Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" deserves an honorable discharge

There was a rally in Portland this week to encourage Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe to vote to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that requires military members to keep silent about being gay.

As expected, the event was about sweeping condemnations and great injustices. The centerpiece of the event was pop singer Lady Gaga, who compared the policy to past injustices and yelled a lot.

I'm here because Don't Ask, Don't Tell is wrong. It's unjust. And fundamentally, it is against all that we stand for as Americans.
I get the idea that modern protesters pine for the racist early-1960s. They were born too late to participate in the civil rights marches, when the divide between good and evil was obvious and palpable. So instead, as we sweep our society for the final strongholds of prejudice, the rhetoric becomes exaggerated and the injustices of today are portrayed as equal to the injustices blacks faced in our past.

Lady Gaga's summarization of the support for the Don't Ask, Don't Tell is "unit cohesion," morale and homophobia. This leaves something important out - the protection of gay soldiers.

The first clue for young people should be the timing of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. This policy was approved by the Legislative branch in 1993 when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton. Even Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) voted in favor of H.R. 2401 a full six years after he came out as gay. Why on earth would the Democrats introduce such a policy?

Because before Don't Ask, Don't Tell there was Ronald Reagan's Defense Directive 1332.14 which banned gays from the armed services. President Clinton issued his own Defense Directive 1304.26, which inserted Don't Ask, Don't tell into the annual "National Defense Authorization Act" which authorizes military spending. This was after Congress tried to keep Reagan's ban in place.

This was more than just a compromise. On Oct 27, 1992 radioman Allen R. Schindler Jr. was brutality stomped to death by a fellow Navy seaman for being gay. Then as now, a high-profile tragedy often leads to rushed legislation. With Clinton's compromise, people like Schindler wouldn't be targeted with violent hate crimes because few, if anyone, would know they were gay.

Important compromises in our history never look good to us because we forget what the alternative was. The three-fifths compromise wasn't an official racist policy; it was a way to limit the congressional power of slaveholding states. Southern states wanted to say blacks were property, except when they were counting for representatives in Congress, then they were people.

Likewise, the Separate but Equal doctrine that justified segregation was a compromise. Without it, you would have seen blacks banned from public restrooms without a place to go. Instead, we saw blacks with different bathrooms. Awful, yes, but it was still progress.

It's no secret that the quality of the alternative water fountains and other facilities was lower. However, this was a direct violation of the doctrine, not an embodiment of it. The reason we ended up with "separate but unequal" was that the written doctrine was not enforced.

Without these hated compromises, we would have seen slaves counted as full people when determining how many representatives to give southern states, and blacks would have had less access to public facilities. The next generation will look at proposals to offer gays "civil unions" the same way.

Without Don't Ask, Don't Tell, gays would still have been discharged from the military, only their superior officers would have the added ability to seek them out for dismissal.

However, 2010 is not 1993. Modern members of the armed services are not as hostile to gay comrades as the previous generation was. Don't Ask, Don't Tell needs to go away. It served its duty and now it's time to retire the policy. But let's not smear the service it performed. Don't Ask, Don't Tell deserves an honorable discharge.


  1. Interesting post.

    Schindler being beaten to death I don't think has not much to do with whether he should have been discharged for being gay. That analogy doesn't strike me as sound, especially since gays being allowed in the military and not treated like a risk would make it less likely they are attacked for being different, no? How would DADT have prevented his death? If someone is discovered as gay today he is not treated better than he was - with investigation.

    It's certainly good that you as a young conservative aren't biased against gays like the old ones running the show, like Jim DeMint who according to ontheissues.org "announced that he supports banning every openly gay teacher from South Carolina public schools". His word is gold for conservative activists, not that of Susan Collins, or you, sadly. Though I find the defense of it hard to stomach - Western European countries did away with it without intermediate regulations and there was of course no problem.

    How long do you think it will take for the policy to be done away with legislatively (disregarding the possibility of a court order)?

  2. Chris, you misunderstand my point. DADT didn't protect gays by discharging them - but by keeping them invisible. Young people are a lot more friendly today then they were at that time.

    I really don't know when it will go away. A Federal judge declaring it unconstitutional should speed it along.

  3. I got linked here from this blog (http://freshperspectiveonpolitics.blogspot.com/) but I find the argument in the last paragraph to be particularly compelling. Still, it is sad that many senators still feel the need to say that it would cripple our readiness to change the DADT policy. Doesn't it also cripple readiness to invade a sovereign nation without international support? Sometimes I wish people would think.