No Deference

Most of the time, I am deferential to the military. I admire and respect the very intelligent, talented, dedicated, and selfless men and women (but still mostly men) who voluntarily choose to enter a special institution in which they give up the way of life that we civilians take for granted, in order that our country might remain strong and free. I enjoy and use the freedoms that are protected by the military and I recognize the many benefits that come from having a strong military. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve pretty much always lived directly under the military’s social and economic shadow, and have seen both the quality of people in the military and the wealth generated by it.

But every once in a while, I’m reminded that like everything else, the military is not perfect and that there is a role for oversight and control of it, too. It absolutely baffles me why the military continues to discharge gay soldiers with extremely high-needs skill sets. The need for Arabic translators ought to be so obvious a child could identify it. We need as many Arabic speakers as we can get, both in the field and in the intelligence-gathering units.

The reason why this doesn’t make any sense to me is simple. A bullet fired by a gay soldier makes the enemy every bit as dead as one fired by a straight soldier. And making the enemy be dead is kind of the point of the military.

I recognize that when you decide to serve in the military, you lose some of your civil rights and freedoms. A soldier has less privacy than a civilian, yes. But the forfeiture of that privacy does not change the needs of the military or the country in general. And when a policy becomes an obstacle to getting the job done, rather than a way to facilitate that, the policy needs to go. Here’s the money quote from the linked MSNBC article:

The military previously confirmed that seven translators who specialized in Arabic had been discharged between 1998 and 2003 because they were gay. The military did not break down the discharges by year, but said some, but not all, of the additional 13 discharges of Arabic speakers occurred in 2004.

So, at least 8 and as many as 20 Arabic translators have been discharged because they came out of the closet over the past several years. And our infantrymen get to wander around Iraq using point-and-smile or charades to talk with people who are already suspicious of us.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was never a good idea. It was intended to promote tolerance of gays in the military but has been perverted into a culling mechanism. Only the soldiers who are culled from the ranks seems to be perfectly good soldiers, ones with skills and talents and abilities that could be put to good use on the mission that we’ve given the armed forces.

Now with that said, I also don’t understand why some soldiers insist on telling their commanders that they’re gay. But this shouldn’t be an issue in the first place. The only justification for a ban on homosexuals serving in the military that I’ve ever heard offered is that the presence of an open homosexual within a unit causes a decline in morale.

This decline in morale only happens when bigotry towards homosexuals is ingrained in the culture of that unit and cannot be eradicated, so therefore the brass gives up and simply tolerates it. But one of the interesting things about the military is that it can order its rank and file to quit being bigots, and the rank and file have to obey. Thus, the military has managed to eradicate racial bigotry and to a large extent gender bigotry, both earlier and more effectively than civilian society. This doesn’t seem all that different.

So maybe it’s time for the political branches of government to stop deferring, get involved and revise the policy about gays serving so that our national needs are better met. Besides, it’s the right thing to do.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. As a former infantryman, and I guess a partial bigot, I can understand why the ban on openly gay men in the military … communal showers. Though I don’t care what someone does behind closed doors … I would feel uncomfortable showering with an open homosexual … call me a prude.I would like to say that there seems to be a high percentage of gay Arabic translators in the Military. Or could it be that this is the quickest way out of Iraq?

  2. But if you had been ordered to do it, would you?

  3. Your article is well written and on point.There are issue which society needs to work out with sexual orientation.Forcing people into intimate circumstance where sexuality becomes an issue is one of those issue.The military could enlist people who are physicially fit for combat, and give them non-combat duties. The logistics would be difficult and expensive. Likewise, seperate facilities for different sexual orientations could be provided. But it would be difficult and expensive.Females comprise about 20% of the military. Homosexual men comprise between 2% and 10% of the population, depending upon who you’re talking to and what their agenda is. Nothing like a representative percentage of gays join the military.How much expense are we willing to incur, and how much wiull it affect unit readiness during the transitional period?

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