Bloggers Both Ask And Tell

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic:

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint of Chiefs of Staff, testify before Congress today, they are expected to announce a series of first steps in the direction of preparing the military for the integration of gays and lesbians. According to an administration official, the most visible of those steps will be to revise the rule that allows third parties — other soldiers or outside accusers — to “out” soldiers and precipitate investigations that lead to their dismissal. Basically: if someone else outs you, you won’t be dismissed. It’s not clear what percentage of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell dismissals would be effected by this revision.

Sources said that Gates will tell Congress that he plans to appoint a commission, including civilians, to plan for an array of changes to military procedures and codes. Will sexual harassment laws have to be revised? How will sexual tolerance be taught in military academies? What will disciplinary procedures entail for soldiers who harass gay soldiers? What does it mean to declare oneself “gay?” What about partnership benefits for spouses?

The commission will report back within a year. Why so long? For one thing, Gates and Mullen will argue that full integration of gays and lesbians must be pursued carefully, in order to protect the rights of gay soldiers and to make sure that the policy, when finally implemented, is well accepted and seen as legitimate. Civil rights groups are likely to protest the delay, but the White House is on board with the timetable, and it’s not clear whether Congress can pass a full repeal.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell at The Nation:

Military service is at the heart of citizenship.

The implied social contract that binds a nation to her people is most fully realized in two primary acts: tax paying and military service. Those who labor and pay a portion of their income to the government have a particularly strong claim on government services and recognition. Those who willingly risk their lives to protect the borders and the ideals of their country also have a thick claim on citizenship.

This is why the armed forces have historically been the terrain on which marginal groups have sought full inclusion into the American project.

Enslaved men who escaped to freedom behind Union lines demanded the right to fight as soldiers against the Confederacy. President Lincoln’s reluctance to arm these black men was rooted not only in his deep racial prejudices, but also in his concern that their service would give legitimate claims on equality. After the Civil War, Lincoln himself came to support the franchise for freedmen who had served in his army. In fact, his public declaration that black soldiers should have the vote precipitated his assassination.

During WWI, W.E.B. Du Bois urged African Americans to rally behind the flag and volunteer for military duty. He believed the services of black men could not go unnoticed by a grateful nation and felt that black soldiers would give the race stronger claims on the vote, equal education, and full citizenship. But in the years following WWI African American servicemen were regularly harassed, beaten, and lynched for wearing their uniforms on America’s streets. A black body in an American uniform was a statement against Jim Crow; it was a claim to full citizenship and it was viciously punished in a country still unwilling to fulfill its promise of equality.

American historians have argued that we must locate the initial impulse of the mid-century Civil Rights Movement in the radicalizing effect that WWII battles against Nazi Germany had on black soldiers. Unwilling to accept segregated service in a war against genocide and imperialism, these soldiers were unwilling to accept Jim Crow and racial violence at home.

Similar stories can be told about European immigrants who became fully American through their initial inclusion in the armed services. It can be told about young people who used their service in Vietnam to win an extension on the right to vote to 18-21 year olds. It can be told about women who moved from support roles to combat duty even as they shattered glass ceilings back home in the states.

Gay soldiers are part of this long history. Their open and unfettered participation in America’s armed services is a necessary part of the struggle for full inclusion in America. When gay men and lesbians can openly and proudly point to their sacrifices for our country then they can call upon our country for full first-class citizenship.

Let’s end DADT during Black History Month. President Obama’s presence in the White House was made possible by the broken bodies of black soldiers who believed and sacrificed for a country that shackled and segregated them. They willingly bled for this country and with that blood they bought for all of us a country where a black man could be president.

William Kristol in The Weekly Standard:

Here is contemporary liberalism in a nutshell: No need to consider costs as well as benefits. No acknowledgment of competing goods or coexisting rights. No appreciation of the constraints of public sentiment or the challenges of organizational complexity. No sense that not every part of society can be treated dogmatically according to certain simple propositions. Just the assertion that something must be done because it is in some abstract way “the right thing.”

John McCain’s response to Obama’s statement was that of a grown-up: “This successful policy has been in effect for over 15 years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels. We have the best trained, best equipped, and most professional force in the history of our country, and the men and women in uniform are performing heroically in two wars. At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.” Whatever its muddled origins and theoretical deficiencies, the fact is “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” works pretty well at accommodating the complex demands of a war-ready military nestled in a liberal society.

The advocates of repeal say, it’s a matter of basic rights. No, it’s not. Leave aside the fact that there are difficult and unresolved questions of how our society should deal in various areas of public policy with questions of sexual orientation. There is no basic right to serve in the military. That’s why forms of discrimination we would ban in civilian life are permitted: Women have less opportunity to fight than men. The disabled are discriminated against, as are the short, the near-sighted, and the old.

Advocates of repeal will say sexual orientation is irrelevant to military performance in a way these attributes are not. But this is not clearly true given the peculiar characteristics of military service.

We’ll hear a lot, as the debate moves forward, about gay Arabic translators being discharged from military service. A decision to separate from the military someone who is sitting in an office in Northern Virginia may look silly. But the Obama Defense Department is entirely free to ensure that those men and women continue to use their skills to serve their country in those same offices as civilians. And translators who are uniformed members of the military are subject to the usual demands of training and deployment, so the questions about the effect of open homosexuals on unit morale and cohesion in training and combat situations remain relevant.

Andrew Sullivan responds to Kristol:

I presume he means that he thinks that straight servicemembers would be traumatized by having to serve alongside gay servicemembers because they harbor absurd fears that they will be sexually harassed or even “assaulted”, as his ally Tony Perkins recently asserted. So soldiers who can take on al Qaeda are too weak-kneed to deal with a gay buddy in the next bunk? Most Americans in 2010 have a higher opinion of the maturity and professionalism of today’s volunteer military than Kristol does. The younger generation, for the most part, finds such bigotry ridiculous. Of course, any sexual misconduct by gay servicemembers should be dealt with as severely as with straight servicemembers. But the bigotry of others is not a reason to prevent the honest service of so many Americans. It wasn’t right in 1948 when Truman ended racial segregation. It isn’t right now.

And then, the final canard – the idea that now is not the time to do anything because we are at war. But remember that Kristol believes our current war is permanent; and if one war ended, he would be doing all he could to advance the next one. And so this is mere rhetoric – rhetoric to disguise Kristol’s core belief that gay citizens should be permanently ghettoized outside civil society and public institutions, prevented from forming families, stigmatized for forming stable relationships, encouraged to be cured or stay closeted, rendered as invisible in society as they were decades ago.

Max Boot at Commentary:

The vast majority of service personnel are stationed at giant bases, whether in Iraq and Afghanistan or in Texas and North Carolina, where it is not hard to get privacy and where their jobs resemble those of civilian workers in many ways. Going to the bathroom involves, literally, a visit to the bathroom — not to a slit trench. Sexual issues are already raised on those bases by the presence of women. In fact the problem is more serious because women in heterosexual relationships have the potential to get pregnant — as some servicewomen do, thereby having to go home and creating a vacancy that has to be filled by someone else. There are also issues of sexual harassment and discrimination that need to be tightly policed — whether involving homosexuals or heterosexuals.

One of the adaptations the military has made is to allow women into most billets but not into tight-knit combat formations — nuclear submarine crews or infantry squads. They live in close quarters and often-unpleasant conditions where privacy is nonexistent and trust and esprit de corps are all-important. I remember discussing the issue last year with a Special Forces team deployed in the field and was struck by the unanimity of opinion against lifting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The special operators were horrified at the thought of gays in their ranks. This may be rank prejudice, and perhaps the result of ignorance, since there are already probably some gays in their midst. But the attitude still exists and higher authority can tamper with the policy only at the risk of causing a drop in morale.

Special Forces is one of the areas in which women are still not allowed to serve even though most jobs in the military have been opened to them. Why not simply extend to gays the same policy applied to women? That is, let gays serve openly in most billets but not in a few combat designations. It seems like a reasonable compromise.

John Aravosis at AmericaBlog:

I’m sorry. I recently wrote that Barack Obama was not our president, but in fact Secretary Gates was president. In fact, I was wrong. It now appears that Phyllis Schafly is in charge of the Pentagon, and our entire government. Otherwise, why is the Pentagon putting out talking points about whether lifting the ban will force them to recognize gay marriages? Can they make this issue more incendiary? First segregated showers, now gay marriage.

Gotta hand it to them, when DOD decides to screw over their commander in chief and a key constituency of the Democratic party, they do it with gusto.

A series of telling stories out tonight, all of them bad. It appears that Secretary Gates is going to announce a special team of advisers at tomorrow’s DADT hearings in the Senate, and that team will take a good year or so to think over all the really hard issues confronting us with the potential repeal of DADT, such as gay marriage.

Their review is expected to look at several sensitive issues, including whether the military should extend marriage and bereavement benefits to the partners of gay soldiers, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

There is no gay marriage at the federal level, and DOMA forbids the federal government from providing marriage benefits. So why is DOD even bringing up gay marriage – and they do in this second story too, so this is clearly part of their prepared talking points – unless they’re simply trying to be sensationalistic.

Oh, and in the meantime, they’re going to implement the discriminatory policy in a more humane manner.

Funny, but I don’t recall that being Barack Obama’s promise to my community. To more humanely discriminate us against us. He promised to lift the ban. He promised to get ENDA passed. He promised to repeal DOMA. And none of those are currently being discussed. What is being discussed is another study to add to the pile of studies we already have. What is being discussed is a proposal to “change” DADT, rather than repeal it – just as Joe and I have been predicting.

Dan Savage:

Great, good, feeling hopey again about the repeal of DADT. But, again, Obama could suspend the enforcement of DADT today while Congress works on a solution, just as his head of Homeland Security suspended enforcement of the widow’s penalty while Congress works on a solution. And Obama described the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as abhorrent and promised to repeal it but his administration nevertheless defended the law in court. But I’m prepared to take yes for an answer, of course, on DADT. As depressing as the lack of movement on the big promises—end DADT, repeal DOMA—there has been action on ending the HIV Travel Ban (set in motion by the Bush administration), and hate crimes legislation.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald

DiA at The Economist on Kristol

UPDATE #2: Tom Diemer at Politics Daily on Petraeus

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Filed under LGBT, Military Issues

One response to “Bloggers Both Ask And Tell

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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