One viewpoint from a number of posts we will be republishing on DADT
This is a guest post by a frequent contributer on a wide spectrum of Navy issues both online and via traditional media, Claude Berube. Though I am in full alignment with his perspective on this issue, the following post is his.
– CDR Salamander.
President Obama’s statement during the recent State of the Union calling for the repeal to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy regarding homosexuals in the military has understandably raised the profile of a long-time controversial issue. Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mullen testified before Congress. But these events were preceded in Naval Institute Proceedings (Lieutenant R. Whipps, “It’s Time to Scrap Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, December 2009) who fortunately approached it from a dispassionate, logical perspective. Unfortunately, it was followed by two letters to the magazine that demonstrated that logic doesn’t always win the day. If privacy issues can be addressed – and that remains a major “if” – then the best way forward may be a more libertarian argument that changes the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to “Didn’t Know, Don’t Care” that would permit gays to openly serve their country in the military. No more, no less.
The President’s remarks may be seen by some advocates as a call for broadening regulations and reaping the election rewards of identity politics and largely using the military only for their own political goals; however, this change cannot be made for anything other than for what it is intended. That would be a mistake. In a nation where even the most liberal states have rejected same-sex marriage, openly serving in the military should not be made a cause célèbre. Nor should it be another opportunity for some offices to counts numbers and build diversity only for diversity’s sake instead of individual competency for collective capability’s sake.
A proposed policy change to Didn’t Know, Don’t Care is an inherently American libertarian approach to this issue. First, this policy would reflect our society with its capitalistic core. Capitalism works. The free market and the innovation that carried the United States from a few disparate colonies to the world’s superpower able to defeat fascism and communism, must be an integral part of this discussion. Capitalism isn’t based on guarantees, it is based on the freedom to succeed or fail and the regulations that ensure the free market doesn’t ignore basic laws. Shutting out a part of our human capital that freely wants to serve and is able to serve diminishes our ability to achieve a greater good, in this case security. A collective capability is required for the Navy to win wars and secure peace. Americans have always worked best when they have worked together regardless of differences to achieve a greater good. The denial of any individual simply because they are part of a group (or, conversely, selecting them simply because of it) is contrary to sound economics and mission success; historically, when nations ignored, purged, or expelled a portion of their population that was as much a part of that economy as any other part, it didn’t work out too well for the country.
Second, Didn’t Know Don’t Care would be based on individual competency. It would not be about special privileges for any one group. Rather, it is about the freedom of individuals to serve. There are standards in the Navy as reflected by fitness reports or other assessments. The one question we should ask is: Can this individual do the job? After the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan’s life, he was wheeled into the emergency room and jokingly said “I hope you’re all Republicans!” If a qualified health care professional said they were a Democrat, he wouldn’t have waited until a Republican showed up. The same philosophy of competence should apply in the Navy.
Third, character counts. Character is not an exclusive trait of any race, gender, or sexual preference; character is demonstrated by individuals. Once a person is deemed qualified to serve, then openly serving homosexuals must be held to the same standards and adhere to regulations as heterosexuals. If they cannot follow regulations, then they must be as accountable as anyone else regardless of race, gender or sexual preference.
Finally – if you had a son or daughter who didn’t lie, cheat, or steal; who excelled in physical fitness and academic ability; who believed that national security was the paramount responsibility of the federal government and wanted to serve, would you oppose them if they were gay or lesbian. If you have spoken about the quality of our Navy and Marine Corps, how they are the best trained, most motivated military force comprised of individuals who are willing to give their lives for their nation, would you suggest that these same young men and women would not accept a fellow equally-qualified sailor or Marine simply because they were homosexual?
Some individuals on ships can already have significant personality differences based on a number of factors, yet they do their jobs regardless of those differences. If we have done our jobs as parents, as teachers, as military leaders, then we must trust the next generation that they will all do their job as well. If we don’t have that trust, then we have far more to be concerned about with the future of our nation.
In the end, nothing matters except ability to do the job. The real eyes on the prize should be about how the Navy can optimally perform through individual performance and contributions to the whole. Modifying Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to Didn’t Know, Don’t Care would accomplish that goal.
Claude Berube is a frequent contributor to Proceedings and Naval History. The opinions expressed are his own and not those of any organization with which he may be affiliated.
As a program note; Claude will be a guest this Sunday at 5pm EST on our Navy milblog radio show Midrats, where our subject will be the Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell challenge.