Posts Tagged ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

I’ve written an op-ed that will run in tomorrow’s Baltimore Sun titled “Ending ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is about more than gays in the military.”  The piece is also available on the Sun’s online opinion page here.  I’ll refer you to their site for the details, but if you have been reading this page in recent months you can probably make an educated guess as to its content. 


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Steve Clemons wrote a July 4th piece for the Atlantic in which he points to the recent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as evidence that the gap between “us” (presumably meaning everyone not in the military) and the military is disappearing.  As a general matter I cannot agree.  In fact, I see strong evidence of a trend in the opposite direction.  However, Mr. Clemons makes a fair point.  The fact that there exists a cultural gap between members of our armed services and the general public, and that this gap appears to be widening, does not mean that there are not also points of conversion.   

The death of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) is a wonderful example of a military norm evolving to following a change in civilian culture.  This is not a field in which I am expert, but I would like to offer two basic observations on DADT and its demise.

First, it seems to me that the policy, as originally conceived, was itself a mark of shifting norms within the military culture.  Prior to DADT there was an actively enforced ban on homosexuality in the military.  DADT did not remove this ban, it simple made its enforcement much more difficult by limiting the ability of military leaders to investigate the sexual orientation of service members.  From a cultural perspective, the more important point is the general acceptance of this policy by members of the military.  In the last two decades, as acceptance of homosexuality among the general population of America has increased dramatically, so too has acceptance increased within the military.  It would appear that now, with the military’s acceptance of the repeal, the military culture has continued to evolve in favor of the prevailing civilian views on homosexuality.

Second, both DADT and its repeal were imposed upon the military by civilian leaders.  DADT is the colloquial name of a directive issued by President Bill Clinton in 1993.  The policy began its death march last year when congress passed a bill repealing the ban on homosexuality in the military that would take effect 60 days after a study by the U.S. Department of Defense is completed and the U.S. Defense Secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the U.S. President certify that repeal would not harm military effectiveness.  This study has yet to be completed, but a court of appeals decision this week struck down the ban as unconstitutional.  The possibility of a government appeal of this ruling notwithstanding, DADT is effectively dead.  However, this result stems from civilian government action rather than from a cultural shift within the military.

From a cultural perspective the more important point is the acceptance of the DADT repeal within the military.   Senior uniformed officials, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, have spoken in support of the repeal.  Perhaps more significantly, a November 2010 Department of Defense study(study) found that 70 percent of surveyed service members believe that the impact on their units would be positive, mixed or of no consequence at all.    

While the story is more complicated than a simple shift in norms among military members, I believe that Mr. Clemons is correct in his assessment of gap between “us” and the military with respect to this one issue. 

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