harm morale, spur 200,000 soldiers to leave the military in protest”

    Don’t let the door hit them in the ass on the way out! Seriously what does it say for us as a nation if we continue to allow military policy to be controlled by bigots and homophobes. It’s not hard to imagine that many of the same arguments were used in the 30s and 40s to rationalize the segregation policies of that area. And BTW Michael this is just not a promise made by President Obama, this was a promise made by the Democratic Party, and as gay man and a life long Democrat it’s a promise I am determined to hold my party to!

    • Michael Peck says:

      The segregation analogy is very appropriate, Brian. We were told that equal rights for black soldiers would destroy the military. Truman didn’t listen to ’em, and in the end, the military did what it was told to do. Kicking and screaming, maybe, and race relations in the Vietnam-era military weren’t harmonious. But it eventually worked out once everyone decided to make it work.

  3. philipleitner says:

    “I have always considered the whole gays-in-uniform issue to be completely bogus. We will spend $534 billion on defense next year. And for all that money, all those schools and hospitals that will never be built, we will receive a military that is barely able to cope with a ragged bunch of insurgents in two Third World nations.”

    Not to be pugnacious, but considering several other articles I have seen of late regarding torture and Truth Comissions and such, what is it you would do differently? Because it seems to me that some of the leaders of our great military have their hands tied by politicians and others in leadership who want to make huge issues out of water-boarding and all the innocents that have lost their lives during this “modern day Vietnam”, but in the same breath demand results. We saw this mind-set when so many cried “the surge won’t work”…

    And I would still argue that we have the best medical system and hospitals in the world, and I would say we definitely keep up with the Joneses of the world when it comes to education.

    So yes, gays in the military should be a moot point if they are doing the job they signed up to do, but please don’t go bashing the most powerful military in the world. You either want to have a military capable of defending you from a strong and merciless enemy, or you don’t. So my question stands-what would you do differently?

    But I will agree with you on this-the issue is bogus. If you have men and women serving their country admirably and doing everything asked of them, what should it matter what their sexual orientation, skin color, religion, or favorite TV show is?

    • Michael Peck says:

      The argument that the military has its hands tied by the politicians is a myth. The Pentagon’s failure to adapt to counterinsurgency was as responsible for losing Vietnam as LBJ’s mistakes. The Iraq War was a botched operation, but that was as much the fault of senior commanders who didn’t think to plan for what to do after we deposed Saddam Hussein. There is no reason why our current military leaders can’t figure out a way to integrate gays in the military. The Army is supposed to be a can-do organization. So do it.

  4. Lou Carlozo says:

    Did you once freelance for Philadelphia Inquirer in South Jersey bureau, late 1980s?

    If so, we worked together. If not, then never mind!

  5. jamesohearn says:

    With the sudden change in leadership over the pat several years, will this really be an issue. Generals like Petreaus have an enormous amount of pull with the new administration, and his coterie of officers is definitely not the legion of decaying Cold Warriors.

  6. Patti Hartigan says:

    I have a bet out on this. I owe two people a drink if Obama doesn’t end DADT by the end of the first term. He may not do it in the first year, even though I wish he would, but I have a hard time believing that he will cave to pressure from Cold War generals and the Christianist guard and refuse to change this outrageous policy. We are finally allowed to see the coffins of soldiers killed in action, aren’t we? Some thought he wouldn’t change that policy, either.

    I’m cynical about almost everything else, and one has to believe in something. I choose to believe that Obama means what he says when it comes to homophobia and discrimination.

    But I’m not so sure we’ll see gay marriage in every state any time soon…

    • Michael Peck says:

      You and your friend will owe each other drinks, Patti, Your prediction that Obama will end DADT in the first term is probably accurate. However, like desegregating the military, it won’t be a smooth process. For example, how seriously will the Army clamp down on some Christian fundamentalist commander whose gay soldiers just happen to receive black marks for poor performance? Obama may formally end DADT, but I question whether he will spend political capital to really end discrimination.

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