Former JCS Head Now Opposes DADT:

In an important op-ed in yesterday's New York Times, retired army general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1993 to 1997, John Shalikashvili, concludes that the anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is unnecessary and should be phased out. Shalikashvili's stand is especially significant because he was among the most influential opponents of President Clinton's plan to lift the ban on gays in the military.

The basic reason Shalikashvili gives for his conversion is that the experience of the last 14 years has shown that allowing gays to serve openly would not undermine morale, harm recruitment, or hurt unit cohesion — long the main claims of those who have opposed allowing gay Americans to serve. He cites as evidence for his new view: (1) the experience of more than two dozen other countries (including the most effective militaries, Britain and Israel) that allow gays to serve openly, (2) recent polls showing that American military personnel serving in Iraq overwhelming say they would have no problem serving with gays, (3) the serious need of the armed forces for more personnel, and (4) his own interviews with gay Americans who have served openly, honorably, and bravely, often in combat, in Iraq.

Here's the key passage in the op-ed:

When I was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I supported the current policy because I believed that implementing a change in the rules at that time would have been too burdensome for our troops and commanders. I still believe that to have been true. The concern among many in the military was that given the longstanding view that homosexuality was incompatible with service, letting people who were openly gay serve would lower morale, harm recruitment and undermine unit cohesion.

In the early 1990s, large numbers of military personnel were opposed to letting openly gay men and lesbians serve. President Bill Clinton, who promised to lift the ban during his campaign, was overwhelmed by the strength of the opposition, which threatened to overturn any executive action he might take. The compromise that came to be known as "don't ask, don't tell" was thus a useful speed bump that allowed temperatures to cool for a period of time while the culture continued to evolve.

The question before us now is whether enough time has gone by to give this policy serious reconsideration. Much evidence suggests that it has.

Last year I held a number of meetings with gay soldiers and marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq, and an openly gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew. These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers.

This perception is supported by a new Zogby poll of more than 500 service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, three quarters of whom said they were comfortable interacting with gay people. And 24 foreign nations, including Israel, Britain and other allies in the fight against terrorism, let gays serve openly, with none reporting morale or recruitment problems.

I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces. Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.

Shalikashvili wants to proceed slowly with the change, not take it up as the first issue in the new Congress:

By taking a measured, prudent approach to change, political and military leaders can focus on solving the nation's most pressing problems while remaining genuinely open to the eventual and inevitable lifting of the ban. When that day comes, gay men and lesbians will no longer have to conceal who they are, and the military will no longer need to sacrifice those whose service it cannot afford to lose.

While I think the change could have been made effectively in 1993 or even before, and while DADT was in no sense a "compromise" that allowed gays to serve without fear of discovery and reprisal, I agree with Shalikashvili that the time has come for Congress to look seriously at lifting the ban. Other former military leaders and supporters of DADT have urged likewise. If Congress votes to lift the ban, the burden would then be on our compassionate conservative president to decide whether he will allow gay Americans to serve their country with honesty and integrity or will continue to force them to lie and hide in fear, wasting our money and their talent during wartime.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. No news is good news:
  2. Bad Week for DADT:
  3. Former JCS Head Now Opposes DADT:
Bad Week for DADT:

Two news items this week, one closely following the other, together shed some interesting light on the current state of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Under DADT, some 10,000 military personnel — including many with critical skills in which there's a shortage, like Arab linguists — have been expelled from service solely because it's learned they're gay.

First, on Monday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, was asked by newspaper reporters to explain why he supports DADT. According to the Chicago Tribune, Pace defended the policy thus:

"I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts," Pace said in a wide-ranging discussion with Tribune editors and reporters in Chicago. "I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.

"As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behavior] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else's wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior," Pace said.

The comments generated lots of criticism, including from the Secretary of Defense, who said that "personal opinion" about the morality of homosexuality had no place in the debate over the policy. Pace himself clarified that he was expressing only his personal views.

A significant and growing minority of Americans disagree with Pace that homosexual acts are immoral. These include not just Democrats like Barack Obama, but Republicans like conservative ex-military Sen. John Warner, who said this week that he "strongly disagreed" with Pace that homosexual acts are immoral. Most Americans also think gays should be able to serve in the military.

Even if one thought homosexual acts were immoral, it doesn't necessarily follow they should be disqualified from service. Lots of people do immoral things — lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, commit crimes, take the Lord's name in vain, are gluttonous and lustful, worship idols — but are not automatically disqualified from service on that account.

Further, Pace's view that allowing gays to serve openly would send a message that we condone immorality is very questionable and oddly reductionist. We don't send a message that lying is OK by allowing liars to serve. And the predominant message of allowing gays to serve openly would not seem to be that we condone immorality but that we believe it is good and moral to serve one's country, especially in its hour of need. Why does Pace think that everything a gay person does is mainly about sex rather than, say, honorably serving one's country, as thousands have done in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

On a smaller note we don't, pace Pace, "prosecute" people for homosexual acts (or even adultery) and haven't in most states for several decades. But in this era of recruitment shortages we increasingly do welcome into military service those who have actually been prosecuted and convicted of real crimes.

All that aside, I think Gen. Pace did us a service by frankly expressing his own moral perspective in defense of the policy. I suspect that a great many people, in and out of the military, share his idealistic perspective and would have answered in just the way he did. Though Pace and others would no doubt advance other reasons for excluding gays from service, it's revealing that the moral objections came first.

To see why Gen. Pace's honesty is so valuable, consider the second DADT event of the week. We learned on Wednesday that discharges for homosexuality dropped again in 2006, down to 612 from 1,227 in 2001. That's right, since the advent of the post 9/11 phase of the war on terror, when the country most needs the skills and bodies of its citizens on the front lines, expulsions for homosexuality have dropped by 50%.

The common and practical concerns about service by gay personnel expressed when President Clinton proposed lifting the ban in 1993 — that there would be problems of unit cohesion and morale, damage to enlistment and retention rates, invasion of soldiers' privacy — seem to have been subordinated to the intense need for the service of these people we've trained and invested in. When unit cohesion and morale are most important, in time of war, homosexuality is comparatively unimportant. The experience of other nations' militaries is that the presence of open homosexuals is not disruptive and that their service is more valuable than whatever small amount of unease it might cause a few straight soldiers.

Putting these two events together — the morality concerns expressed by Gen. Pace and the practical decline in DADT enforcement — yields an insight about how the respective views on the policy have flipped since 1993. Back then, advocates of gay military service were scolded that the military is an intensely practical venture whose mission is to deter and fight wars — not a forum for advancing idealistic social causes and abstractions (e.g., the egalitarian claims of homosexuals).

Now advocates of gay military service argue with considerable and growing empirical support that the military is an intensely practical venture whose mission to deter and fight wars is aided by allowing gays to serve without fear of reprisal and expulsion — not a forum for advancing idealistic social causes and abstractions (e.g., the idea that homosexuality is immoral). It is now opponents of gay military service who are left to advance a form of idealism that seems increasingly disconnected from, and unsupported by, considerations of military need. Unpersuasive in abstraction, opponents of DADT have increasingly shifted to the practical; shorn of a practical foundation, supporters of DADT must increasingly shift to the abstract.

No news is good news:

In Britain, seven years after being forced by a European court to allow gays to serve openly, the policy is producing yawns:

Since the British military began allowing homosexuals to serve in the armed forces in 2000, none of its fears — about harassment, discord, blackmail, bullying or an erosion of unit cohesion or military effectiveness — have come to pass, according to the Ministry of Defense, current and former members of the services and academics specializing in the military. The biggest news about the policy, they say, is that there is no news. It has for the most part become a nonissue.

Read the whole story here. An interesting side note is that the British military is keeping mum about the success of integrating homosexuals so as to avoid embarrassing the United States, which still expels homosexuals based on fears that have proved unfounded for its closest ally. It's hard to escape the conclusion that America's policy of exclusion remains in place for reasons of domestic politics, not military need.