“He’s big, he’s mean, and he kills lots of bad guys”: The DADT Report

The Pentagon has now released its 256-page report on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, called formally the “Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”   I won’t hide the ball.  After reviewing tens of thousands of questionnaires and polling data from active duty service members, interviewing military leaders, analyzing past studies on the policy, and consulting the experience of foreign militaries, the Report concludes that DADT could be repealed with “low” risk of negative effects on the military.  There is a fairly comprehensive “Executive Summary” at the beginning of the Report for you executives out there who don’t have the time or inclination to read the entire thing. And for the really high-flying execs, here’s the key paragraph in the Exective Summary:

Based on all we saw and heard, our assessment is that, when coupled with the prompt implementation of the recommendations we offer below, the risk of repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to overall military effectiveness is low. We conclude that, while a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will likely, in the short term, bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting, and can be adequately addressed by the recommendations we offer below. Longer term, with a continued and sustained commitment to core values of leadership, professionalism,and respect for all, we are convinced that the U.S. military can adjust and accommodate this change, just as it has others in history.

I found intriguing one particular part of the report. The expansive survey of active duty personnel revealed that about 50-55% predicted repeal of DADT would have either no or mixed effect on the military; another 15-20% thought it would have a positive effect; and 30% believed it would have a negative effect (the negative group was highest in the Marine Corps, 40-60%, depending on the unit).  At the same time, 69% of personnel said they had actually served with a gay person. Of these 92% said the unit’s ability to work together was either very good, good, or neither good nor bad. Of greatest potential concern was the greater anxiety of personnel in active combat units when asked about serving with openly gay people. But the survey shows that while problems are expected a priori in these units, they rarely arise in real life.

For example, when those in the overall military were asked about the experience of working with someone they believed to be gay or lesbian, 92% stated that their unit’s ‘ability to work together,’ was ‘very good,’ ‘good’ or ‘neither good nor poor.’ Meanwhile, in response to the same question, the percentage is 89% for those in Army combat arms units and 84% for those in Marine combat arms units—all very high percentages. (emphasis added)

This is a common phenomenon is public policy disputes about homosexuality. Huge and catastrophic consequences are predicted almost any time some affirmative measure is proposed, like ending the ban on federal service, granting security clearances, eliminating sodomy laws, passing hate-crimes or antidiscrimination laws, and so on.  Yet the apocalypse never comes.  A few initial grumbles are heard, but these quickly subside and life goes on pretty much as before, except that a new group of people has had legal and stigmatic burdens lifted from them. The same dynamic is at work today on the issue of same-sex marriage.  Pre-SSM, much doom and gloom is expected; post SSM, calm and ordinariness break out. (For example, 92% of Iowans polled in the November election reported that SSM had no effect on their own lives.)

And this hysterical form of argument has worked remarkably well, at least until today, on the issue of allowing gay men and lesbians to serve their country honorably in the military.  Now, for the first time, we have a formal conclusion from the Defense Department itself, backed up by the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs,  that it does not need DADT to run an effective fighting force. As one special operations fighter told the Committee, “We have a gay guy [in the unit]. He’s big, he’s mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay.” It’s now up to the U.S. Senate to end a misbegotten policy that has produced needless misery and expense, and that outlived its usefulness the day it was born.