Courtesy of the AP (don’t sue me, bro!):
“More than 13,000 homosexuals have been discharged from the military because of their sexual preferences.”
This in the context of reporting on President Obama’s reception commemorating the Stonewall Riot, a social event at which Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach told the President “that I’m being thrown out as we speak, and that there was a sense of urgency for me.”
Given that a significant subset of those discharged were Arabic linguists, the rationale for reversing the policy, whatever the brass may think (the public and the rank-and-file* do not care, broadly speaking) seems obvious. We are engaged in a long term strategic relationship — good and bad — with a lot of Arabic speaking countries, and it would seem we need all the dedicated service people we can get….not to mention the personnel needs implied by six years and counting of difficult and often unpopular war.
Why this in a (nominally) science/history of science blog?
First and most important: because it seems to me that this is one of those “I demand that the Torah not be read” issues, hence supervening any mere demand for consistency.
Second: because DADT is based ultimately on a claim about human nature, human biological nature — and this is unequivocally a place where an intersection of the scientific world view and the public square does indeed occur.
DADT only makes sense if, in some sense, sexual identity is seen as a measure of the degree to which one is fully human, fully a member of a social group. Straight men and straight women are “full” humans. Anyone else may participate in the group only if they conform to the outward appearance of that fully human ideal.
And yet we know from all kinds of studies, not to mention the personal experience of those whom we know, love, and/or hate…the full spectrum of emotion being available, always… that the full spectrum of the human capacities for sexual desire and love are deeply embedded in the biological history of our species and many others. See, for just one amongst an ecosystem of research, the old but still lovely work of UT’s David Crews, discussed on this blog here. (Few things give me greater pleasure than the opportunity to make reference to sneaky f*ckers in a non-political context.)
So, to sum up: DADT is a sop to the worst elements in our polity, that, stripped to its bare essentials, requires us to differentiate between the authenticity of the human experience of two groups. That differentiation is contradicted by the science — a wide range of sexual desire is clearly the outcome of a history of selection that has acted much more subtly than the naive “if it don’t produce kids it can’t be real” nonsense of the biologically illiterate position. Unless we want to go back to arguing that dividing groups of humans into a hierarchy of evolutionary perfection is a good idea, then DADT violates what we understand from the research point of view.
(Not to mention the fact that the consenting adults rule obtains: if it doesn’t penetrate the public sphere, what one does in the privacy of one’s own bedroom between consenting adults is almost without exception nobody else’s business.**)
And then there is simply the appeal to the rule of reason: we live in what our conservative friends (and not only them, to be sure) constantly remind us is a dangerous world. It is simply stupid to disarm unilaterally in such a world. And yet, to belabor the obvious, that is exactly what we are doing.
13,000 men and women eager to serve, gone.
More, decorated, experienced, uniquely skilled going.
You know who should be hoping we let homophobia hang on as long as possible?
Osama Bin Laden…Khameni and Ahmedinijad…Kim Il Jong. You name the nemesis of the month, and they’re happy the longer we allow our military to root out some of our best soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.
In other words…it would be good if Congress walked through the door President Obama has opened for them. Unless and until they do, though, the Commander in Chief has the duty, in my view, to take those actions within the law that he can to enhance the security of the United States. The time is coming — really, the time has come — that as a matter of national security President Obama should order that the military suspend DADT hearings pending congressional action.
*Two recent online polls report a much higher level of support for retaining DADT amongst serving military. The problem with them is that they were very poorly constructed and executed measurements. The broader range of evidence, including explicit statements on the issue like this one, suggest that the military, reflecting the culture at large, is breaking rapidly towards an inclusive view of fitness to serve.)
**The one argument to keep gay men and women out of the military that some people thing has significant weight is that if members of a combat unit can form romantic and sexual connections to one another, unit cohesion will suffer if the suspicion arises that one member or another is protected from a dangerous mission or the like by such a relationship. However, as my career officer uncle explained to me, his opposition to gays in the army on that grounds had ended pragmatically years before*** and in principle once women began to serve in combat support roles. If the potential for gay couples threatens unit cohesion, straight relationships do to — and are (a) more common (at least overtly) and (b) are subject to a combination of military rules and norms that seem to work.
***My uncle as a very young and green officer commanded a towed gun that fought its way across northern Europe in 1944-1945. He discovered that his driver and his loader were sharing both a tent and a sleeping bag. He reported this terribly shocking news (he’d had if not a sheltered, then a blinkered youth) to the battery adjutant, who asked him, “is your vehicle in good order?”
“Perfect,” my uncle replied.
“Is the ammunition properly cared for? Has your gun ever malfunctioned.”
“And what was it you wanted to report to me?”
My Uncle, never a stupid man, answered directly:
Image: Maurycy Gottlieb “Jews Praying in Synagogue on Yom Kippur,” 1878.