February 19, 2008

Don’t ask, do tell

There is little doubt that presumptive Republican pesidential nominee John McCain, is banking his candidacy on being strong on security-related issues. Whether singing about bombing Iran, committing himself to chase Osama Bin Laden to hell, or voting against a ban on water-boarding, McCain wants to be the “tough guy.” Apparently, that “toughness” also includes reversing trends that would permit gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military. According to McCain, the ban must continue to preserve the “national security” interests of the U.S. despite increasing evidence to the contrary.

Army Sgt. Darren Manzella, for example, outed himself on CBS’s 60 Minutes by verbally confirming his sexuality and providing a video of himself and his boyfriend kissing. Prior to the show, Manzella even told his commanding officer that he was gay after receiving anonymous messages threatening to expose his sexuality. Although the matter was “investigated,” and Manzella’s commanding officer even saw the video, Manzella has still not been discharged from the military, continuing to serve as a medic today. According to Manzella, the army’s investigation claimed it discovered “no evidence of homosexuality.” The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organization that legally advises gays serving in and discharged from the military, is aware of at least 500 gays and lesbians in the military who currently serve openly with no penalty and says that their numbers are increasing.

Overall, such anecdotes illuminate the absurd and ultimately failed nature of the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy (DADT). Initiated in 1993 as compromise between the Clinton Administration’s desire to lift the ban on gays and lesbians, and military brass who had concerns about possible effects on soldiers’ morale and cohesion, DADT permits gays to join the military on a limited basis. First, military officials cannot explicitly “ask” service members if they are gay. Second, gay and lesbian soldiers cannot “tell” anyone about their sexuality.

Since its inception, however, DADT has been recognized almost universally as an embarrassingly outdated policy that only weakens the military. In a recent petition, for example, 28 former generals and admirals called for an end to DADT, declaring that the ability of military forces to collaborate with one another despite differences in race, gender, religion, and sexuality represented “one of the best traditions of our democracy.” They not only claimed that the estimated 65,000 gay and lesbians currently serving were significant assets to the military, but also that a policy of inclusion would further strengthen the institution. For example, it goes against common sense to fire outed Arabic translators in Iraq and other areas of the Middle East simply for being gay without evidence of genuine misconduct. Moreover, the resources required to investigate the nearly 12,000 gay and lesbian individuals who have been discharged since the enactment of DADT could be used more effectively on anything from giving U.S. soldiers proper body armor to health care for the ten of thousands of war-veterans coming home. No wonder so many commanding officers are simply choosing to look the other way.

If gays and lesbians really present such a risk, it is perplexing that other critical national-security related agencies—including the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, NSA, and Secret Service—lack any discriminatory policy and, in some cases, even have policies explicitly protecting employees’ sexual orientations. Moreover, 13 other NATO countries permit gays and lesbians to openly serve in their militaries. Even Israel, whose highly elite military maintains an almost constant state of readiness, lacks a policy of discrimination.

Thus when John McCain links permitting gays to openly serve in the military with threatening US security, his logic is backward. Now, more than ever, the military needs to focus its energy and resources on real threats and not on searching emails, Myspace pages, and soldiers’ private lives for “evidence of homosexuality.” Both Obama and Clinton agree and would eliminate DADT once in office. Those advocating DADT should also give more credit to the professionalism of members of the armed forces and their ability to work cooperatively with gay and lesbian soldiers.

As students, we must remember that we are in a key position to contribute to the growing movement against DADT and in favor of a fair and equal military policy. When the military recruiters descend upon the Reynolds Club, respectfully ask them why the military needs help if they are firing linguists, WMD specialists, and other service members just for being gay and what kind of example this sets for the rest of the country.

Come Election Day, we should ask ourselves if a candidate who wishes to so blindly propagate such a wasteful and overwhelmingly counter-productive policy is really capable of being the president of the United States.

Ryan Kaminski is a fourth-year in the College majoring in political science.