Repealing “Don’t ask Don’t Tell”

gays inmilitary done

<i>Map reflects a compilation of states allowing gay service via the Palm Center.</i>

Last month chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen made headlines with this:

<blockquote>“No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,”</blockquote>

Shortly after, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered a year long review of the possible outcome and effects of repealing former President Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” initiative. Since then, in reading about and discussing the proposition to over turn “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” I have yet to find an objective, convincing argument against it. The one objection I found salient was expressed by both the Army and Air Force Chiefs of Staff whose wariness appears to be less about the concept and more about the timing. Army joint chief of staff, General George Casey:

<blockquote>“I do have serious concerns about the impact of repeal of the law on a force that’s fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for eight-and-a-half years,”</blockquote>

That’s certainly a reasonable concern and even after the assessment ordered by SecDef Gates winds up and conclusions are presented, I suspect it will still be a matter of concern no matter how positive (or negative, depending on one’s outlook) it’s findings. Nevertheless this is a criticism or worry aimed at the timing and not the principle of repeal. So I’ll ask a rather simple and a bit broad question and ask you ignore the context of timing and instead consider the principle of the prospective repeal for the sake of discussion:

If 25 countries spanning five continents can manage to allow gay service in their military’s why can’t or shouldn’t the United States?

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30 Responses to Repealing “Don’t ask Don’t Tell”

  1. Gorgasal says:

    I understand your point. However, I am less than convinced that Western Europe, which uses its “military” mostly for parades and to welcome foreign dignitaries, is comparable to the US. FWIW: I’m German, and I did my compulsory service. The only countries on the above map I find persuasive are the UK and Israel.

    My personal non-gay take: I already see how boy-girl relationships at work sometimes make life difficult for the happy couple’s coworkers, and I would be concerned about similar relationships in my foxhole under enemy fire. One may or may not agree with this sentiment, yet I believe it should not be dismissed out of hand.

  2. spandrell says:

    I only see 4 continents here.
    And besides Europe almost just 1 country each.

  3. Gorgasal, agreed that it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand but is that enough to not repeal DADT?

    Spandrell, 1.North America, 2.South America, 3.Europe (everything west of the Ural mts is considered the European continent,) 4.Africa and 5.Australia.

  4. Gorgasal says:

    “is that enough to not repeal DADT? ” Good question. I’d answer that you are framing the question in a way that puts the burden of evidence on people who want to retain DADT. It is not clear to me that it should not be the other way around.

    G. K. Chesterton once said: “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’”

    Yes, I’ll admit that I am an unabashed conservative…

    However, may I point out that the US military does not, in fact, have a problem with gays serving. It just has a problem with their coming out of the closet. Yes, one can discuss DADT, but this is a different proposition than saying that gays cannot serve in the US. And yes, I’ll understand if you find this distinction petty.

    And no, I actually have no deeply thought-about opinion on DADT. I just think that the original post simplifies the point a little too much.

  5. Robert says:

    Clearly that map is inaccurate. I mean, come on, who’d believe that of the few NATO countries that don’t allow gays in the military, Greece would be among them?

  6. tdaxp says:

    “If 25 countries spanning five continents can manage to allow gay service in their military’s why can’t or shouldn’t the United States?”

    Well, the question is bizarrely worded, on the first point. One could as well as “If more than 25 countries spanning five continents can manage not to allow gay service…”

    I think a more rational approach would be to balance cost and benefits, in context of social mores. As former Rep. Massa makes clear, the only policies (both DADT and the full ban) was not fully successful in preventing homosexuals from serving. However, they may have served to prevent those borderline personality disorder types who feel the need to act out social unacceptable lifestyles within the confines of military discipline.

    That is, the old policies may not have served to prevent gays from serving in the military, but preventing the ‘flamboyant’ from serving in the military.

    Thus, it may be wise to refine our policies to simply prevent flamboyant and socially unusual expression within the military, while formally allowing openly homosexual service.

    Or not. But this is a more reasonable approach to answering the question than leading with a biased query.

  7. Master Cook says:

    Then there is this:

    No, its not from the Onion.

    Admittedly, I looked at the map first before looking at the post and I wondered if the US had finally withdrawn from NATO.

  8. McKellar says:

    I’m curious to how many of the nations that don’t explicitly allow gay service have legislation that actively and specifically prohibits homosexuals from serving, as opposed to more general clauses about ‘moral character’ or somesuch. While homosexuality, like sexuality in general, might be a preoccupation of the modern west, I imagine that in many other cultures it would be either unthinkable, unspeakable, or simply unimportant.

  9. The phrase “allow gay service” is an odd locution.

  10. Curzon says:

    You can add Japan to that list — basically, homosexuality in Japan’s military is like the professional armies of the West a century ago — sure it happens, but it’s simply not discussed, and it’s not prohibited because no one talks about it.

  11. Niall says:

    You ask an excellent question, which just highlights the sad fact that opponents of gays serving openly in the military can’t actually come up with any real concerns related to it. Nor can they point to problems created by openly gay service in other militaries. In words, it’s pure prejudice, nothing more.

    Canada’s troops are serving with great bravery and vigor in Afghanistan. Guess allowing gays to serve openly hasn’t hurt them a bit.

    And Gorgasal, you get the sophistry award for the day. To say that the military doesn’t have a problem with gay soldiers, only gay soldiers serving “openly” is just assinine. It’s like saying we don’t have a problem with Jews serving openly in the military, as long as they never, ever disclose they are Jews. So no problem! Yay!

    Anyway, the Crittenden report in 1957, commissioned by the US Navy, concluded there were no operational reasons why gays should not be allowed to serve openly in the navy. And this was at a time when there was zero pressure to reach that conclusion, and quite a bit not too.

    It’s the 21st century, people. Time to be rational and stop blowing hot air.

  12. Gorgasal says:

    Thank you, Niall, for making such an excellent point. Calling me “asinine” will certainly convince me of the superiority of your arguments. Although you may want to work on your spelling.

  13. Niall says:

    Gorgasal -

    Why not address the issue I actually raised? Saying there is no discrimination simply because people are forced to hide their true identities is an obviously laughable argument. Or rather, would be laughable if applied to any other minority.

  14. Niall says:

    And I somehow forgot to notice this new piece of ridiculousness from Gorgasal:

    “However, I am less than convinced that Western Europe, which uses its “military” mostly for parades and to welcome foreign dignitaries, is comparable to the US.”

    Oh really? The Dutch are just doing parades and greeting foreign dignitaries? Have you been in a coma for the last nine years? The Dutch armed forces have been fighting very valiantly with our own troops in Afghanistan. Along with the Canadians, another military not terrified of openly gay soldiers. I’d like to see you make that comment to a crippled Dutch Afghan war vet. Particularly a gay one.

  15. Another way of putting this ridiculous law into perspective is to consider the famous warriors / generals who would not be allowed to serve in the US military if they alive today.

    Here’s a handful:

    Alexander the Great
    Agesilaus (Spartan king and general)
    In fact, just about any Spartan warrior

  16. McKellar says:

    As long as we’re making a list, this gentleman needs a mention:

  17. GI Korea says:

    In response to The Strategists comment, all these people he listed could serve in the US military today. Being gay does not prevent you from serving in the US military. I have known a few people who were gay in the US military, but they just kept it to themselves and did their jobs with no issues.

    The issue is not so much gays serving openly because I believe they can serve openly with little issue, the real problem is special treatment such as gay promotion quotas or allowing gay marriage on military bases.

    I say let them serve openly and leave it at that.

  18. Jeff says:

    Hail to dutch heritage. We after all just took out some Somali pirates:

    ” I already see how boy-girl relationships at work sometimes make life difficult for the happy couple’s coworkers, and I would be concerned about similar relationships in my foxhole under enemy fire.”
    We have such relationships in the military. Yes, women are not placed in front-line roles, but the reality of the situation is they are under fire too. We don’t have problems with such relationships in the military, or at the very least, they are the exception. The military has regulations about these sort of things and makes sure it gets generally stable people (Again, there are exceptions).

    As far as the delay and review, I at first thought this was just a delaying tactic, but I heard an interview with some retired officers who explained some important factors:
    There are important fraternization regulations that would need to be revised.
    They would have to update on base family housing units.
    They would have to good regs against discrimination from active service members.

  19. Niall says:

    @GI Korea:

    What makes you think “gay quotas” would be put in place if gays were allowed to serve openly? That makes no sense.

    And if gay marriage becomes legal, I’m not sure why gay soldiers couldn’t marry each other on a military base.

    While I appreciate very much your support for gays serving openly, I have to call you out on the false claim that gays can serve in the military, just not openly. This is pure nonsense, because it avoids the issue at hand. If Jews could not serve openly as Jews in the military, would you really say, “Well they can in face serve in the military, just as long as they pretend to be Christians.” It’s a distinction without a difference.

  20. Niall says:


    The Dutch have turned out be outstanding, tenacious warriors in Afghanistan. Unliked the prissy, cowardly Germans who seem to be terrified of actually having to fight.

  21. Chirol says:

    @Niall – I think you are confusing the German soldiers with the German government. Moreover, don’t forget who made them that way.

  22. TDAXP, I have an idea of but am not sure what your definition of “flamboyant” behavior is. Have you given thought to what “flamboyant” behavior might be in female recruits?

    Lexington Green, indeed a better locution might have been “Nations that allow openly gay military service.” That aside any thoughts on the actual subject of the post?

    The Strategist (and TDAXP,) an earlier version of this post was a bit lengthy and included historical accounts. I winnowed it down to a rather general question for the purpose of avoiding the accusation that TDAXP levies, advocacy. From my perspective if you want to embark on a systemic change you either create real time models to provide data on the effects of that change or you rely on existing, similar models for analysis. We’re going to have to wait until next year for the real time results via Sec Gates order. I wanted to post and discuss this a few days (actually weeks) ago and so chose existing examples of apparently functional militaries that allow openly gay service.

    GI Korea and Niall, I wonder what the position is of the above cited countries regarding the cultural allowances or rights regarding gay marriage within the military. That’s especially curious as here in the US gay marriage has been decided by state. And yet the military is (even each states national guard) subject to federal jurisdiction.

  23. Michael says:

    Caught a clip of Sen. Levin’s cross-examination of John Sheehan when he made that claim about Srebrenica; he asked the general whether straight soldiers saying they’re straight in public is a problem, then asked what the difference between that and gay soldiers saying they’re gay is. The look on the general’s face . . .

  24. Ralph Hitchens says:

    Pretty much everything normal and good in modern life was opposed by conservatives. Universal male franchise, abolition of slavery, extending the franchise to women, labor laws, social security, desegregation & civil rights, medicare, you name it — the conservatives opposed all these back in the day and now dare not recommend rolling them back. So it’s a pretty good bet that allowing gays to serve in the military is both normal and good by modern societal standards and will eventually come to pass.

  25. Niall says:

    @Munro – You’re right. Most countries that have gay marriage have legalized gay marriage at the national level, with one single vote (so Canada, Spain, Portugal, etc.). Which means that there is nothing to bar gay soldiers from marrying each other in those countries.

    As usual, we here in the US are doing it piecemeal, from the ground up rather than from the top down.

    This whole argument reminds me of racial segregation in the military. White people swore up and down they could never shower/sleep next to/work with a black man. Until they had to, and then, problem solved.

  26. Bryce says:

    The Greek classics that the military types love to quote in order to sound all in-tee-leck-shoo-all are full of buggery and man-boy love. If the “realism” and “anarchy” derived from those texts is an enduring state of affairs, why isn’t homosexuality? I don’t think Phillip II of Macedonia would have kicked gays out of his military.

  27. Pingback: Which Countries allow Gays in the military??? : 114429

  28. Eddie says:


    Niall captures best what the largest barrier is to achieving the full repeal of DADT in a manner which does not cause enormous headaches for the military.

    I also have an observation about worries by some of flamboyant homosexuals that should put that in perspective.

    “As usual, we here in the US are doing it piecemeal, from the ground up rather than from the top down. ”

    Now, there is a major headache brought up with this observation.

    What does the military do about benefits for partners/spouses of gay servicemembers? How do you change the personnel regulations to acknowledge gay marriage when its illegal in nearly 45 states, all of which have active duty or reserve bases where personnel will report to or be assigned to?

    Base Legal services often have a hell of a time dealing with marriage issues, whether it be because one of the spouses is an immigrant, there is a messy divorce with property and/or kids involved where one of the spouses is deployed, informal investigations into accusations of fraudulent marriages (i.e. a young straight couple dating (or who are just friends) on the ship get married so they don’t have to live on the ship or in the base barracks and will get a housing stipend to live out in town, plus various allowances.

    You’ll need to train, hire, and qualify dozens, if not hundreds of more support personnel because of the various legal complexities involved. There is precedent for this in the nightmare our military had in supporting non-white members who ran up against constant legal barriers to their benefits, their social life, etc. Stories about the internal and external fights waged over the first interracial marriages in the late 50′s and 60′s as the courts finally ended the heinous laws forbidding them are well-known among members who served at the time in any legal, leadership or personnel capacity.

    I think in the end it would have been better if they’d simply gutted DADT’s enforcement mechanisms but left the larger matters of benefits (aside from next-of-kin benefits in the tragic instance of a gay service member dying in accident or being killed) to a later date once gay marriage was more accepted.

    As far as concerns over flamboyant homosexuals and their activities, while it is a viable concern that will have to be carefully observed, there are already worse issues with sexual harassment “he said/she said”, often revolving around porn on personal laptops and other devices in the workcenter, gross immorality (guys intentionally trying to screw their fellow soldiers/sailors’ spouses or girlfriends), female malingering (i.e. women getting pregnant right before a deployment to avoid shipping out), etc. This would merely be one more of many issues that prove true the axiom that supervisors spend 90% of their time on 5% or less of their people.

  29. Michael says:

    Non-rhetorical question: When military and federal regs on social issues (marriage, etc) meet state laws to the contrary, who wins? Could some of Eddie’s concerns be minimized simply by providing on-base housing and services to couples who have troubles with local laws?

  30. Thomas Jackson says:

    The question should be if over 200 nations prohibit open homosexuality why should the US alter its military policies? Next how does this enhance military effectiveness one wit?