Wednesday, February 3, 2010
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Gays in the Military; Go Ahead, Ask
The Days are Numbered for the Clinton Era Law
The Recent Developments
Last Wednesday at the State of the Union Address, the President of the United States re-introduced into the national spotlight the issue of whether homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly in the U.S. armed services. The last time a president did so in an effort to liberalize the military’s policies regarding gay people, the effort backfired, leading to the codification into law (as opposed to military regulation or policy) what we know today as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule that allows gays to serve, so long as they keep their sexual orientation to themselves. The law, passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1993, led to an initial increase of gay people being involuntarily discharged based on their sexual orientation (14,000 since then). At that time, the majority of Americans supported restrictions on gays in the military.
The entire episode proved a damaging public relations and political disaster for the at-the-time new president, as Bill Clinton was forced not only into a humiliating retreat on a prominent campaign pledge and stated policy initiative, but to in fact put into law what heretofore was mere policy that he opposed. His administration then careened in and out of control for the next two years, in the midst of a health care policy initiative that ended in political train wreck, with heavy political casualties on the Democratic side in 1994.
All this sound familiar? Yes, we might be tempted to say that here again history will repeat itself. And, we have often argued against misguided gay rights efforts that produce a backlash with a result worse than the original status, as happened with the pro-gay marriage court rulings that led to a wider codification of anti-gay marriage and or civil unions laws throughout the country. But, things do change, and one major change has been the attitude of the American public today, which now overwhelmingly supports lifting the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” restrictions on gays (USA Today/Gallup Poll, June 2009). Another earth-shaking change on the subject is that of the attitude towards gays in the military from the very top of the military brass: chiefly, from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of himself, Admiral Mike Mullen. Adm. Mullen testified before a Senate panel that he believed that allowing gays to serve openly in the military was the “right thing to do.”
The admiral also said he thought it was wrong to force people to lie about who they are, a common conception these days. But this argument only makes sense if you already do not find homosexuality morally objectionable. After all, one could say the same thing about an adulterer or a pedophile. Nobody argues that these should be allowed to serve openly because otherwise they are “forced to lie” about who they are. This is a surprisingly emotional argument coming from the highest military officer in the land.
The Arguments That Won’t Succeed
Now, some of the stronger traditional arguments against allowing openly gay men, having to do with sexual fraternization, and the undermining of unit cohesion in battle, as well as the possibility of sexual assault, remain. But, the question of morality has clearly faded. And, the remaining questions, while potentially more valid, have the problem of actually applying more strongly to the issue of women in the military. If there is a concern, as expressed in a Wall Street Journal column by former Marine Mackubin Owens, editor of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s quarterly journal Orbis, that romantic affairs between soldiers in a unit will undermine the balanced cohesion of men under deadly fire1, then this concern also applies to women. If there’s a concern of sexual assault of men on men, this is even more likely of men on women (which is a problem in the current military). Furthermore, women can get pregnant on the battlefield, voluntarily or as a result of sexual assault. While women are not technically allowed direct combat roles, they have gotten increasing access to the battlefield, and frequently in close quarters on ships, and men and women are being discharged on a regular basis for resulting pregnancies (though complaints from the field suggest the military is often looking the other way). It is also a biological fact that, on average, women are not as large or have the same physical strength as men. This last point is not as important as it used to be, thanks to technology – except for ground combat, where soldiers risk face to face combat, must lug around horrendously heavy packs, and must also occasionally carry a disabled or dead comrade from the battle field. (If the women joining the forces are of the same physical proportions as their male counterparts, and no effort is made to force proportionality on the services, this last issue may not be as salient.) Additionally, in a severe national casualties scenario, women are less expandable when it comes to the question of re-population. But, ever since the establishment of the volunteer service in 1973, political considerations have somewhat overshadowed military readiness questions. Therefore, Mr. Owens’ politically explosive arguments will not gain traction.
So, just as effort to include women in the military has succeeded (in terms of achieving the objective of having women in it in increasingly integrated into the services and closer to combat roles), on the back of changing popular sentiment, the same will be true with gays in the military. Military officers do not contradict their superiors, and once this becomes understood as the direction adopted by the military leadership (be it through coming promotions, retirements, etc.) the rank and file will fall in line, as it did with racial and gender integration. Ironically, the one obstacle now remaining is the one Bill Clinton inadvertently put into place. For this reason, we shouldn’t expect an immediate repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, particularly before the 2010 elections. Studies must first be conducted to give everybody cover. After the new studies show that gays in the military will not affect military readiness, then Congress will be able to repeal the current law. With a supportive president and a determined Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, this will likely occur by 2012.
1 It would be interesting to discover Mr. Owens take on the Sacred Band of Thebes, the elite military unit established by the Greek city-state of Thebes almost 2,400 years ago. This unit of 300 men (not the same 300 made famous in a recent movie – for obvious reasons) was deliberately composed of 150 pairs of homosexual lovers. The idea was that these would fight more fiercely, and be less likely to dishonor themselves and flee in battle, with their lovers’ lives and respect in the balance. They remained Thebes' elite military corps, seemingly invincible, and credited for turning Thebes into a major military power during their existence, for forty years, until the arrival of the more legendary Alexander the Great. History records that though the rest of the main Theban army and allies abandoned the battle against Alexander (still under his father Philip II), the Band of Thebes fought to the last man.
Mother Teresa Stamp Boycott
Atheist Organization Horrified by Nun’s Catholic Faith
Just as there are religious extremists who can fathom no tolerance for a different view of the nature of our existence, atheists have their own extremists who bristle at anything that in anyway might make religion appear in the slightest positive light. The upcoming U.S. Postal stamp honoring the nun who lived in a tiny room, with only a frock and pair of sandals to her name, has caused outrage at the Freedom from Religion organization, which is now calling for a national boycott on the stamp. The group’s leader explains that though she is being honored for her humanitarian work, “You can't really separate her being a nun and being a Roman Catholic from everything she did.” Well, we agree. Her religion was part of what she did.
Our view is that the group’s idiotic boycott will be ignored by most everyone, including most atheists.
Re: Speech Literally Free for Corporate Executives -The Supreme Court Hands the Rich an Extra Helping of ‘Free’ Speech
From Weston Anderson (with his permission):
Isn't the point of the Supreme Court being independent to keep the justices free from political pressures so that they can rule on what the Constitution says/means and NOT what the people or corporations want? Strictly speaking, it shouldn't matter who likes the decision, who it favors, what it might allow or how unfair it is. It only matters what the Constitution means, and they are the ones that decide.
What you say is all true. What is not true is that they are necessarily correct in their interpretation. After all, they are overturning previous Supreme Court rulings, and the Constitution makes no mention of corporations, only persons. So it’s a judgment call – within their rights, we agree. But, even if they are NOW correct (as opposed to the previous Supreme Courts that saw it differently), that this is constitutional, that does not mean that it’s a good result. At one time, it was determined to be constitutional to segregate the races. That does not mean that determination was correct; or that if it was correct, that it shouldn’t be deemed harmful to the republic, and thus calls for a fix.
The Founding Fathers are on record as being suspicious of corporations, and also made a provision for amending the Constitution for times it would be needed to address circumstances they did not foresee. Perhaps this is such a time.
But yes, their decision was within their purview, and may even be constitutional (though we are not convinced of it).
Mr. Anderson’s Final Reply:
Yes, that is the correct conclusion from my point and I think certain members of Congress are already working on new legislation that seeks to limit undue influence from corporations (and I hope unions as well) that are constitutional, although I haven't heard of any efforts yet to amend the Constitution.
Personally, I have mixed feelings regarding the decision. I fear the consequences but am also curious what the consequences will be. I am more concerned about money influencing politicians than elections, something which all agree is constitutionally illegal and unethical. I would rather see more efforts directed toward controlling and eliminating corrupt politicians, the people that try to corrupt them and the systemic issues, laws and processes that allow for group (corporate, social or otherwise) favoritism. I also don't see corporations spending additional mega-millions on particular elections secondary to this decision. They are still businesses with the primary mission of making money, and they have all persuasion of shareholders to answer to. They should also be answering to ethical standards, laws and enforcement thereof.
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