Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Conservative columnist hints that military should go back to "asking": facing "second class citizenship"

Today, Jan. 2, 2008, The Washington Times carried an op-ed by Elaine Donnelly, p A13, “Gays and the military: Where do GOP candidates stand?” The link is here. Ms. Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness. The links for her survey are a bit convoluted, but the starting point seems to be here. The paper survey questions are here.

In general, the Democratic candidates have supported the idea of both repealing "don’t ask don’t tell" and lifting the ban completely, allowing gays to serve “openly” with some set of conduct regulations (like those proposed in Rand Corporations 700 page study in 1993, still available from Amazon, though expensive. It’s called “Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: Options and Assessment." (link. ) It’s noteworthy at the outset that in 1993, President Clinton viewed “don’t ask don’t tell” as an advance. Now, it has become perceived as synonymous with the military gay ban itself (especially by the presidential candidates) but it really is not. Donnelly is correct in picking up this fumbled football, but I am concerned that she wants to put the pigskin in the air and head for the endzone.

Now, this op-ed today is the first of a two-part series, and I may have to add more tomorrow. But I want to zero in on one part of the survey, her comments that suggest or imply that we should return to “asking.”

She writes: “We also have Mr. Clinton’s ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ enforcement regulations, inconsistent with the law, which invite homosexuals to serve if they do not say they are homosexual. Presidents are obliged to enforce laws, but not their predecessors’ administrative policies. If the next president faithfully enforces the law, while dropping the convoluted ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, homosexuals would be deterred from enlisting in the military. They could still serve America in many ways (emphasis added), but the number of homosexual discharges would plummet.”

Actually, there is a bit of nitpicky semantics here. Stanford Law School has a good link on text of the 1993 law here. Bill Clinton’s July 19, 1993 speech text (from Fort McNair) is here.
The DOD administrative policies were, in large part, implemented in Feb. 1994 and may be found on the Stanford site here.
(also visit the Stanford index to all the policy material here.
The bottom line is technically, the services don’t “ask” (they may present a fact sheet making sure that enlistees understand the regulations) but many commands, as SLDN has documented repeatedly, tend to interpret any statement to anyone (even a family member in private) as “homosexual conduct.” Presumably Donnelly would get away from the wiggle room allowed supposedly by the 1994 regulations (allowing servicemembers to go to gay bars or parades). In practice, she probably would go back to “asking”. I recall a bit of a flareup when Newt Gingrich suggested this sometime in the mid 1990s. One fact that is little known is that the Armed forces stopped asking inductees about homosexual orientation during the Vietnam era draft (they had stopped by 1966) but resumed later after abolition of the draft.

I return to Ms. Donnelly’s piece, having digressed. She says that homosexuals “could still serve America in many ways.” That’s my bone to pick. First, what happens if we did go back to a draft? Apparently she discounts that, but discussion on it stays alive (what we have now is effectively a “backdoor draft” – it’s ironic that this piece appears on the same day that Tom Brokaw told Ellen DeGeneres on her show that Americans have not been asked to “sacrifice” for the 9/11-driven war. Second, the military ban was predicated in large part over concerns about “forced intimacy.” But, even though defenders of the ban insist that the military is “different” (and it is in many ways), these sorts of concerns can become malignant: what about firemen, civilians serving in primitive areas (especially Muslim areas) overseas, or teachers who must provide intimate care for disabled students. Isn’t that “forced intimacy”? Would these concerns spill over into some sort of future national service?

I did come of age in a world where freedom was not to be taken for granted, and where everyone understood there was a presumption of individual obligation to participate in defending it. There were many unfair things about this (such as student deferments, or simply the fact that a draft – even Bush’s "backdoor draft" -- enforces “reverse Darwinism”) and there are serious philosophical questions (about involuntary servitude when we consider the draft).

I also realize that when Clinton and others imagined DADT as a benign policy, no one anticipated the effect of the Internet, making private lives “public” and interconnected because of the lure (indirectly at least) of social networking sites, profiles, search engines, blogs, videos, and the like – all of which create issues for the military even outside of the gay ban. Even so, other NATO allies (and even Israel, which views the military as an fundamental part of socialization for both men and women, a point that Rand discusses in detail) are finding that they can devise conduct rules that allow gays and lesbians to serve with some reasonable “discretionary openness.”

Since 9/11, we’ve had reasons to ruminate about what our notions of morality used to be, and the rest of the world watches us. I still remember the legacy of the 50s and 60s: if you did not do your part and serve in the military when called upon to do so, you were less than other people. Freedom could be taken from you, or, if need be, your needs could take a back seat to meeting the needs of others. You were a second-class citizen. Of course, we all know that concept now from the gay marriage debate, but the military issue also helps drive it.

They could still serve America in many ways.” Could they indeed. That’s just not good enough.

Update: Jan. 3

The second part of Ms. Donnelly's piece appeared this morning, Washington Times link here. She talks about what she sees as the deceptiveness of a gender-neutral society where there are no gender-related responsibilities, leading to more women dying in combat.

Conservatives say that they want "equal responsibilities to go with equal rights," and then suddenly they don't want the "equal responsibilities." What was one of the parts of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" (which I read while in the Army in 1969): "Non contradiction." Consistency.

Update: Jan. 20, 2008

Rowan Scarborough has a front-page story in The Washington Times, "Military ouster of gays plunges: 'Don't Ask' still Pentagon Rule, link here.

Update: Feb. 4, 2008

SLDN will have its annual dinner in Washington DC on March 8, 2008. The link with the necessary information for venue and tickets is here.

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