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Monday, February 22, 2010

Good Enough for War

Marines in Afghanistan
In 2002, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network issued a report finding that discharges under the military's policy of "don't ask, don't tell" were "the fewest discharges since 1996." The numbers were down 1,273 since the year before. Progress? Hardly.

The Iraq war was raging and the armed forces needed every person they could get. "When they need lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans most, military leaders keep us close at hand," said SLDN Executive Director C. Dixon Osburn. "The time has come to do away with the Pentagon’s charade and make sure no one loses his or her career at the hands of anti-gay discrimination." So gays, lesbians, and transsexuals are good enough for war -- just not fit to serve in peacetime. Or even relative peacetime.

The plain idiocy of DADT aside, the policy is theoretically one of enforced ignorance. "Don't ask, don't tell" could just as easily be expressed as "don't know, don't wanna know." And this gives DADT supporters a rhetorical advantage; they can claim that ending the policy would be allowing gays and lesbians into the military, when the truth is the the policy is designed to allow them into the military. And the advantage comes in the fact that no one in the military is in a position to contradict them. Gays can't come out and say that they're serving without risking their careers and supportive comrades can't come forward in their defense for the same reason. As a result, bigots can pretend there are no gays in the military -- or, at least, very few -- and cast repealing DADT as a drastic change.

Case in point; rightwing crazy Oliver North. Speaking to the equally insane Sean Hannity, North argued that allowing gays into the military would pretty much destroy the universe.

"[It's a] stunning assault on the all-volunteer military, the very best in the world," North fumed. "Barack Obama now intends to treat them like lab rats in a radical social experiment, and it can be very, very detrimental... In other words, this isn’t about rights. This isn’t about fairness. It’s all about national security. And apparently, Mr. Obama has forgotten it... Now, here’s what’s next. NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Love Association] members, same-sex marriages. Are chaplains in the U.S. military going to be required to perform those kinds of rituals? Do they get government housing?"

OK, so that's a big pile of stupid, but that's what you get from Hannity's show. No one tunes in for reasoned discussion, they tune in for fearmongering and demagoguery. But you see what he did there? There are no gays in the serving now. Obama wants to try a "radical social experiment" that'll surely kill us all.

Less rabid and incoherent was Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty this weekend on Meet the Press. He followed Gen. David Patreus, who explained that he supported the efforts to repeal the policy.

"I support 'don't ask, don't tell,'" Pawlenty said. "And, you know anecdotally -- I saw the general's comments in response to that. Anecdotally, I know there's still a great number, a great portion of the military community that is concerned about that. They believe 'don't ask, don't tell' worked. If it's not broke, don't fix it -- or if it's not, it's not in need of fixing, you don't need to repair it. So I'd leave it alone."

But isn't it broken? If the military ignores the presence of gays and lesbians during wartime, doesn't that prove that the ban serves no constructive purpose? Worse, it risks losing personnel at the exact moment they're most needed.

Since the institution of DADT, 60-some Arabic language translators have been dismissed from the armed services. Isn't that risking national security? And aren't arguments that repealing DADT would be harmful entirely theoretical?

They cite no studies, bring no facts to the table; all they bring is wild speculation, baseless fearmongering, and hatred. That's not the best argument.

Meanwhile, opponents of the policy are able to cite polling that shows that an overwhelming majority -- in the latest poll I could find, a 2-1 majority -- supports repealing DADT. Even rightwing loon Dick Cheney supports ending the ban.

And a new study finds that there would be no risk at all in ending the policy. The study, by the Palm Center, a research group at the University of California, Santa Barbara, looked at other nations that have changed the military policy toward gays and found no effect on morale and recruitment, as well as no evidence of "increased harassment."

So one argument exists in a fact-free atmosphere of baseless speculation and attempts at reading the minds of servicemembers, while the other is backed up by facts collected from all over the world, the existence of gays and lesbians in the military now, and the opinions of an overwhelming majority of Americans.

Doesn't seem like much of a contest to me.


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