Friday, February 05, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The Congress, at the behest of the president, is beginning debate to consider a repeal of the 1993 “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy regarding homosexuals serving in the US armed forces. Prior to the 1993 law, those accused of homosexual conduct could be separated from the armed forces for that alone. In a nutshell, no gays allowed.

Enter the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” law. Under the current law homosexuals can serve, but they are required to keep their orientation to themselves; recruiters and commanders are prohibited from asking. On its surface, it sounds like the current policy is at least adequate for the time being and for probably more reasons than any can list. There are many questions, however, and one can only suppose the Congress and Pentagon will hash these out as the debate progresses.

Whether the president wishes to acknowledge this fact or not, however, we are a nation at war. Our military members are stretched thin with more than enough on their plates. Now may not be the best time to distract them with social policy debates, particularly debates that attempt to re-engineer that very unique culture that is the US armed forces. We are into an election year; the last thing we need is political grand-standing on so important a subject as this in a time of war; election-year grandstanding needs no more ammo.

Our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters, our fathers and our mothers who proudly wear the uniform of the United States of America are warriors. They are trained, geared, and oriented toward battle. Theirs is a culture foreign to the typical civilian, and what they are trained to do is virtually unthinkable in many respects.

It must also be noted that the enemy we currently face is one like no other. We are not at war with nations; there is no cohesive entity with which treaties may be negotiated. The enemy we face is cold, calculating, and blood-thirsty. They are, for all intents and purposes, entirely uncivilized. They are barbarians, murderers, and thieves. They willingly, if eagerly, cut the throats of their prisoners, military or civilian, with jagged swords and record the screams and images as their innocent victims beg and plead for their lives to be spared. Some may suggest they do it for kicks and giggles, but it is more likely they calculate such acts to invoke raw terror into the hearts of potential enemies and future targets, primarily civilian targets. They have no honor, they know no shame, and they lack any sense of human compassion or decency on any level. The brave men and women of our armed forces must be not only trained but conditioned to face this enemy.

The mindset of a warrior trained to face this enemy is a focused one … and a harsh one. These are not “killers” we ask to defend us; they are warriors. There is a distinctive difference, of course, but these warriors must always be mindful that theirs is not a social culture or even a sub-culture, and the military does not exist so that folks who run out of other career options have somewhere to go, but exists only because a strong national defense is a fundamental key to the stability of our nation. Like a movie character military commander once stated so aptly, “We are here to defend democracy; not practice it.”

It stands to reason, then, that what is being discussed and proposed for the military community and culture may be entirely out of place, at least during this critical time. Military commanders have a full mission plate. And while this may sound somewhat sub-human, they cannot be overly concerned with individual feelings, “feel good” social justice, or even individual human rights. Members of the armed forces exist for one reason: to prepare for, and engage in if necessary, armed conflict. Social distractions and individual rights are not conducive to such an environment for this reason alone: we care more that they come home alive, having done their jobs well.

In the military culture, it must also be considered that one is not “free to be me” because such a mindset implies and actually promotes individualism. The military functions in terms of “units”, not persons. So while the military commander should not be so eager to sacrifice an entire unit toward a foolish endeavor, what they do on a daily basis is always dangerous because the mission itself must necessarily be the primary focus. Considering a military venture in terms of individual lives that might be lost would cause most rational, reasonable civilians to withdraw; the military and its commanders cannot. This entire debate can be reduced to its most common denominator, in terms of human relationships and the potential risks they pose in the military environment.

For instance, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, “fraternization” is prohibited. Simply stated, those in authority must not become chummy with those subordinates who serve or might serve under their authority. In my own time in the Marine Corps, I witnessed ineffective NCO’s who were buddies with some pretty bad actors. When it came time for the sergeants to act like sergeants, they found themselves bound by friendship rather than by duty. Those of us outside that special circle found ourselves bearing the brunt of whatever consequences may have been because the sergeants expended more energy trying to preserve the friendship rather than exercise the authority entrusted to them.

You wanna talk about poor morale? Trying spending extra time on guard duty or in the chow hall scrubbing pots and pans because “Sergeant Buddy-Chum” saved his pal from taking his turn. It happens, and it has likely been happening for far too long, and it does cause problems within the social and authoritarian structure of that unit. The problem is not corrected until authority is recovered. Will a repeal of DADT further complicate such disciplinary and morale problems because Sergeant So-And-So now has the hots for Private This-and-That?

A repeal of the current policy opens doors that few have yet to seriously consider. For all practical purposes, an individual ceases to be an individual once he or she steps off the bus at the recruit training center. It does not even matter whether one is married. Under this nation’s current circumstances, one is all but “owned”; lock, stock, and barrel by the US government for one purpose: maintaining a strong national defense and facing a cold-blooded enemy. Neither personal feelings nor social standing have a place in the readiness of a unit trained, equipped, and geared to fight. It is not pretty nor can it be made more attractive. It is bloody, it is dangerous, and lives will be lost. Let’s leave this fight for perhaps another day so that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines can deal with the task at hand.

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