Gays in the Military: Other Countries Do It
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.
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 II: The 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.