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Gays in the Military: Other Countries Do It

gays-military-rainbow-helmetBoth Steve Chapman and Ilya Somin argue that, since other countries let gays serve in the military without harming unit cohesion, America can, too.

Chapman:

It’s not completely implausible that in a military environment, open homosexuality might wreak havoc on order and morale. But the striking thing about these claims is that they exist in a fact-free zone. From all the dire predictions, you would think a lifting of the ban would be an unprecedented leap into the dark, orchestrated by people who know nothing of the demands of military life.

[...]

A couple of dozen countries already allow gays in uniform—including allies that have fought alongside our troops, such as Britain, Canada, and Australia. Just as there is plenty of opposition in the U.S. ranks, there was plenty of opposition when they changed their policies.

In Canada, 45 percent of service members said they would not work with gay colleagues, and a majority of British soldiers and sailors rejected the idea. There were warnings that hordes of military personnel would quit and promising youngsters would refuse to enlist.

But when the new day arrived, it turned out to be a big, fat non-event. The Canadian government reported “no effect.” The British government observed “a marked lack of reaction.” An Australian veterans group that opposed admitting gays later admitted that the services “have not had a lot of difficulty in this area.”

Israel, being small, surrounded by hostile powers, and obsessed with security, can’t afford to jeopardize its military strength for the sake of prissy ventures in political correctness. But its military not only accepts gays, it provides benefits to their same-sex partners, as it does with spouses. Has that policy sapped Israel’s military might? Its enemies don’t seem eager to test the proposition.

You could argue that none of these experiences is relevant, since, being Americans, we are utterly unique. But our soldiers don’t seem to have any trouble fighting alongside gay soldiers from allied nations.

Somin:

The Australian, British, Canadian, and Israeli armed forces are all among the best in the world. If they allow gays to serve openly with no ill effects, that strong suggests that the US can as well.

I have not followed the literature on this subject in detail. So it’s possible that there is a body of data somewhere showing that these nations’ military capability really has been impaired in some way by allowing gays to serve. I highly doubt it, but I lack the knowledge and expertise to be sure.

One could also argue that the US armed forces are so different from those of these other countries that their experience is irrelevant. Given the quality of these armies and the fact that all of them rely heavily on US-style weapons, organization, and military doctrine, I’m skeptical of that claim too.

It may be that US troops are much more homophobic than those of these other countries, and therefore won’t effectively serve with gays. That too seems a dubious argument. An April 2009 poll showed that 50% of survey respondents in military households support letting gays serve openly, with 43% opposed; 56% reject the view that allowing gays to serve openly would be “divisive.” That suggests that homophobia in the military is far from universal. As Chapman points out, there was no outcry by servicemembers or decline in unit cohesion when the ban on openly gay troops was temporarily lifted during the 1991 Gulf War. Attitudes towards gays are considerably more favorable today, which makes problems even less likely.

Now, I happen to think that the British and Canadian experience would be replicated if the policy was overturned.  Our troops would mostly put up with it, incidents of violence would be few, and the heterosexuals who couldn’t cope with the change would be out of the service soon enough.  But we won’t know that until it happens.

The “unit morale” argument is almost entirely one of cultural aversion to homosexuality which is both very real — especially in the military — and rapidly declining.  American culture — and the American military subculture — is much more religious and intolerance of deviancy from cultural norms than most Western societies.

The cited Quinnipiac poll isn’t particularly relevant.  It shows strong pluralities of Americans opposing homosexuality and the open integration of gays into the military.  This was even higher “among voters with family in the military” (whatever that means). And, I’d venture, it’s much higher among young enlisted infantrymen, the demographic that would be most impacted by the change.

My guess is that President Obama won’t be immediately successful in changing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Further, Congress would have to change the Uniform Code of Military Justice and we’ve already seen how cooperative Senate Republicans are on controversial issues.   But the change will come, almost certainly within this decade.  As with the integration of blacks and women, the culture will adapt over time.  But let’s not pretend that it’ll be “a big, fat nothing.”

Also, let’s not pretend, as Madeleine Kunin does, that “the military leadership” is behind this push for change.  Some may privately support it but most likely prefer a status quo they know to the unknown, especially with two wars underway.  JCS Chairman Mike Mullen and SECDEF Robert Gates are advancing the position of their Commander-in-Chief, not giving us their personal views on the subject.

UPDATE: To be clear, I’m not saying that Gates and Mullen are lying to Congress.  I have no inside knowledge of their current, personal views.   But sitting cabinet secretaries and JCS Chairmen carry the water for the boss, regardless of their private views, or they resign.

UPDATE IIThe Conservative Wahoo agrees that the “other countries do it argument” is specious.  But his conclusion is right:

No, the only reason to overturn DADT would be the recognition that excluding gay people–qualified in every other way–makes us a less combat ready force, a force appropriate to the needs and interests of the world’s most important power. Not because the Brits do it or the Israelis do it. Not because our military should reflect our society.

And it is my opinion that we are losing talented people whose presence in the ranks far outweighs whatever loss in unit cohesion might apply. Unit cohesion isn’t binary–a 1 or a 0. It is a continuum, constantly changing, increasing and decreasing as leadership and unit make-up changes. What matters most are how good you are and how well you work with the others. I’m convinced that gay people can do those things as well as straight people.

That’s the essential issue.  We conservatives have long argued that the military is a war-fighting instrument, not a social laboratory or even a jobs factory.  But the evidence is piling up that DADT is costing us skilled warriors that we need in the fight.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Alex Knapp says:

    JCS Chairman Mike Mullen and SECDEF Robert Gates are advancing the position of their Commander-in-Chief, not giving us their personal views on the subject.

    Are you sure about that? Both Mullen and Gates seemed pretty passionate up on the Hill.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    Are you sure about that? Both Mullen and Gates seemed pretty passionate up on the Hill.

    I don’t know what their current personal views are, other than that they’ve both been passionately against gays openly serving in the past. Regardless, they’re speaking for Obama now, not themselves.

    I hate it when politicians of either party point to the military leadership as backing for their position, when said leadership isn’t free to speak independently.

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  3. Dave says:

    Mullen on the Hill:

    “Mr. Chairman, speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.”

    If he does not personally support overturning DADT then he was absolutely lying to congress.

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  4. Franklin says:

    I don’t have the full quote, but Mullen specifically said it was his “personal opinion” that the policy should be changed. I don’t think he had to use that exact phrase just to support the President’s policy. But I suppose it’s possible he was simply trying to put extra weight behind it.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    “Mr. Chairman, speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.”

    Interesting. If so, it’s a change in his position. But, heck, I’ve changed my position on this one over the years, too.

    But the point is: Mullen wouldn’t have said the opposite were it his opinion.

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  6. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    How is an individual’s sexual orientation relevant to military service? By that I mean, why does someone feel compelled to announce that they are a homosexual? I personally don’t go around telling all those that I meet “Hey, did you know that I am a heterosexual?” so why do they feel it’s so necessary to announce their problems? If sexual orientation is not an issue for military service, why the hell do they insist on bringing it up in the first place? Nobody is asking them about it yet they seem compelled to tell everyone about it! Why?

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  7. Alex Knapp says:

    Patrick,

    Are you married? If so, do you ever talk about your wife? If so, you are advertising your heterosexuality.

    Now, imagine that your job FORBADE you from discussing your marriage and FORBADE you from discussing your wife if you wanted to keep it.

    That’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

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  8. Franklin says:

    Please provide evidence to back up your assertion, Mr. McGuire.

    Lt. Choi was often asked about his love life. Now he would lie about some girlfriend back home. Because if he didn’t lie, then his sexual orientation would indeed become an issue for military service.

    I think most military people talk about their home life, Mr. McGuire. And for gays to do so is a threat to their service and well-being. That needs to change.

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  9. anjin-san says:

    Nobody is asking them about it yet they seem compelled to tell everyone about it! Why?

    So gays and lesbians should be forced to live a lie while they risk their lives to defend YOUR freedom? You are good with that?

    As Sean Hannity would say, “You sir, are a great American”.

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  10. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    So gays and lesbians should be forced to live a lie while they risk their lives to defend YOUR freedom?

    I am NOT suggesting that they “live a lie” at all. I am saying that they keep their life to themselves, nobody really wants to know.

    Are you married? If so, do you ever talk about your wife?

    Yeah, I am married and sometimes I mention “my wife”, although I don’t make a point of it. But if my job depended on not mentioning her, so be it! I don’t own the job, my employer does, and it can make policy decisions relating to that job.

    Of course that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t talk about her and if my employer decided to fire me for it, then I would move on somewhere else. God knows I have been fired several times before for not keeping my mouth shut. But I accept it and move on, so far always for the better, without looking for the police power of the government to force someone to hire me against their will.

    If my being a heterosexual became an issue in my employment, I wouldn’t want the damn job to begin with. And I wouldn’t be demanding that they accept me against their will. They don’t want me then hell, I don’t want to be around them either.

    Do homosexuals somehow think that coming out of the closet with the power of the federal government behind them is going to change anything? If anything, it will harden attitudes against them.

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  11. Wayne says:

    Setting aside the size of the military for a minute, there are cultural differences between U.S. and other counties. Many countries have topless beaches and coed restroom. Those things simply wouldn’t fly in “most” places in the U.S. Imagine the reaction if a guy walks into a girls restroom at a restaurant or a school.

    IMO the biggest factor is even though there is PC in other places in the world, the U.S. has taken it to the extreme. The military bureaucracy and Congress will overreact to any instance which will result in even more resentments within the ranks. You know the old boiling pot syndrome.

    Also I bet we are not getting the full story about gays from the other countries. My experience is anything PC results in bias story telling. Example are claims of the affect about allowing women into Airborne School. The negative affect get swept under the rug.

    Perhaps these other counties are doing fine. Likely there are other factors in play as well. Also the band may have been lifted but how many openly gay man are serving in those counties? In the end I not convince from a couple of bias article.

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  12. Franklin says:

    I am NOT suggesting that they “live a lie” at all. I am saying that they keep their life to themselves, nobody really wants to know.

    So if someone asks them about their home life, they just stand there and look at the wall? What is your proposal here?

    You seem to be under the impression that “teh gheys” are forcing themselves and their lifestyle upon everyone. People who actually know any gay people know this is quite far from the truth. Has it ever occurred to you that gay people just want to live a normal life like everyone else? Maybe people just don’t want to get fired for being seen at the bar with the person they love.

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  13. sam says:

    @JJ

    Further, Congress would have to change the Uniform Code of Military Justice

    Yeah, they would, but as I argued before, as it now stands, Art 125 makes criminals out of, oh I don’t know, nearly everyone (I’d bet):

    (a) Any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offense….

    Explanation.

    It is unnatural carnal copulation for a person to take into that person’s mouth or anus the sexual organ of another person or of an animal; or to place that person’s sexual organ in the mouth or anus of another person or of an animal; or to have carnal copulation in any opening of the body, except the sexual parts, with another person; or to have carnal copulation with an animal.

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  14. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    So if someone asks them about their home life, they just stand there and look at the wall? What is your proposal here?

    Ah hell, is it really that difficult to tell someone that that would be a deeply personal matter not up for discussion? I can damn guarantee you that if someone asks me about my home life, at best I would say “it’s fine” because it’s nobody else’s business.

    Has it ever occurred to you that gay people just want to live a normal life like everyone else?

    Normal, except that they want everyone to know that they are homosexuals. When was the last time you saw a “straight pride” parade, huh?

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  15. Ben says:

    Patrick, you are being very obtuse. In every job I’ve ever had, my co-workers have asked me about my home life (wife, girlfriend, do you have kids, etc etc etc). It’s no different in the military. Soldiers, especially out in the field or in close quarters, are going to discuss this stuff. In my experience, NOT talking about your homelife when asked by colleagues gets you labeled as a loner and a weirdo. It’s simply not realistic to expect people to hide their homelife from coworkers.

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  16. An Interested Party says:

    When was the last time you saw a “straight pride” parade, huh?

    When was the last time you were told that heterosexuals were perverse sexual deviants who wanted to corrupt your children and were merely living a “lifestyle” rather than being born heterosexual, huh?

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  17. anjin-san says:

    I am NOT suggesting that they “live a lie” at all. I am saying that they keep their life to themselves, nobody really wants to know.

    Actually you are not suggesting it, you are demanding it. Hardly a day goes by at work that there is not some sort of yakking about our home live or spouses. You are demanding that gays refrain from this very normal human activity that the rest of us take for granted. Not too big one the “freedom” thing, are you buddy? Well, maybe for yourself, just not for people who are a little different than you.

    Its not shoving information about our personal lives down each other throats, its just being human. I have co-workers who are gay that I am friendly with, and yes, I do want to know how things are going for them at home, just as I do with straight folks I am friendly with.

    I have lived in the bay area my whole life. If there is one thing I have learned, its that when you scratch a homophobe, you often find latency. Exactly what are you so afraid of Patrick?

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  18. anjin-san says:

    The military bureaucracy and Congress will overreact to any instance which will result in even more resentments within the ranks.

    Probably the same argument that was used in favor of keeping blacks as second class citizens in the military a while back. Where do you stand on that issue Wayne?

    Jesus Christ, you are arguing against equality and equal justice under the law because some people might “resent” it. What frigging planet do you live on?

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