Continuing the ban on gays serving openly in the military has caused some grief for the Obama administration, but it was the right decision. The issue is not as much a question of morality as supporters of the ban think, nor one of rights as opponents believe. While “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has never been a perfect policy, it is the best we have to both protect gay service members and unit cohesion. Some say this forces gay soldiers to have to hide who they are, but I believe this argument completely misses the point.
The fact is that most activists on both sides of this issue have never served a day in the military, and therefore do not understand that the military is nothing like the civilian world. What none of us knew before enlisting was that as soon as you take the oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, most of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution no longer apply to you. Once you are on active duty, your freedom of speech is curtailed, you cannot actively campaign for a political candidate, and have no real say about where you will live or serve, to name just a few examples. Most importantly, in several critical ways your individuality must be suppressed for the good of the unit as a whole.
Pointing out these other freedoms that military personnel lack should not be taken as a complaint. They are simply facts of life in the military, and have been throughout history. This was brought home to me when a member of my platoon faced disciplinary action after a new tattoo became infected. The official charge was “destruction of government property.” In the end, that’s what all of who served were: government property. And the government allows the military’s leadership set the rules that will best enable the military to defend the people of the United States.
When it comes to the issue of allowing gays to serve openly in the military, proponents overlook one very key fact: the military is not a tolerant environment, and it isn’t supposed to be. They are called the Armed Forces because they are, after all, armed. Their only real purpose is to destroy the enemies of the United States when the President or Congress instructs them to, and the subculture of the military is very conservative with an ever-present undercurrent of impending violence.
It is this razor’s edge of restrained violence that makes openly serving both unsafe for gays in the military and a threat to unit stability. Thinking that gays would not be harassed by other soldiers is a fine Utopian thought, but it is not realistic. When I was service with the infantry, if we couldn’t find townies or sailors to fight, we’d fight each other. Furthermore, you have to be able to trust your squad members with your life, and the questions serving with a gay squad member would raise in the minds of many soldiers would have a negative impact on combat readiness.
Many would say this is an intolerant view, and I don’t dispute that. But we’re not talking about Ivy League lawyers or pie-in-the-sky activists. These are men and women who are trained to kill an enemy that never did anything to them personally, and do it without thought or remorse. And for those who think this notion is itself barbaric, those intolerant barbarians are the reason we won our independence, defeated the Nazis, and continue to enjoy freedoms most of the world can only dream about. Anything that would hinder the military’s ability to continue to defend those freedoms is pure folly.