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Rational Inquiry -Volume 9 Number 1

Don't Ask Don't Tell, Don't Even Pretend It Will Work

By Keith Taylor

Sometimes being a skeptic isn't easy, like when looking at government policy that is utterly credulous and founded on little more than stereotypes. At least that's been my impression of the military's ten year old "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" law, a law for dealing with the problems of gays in the military. I've written about it several times for Navy Times.

Every time that I called it a wacko idea, I was blasted by folks defending the stereotypes and ignoring the data. You cannot imagine how often I've heard about how straights just couldn't take showers with "them."

Suggesting that the U. S. Government, our military, or the general public try using reason to solve a difficult problem just doesn't cut it. I'm convinced folks, including our leaders, know what they want to believe, and they are willing to believe it no matter what.

I, of course, have my own opinions and it's a heady feeling when people ask for them. It's really heady when they pay my way across the country, sit me down in front of a TV camera, ask me questions and let me talk. That's what happened in late September. Hofstra University, on the outskirts of New York City, was holding a conference called Don't Ask/Don't Tell, Ten Years Later. It could have been called "Stick Your Head in the Sand and Pretend Nothing is Happening."

I ended up on a panel of military veterans who told of our experiences. My role was that of an aging, straight (but, at 73, edging toward neutral), veteran. I would be proud to announce that I was invited because of my affiliation with SDARI and with CSICOP. But that wasn't the case. I was invited because of the articles in Navy Times.

In 1992, a year before DADT, I wrote about a young sailor named Schindler who was beaten to death because a couple of other sailors thought he was gay. When his body was shipped back from Sasebo, Japan, his face was so mangled his mother couldn't recognize him.

Thought he was gay? Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn't, but isn't it unusual that we even felt it necessary to make the distinction. Isn't it even more unusual that such hatred rates less attention than the question of how to deal with the sexual orientation that was the excuse for the beating?

No, it isn't. It follows naturally in the wake of the notion that gays will go berserk at the sight of a naked, straight member of the same sex taking a shower. It isn't rational, but rational thought has nothing in common with blind belief in a stereotypical notion. Abnormal notions give us bad laws. According to Edmond Burke more than two centuries ago, "Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny."

Bad laws, tyranny, and other such ideas abound in the wake of an attitude of "Stick Your Head in the Sand and Pretend Nothing is Happening." That's what the government tried ten years ago when it came up with a curious policy unofficially called "Don't Ask/Don't Tell (DADT)."

Few among the panel at Hofstra thought that DADT was anything but a bad law. Those folks weren't all just veterans bitching about how bad things were either. They included the chancellor of MIT, the president of Hofstra, a couple of folks with the title of "distinguished professor of law," assorted other professors, some attorneys, folks from three foreign countries, along with about a dozen veterans (gay and straight) of the U.S. armed forces,

The History Professor of Rutgers, Jonathan Lurie, traced the history of DADT back to a campaign promise of Bill Clinton in 1992. The future president promised to do a Harry Truman and issue an executive order ending the discrimination against gays. It got him votes but it didn't work out so well.

Unlike Truman, who in 1948 wiped out segregation in the armed forces with a stroke of a pen, Clinton waited too long to implement his plan. By the time he did, the opponents of the plan in the armed forces, including Colin Powell, had found a special friend, Sam Nunn. Nunn was a senator from Georgia and a man who thought he should have been appointed Secretary of Defense. He wasn't. Soon thereafter he announced that if the president lifted the ban he would introduce legislation nullifying the executive order. The result was a law akin to the proverbial horse created by committee.

DADT was brand new, but unlike most new laws rather vague. Still it took the Department of Defense five years and an awful lot of complaining to get them even issue guidelines, something that surely was needed long before.

It was supposed to halt the number of discharges for homosexuality. It didn't. They went up by 85%. Those discharges weren't for marginal sailors or soldiers either. One was Senior Chief Petty Officer Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh was the command master chief on USS Chicago (SSN 721), a sailor described by his skipper as the best he ever saw. None of that mattered when he accidentally sent an e-mail from the wrong screen name, one indicating he was gay.

That, in the minds of his seniors, constituted "telling" and they were off to save our sailors from the shower menace, not that anybody had notice a menace from McVeigh while he was racking up all those kudos. The chief's seniors held a hearing, a lot like a kangaroo court, and found him unfit to serve the last two years before he was eligible to retire.

The decision bounded up the chain of command and was upheld at every level. All that was thwarted by a conservative judge. Ironically the Navy promoted the sailor unfit to serve to Master Chief, awarded him 90 grand and let him retire. Who gained from all that?

The three-day Hofstra conference was far too short. Yet I learned that academic eggheads have a lot in common with an old sailor like me. They worry about money just like I do.

The Chancellor of MIT, Phillip L. Clay, and others wanted to keep ROTC recruiters and ROTC itself off campus because they violated various anti discrimination laws and the prestigious policy of his university. That policy was thwarted by the so-called Solomon amendment to Chapter 10 U.S. Code. The amendment cuts off all funding for everything if a college refuses to keep its recruiters off campus. It even would cut off all aid if the government refuses to sign an anti-discrimination pledge.

Resistance to such coercion is afoot. On October 17th an Associated Piece story told of more than forty faculty members at Yale who sued Donald Rumsfeld because the Defense Department refused to sign such a pledge.

The Department of Defense, itself, was invited many times to send a representative to the conference. The calls were not even returned, even those to the office of Donald Rumsfeld. Too bad. They would have learned that, unlike the DOD, a professor at Santa Barbara and another at Hamline University in Minnesota had actually done a study of what happens when gays are openly integrated into the armed forces. The professors co-authored a paper which called it a non-event. The DOD probably knows but would have been reminded that of all the countries in NATO, only two still have a policy forbidding gays to serve. In this regard at least, the United States of America is in step with Turkey and nobody else.

Gee, they would have learned so much from so many smart people. Too bad they didn't show up.


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