Discrimination is not a legitimate strategy for protecting troops

Elizabeth's picture

Barack Obama speaks to US troops at Camp Victory 4-7-09It's been a long time since I was last sitting at breakfast, reading the Times and came across something that drove me to my blog. When I began my blog during a sabbatical a few years ago that's how it used to happen: Breakfast, newspaper, outrage, blog. Lately, though, I've been lucky to be able to even skim the headlines at breakfast, and as for time to sit down and blog, well, that's been nearly nonexistent. So it was refreshing to have the time this morning to casually read the paper and then stumble upon an outrageous statement, and then to have some time to blog about it.

Which makes it sound like I am happy to be outraged, which is not the case of course. I'm simply happy that given the outrage there was time to read, think and blog instead of just feeling frustrated and angry.

This morning's reaction was to an article with the headline "Pentagon Steps Up Talks On Don't Ask Don't Tell", written by Elisabeth Bumiller. It is a relatively short article with several sources of irritation. First is the fact that war is being used as a reason, by some, to resist actively working to repeal the law at this time. Those who serve in our military are overburdened, serving many more combat tours than is good for anybody, and that we are seeing the results of that at home. While my preferred solution would involve demilitarizing US foreign policy, even I can see that to drive anyone out of the service because of sexual orientation alone is to increase the burden on those who remain, and on their families and communities. Since the inception of Don't Ask Don't Tell over 12,000 service members have been forced out of their jobs because of the policy.

The next irritation was to read that time is actually being devoted to study of whether or not a repeal would cause implementation issues, for example needing to segregate showers or needing to ban public displays of affection on military bases. Separate showers? Really? Outlawing public displays of affection? Really? How about this: Let's just enforce the rules we have against sexual violence and harassment. Period. Regardless of sexual orientation. For everyone. I know this is ridiculously idealistic, of course.

This leads me to the last irritation, and it was this that really sparked my outrage. The article ends like this:

"Opponents of the law say it has been costly, discriminatory and damaging to the unit cohesion it has sought to protect, because it places commanders in the difficult position of forcing the discharge of qualified service members.

Supporters of the law say that repealing it would be as disruptive as requiring women in the military to live in close quarters with men and that it would affect morale and recruitment."

"As disruptive as requiring women in the military to live in close quarters with men"? What exactly do they  mean by disruptive? Surely supporters of DADT are not trivializing the rape, sexual assault and harrassment suffered by women in the military by calling it a disruption and attributing it to women's having to live in close quarters with men. Surely they are not asserting that men are just somehow naturally violent toward women and that women's proximity is thus disruptive to morale and recruitment

Or are they? Because it certainly sounds that way.

So here's my proposal. Since repeal of DADT requires congressional action, and since its actually an issue that is much broader than allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly, but also includes eliminating sexual violence and harassment, I suggest the following:

An act of congress to end discrimination, harassment, and sexual violence in the US military. It needs a clever acronym of course, but basically it would call opening military servivce to all US residents to serve as long as they are physically and mentally capable. It would call for training and education about diversity, gender, and sexuality. It would include violence prevention programs along with the serious enforcement of rules against harassment and violence (accompanied, I'd suggest, by training and education aimed at preventing violence in the first place). Such an act would go a long way toward creating a military culture built on the kind of trust and respect that everybody seems to agree is required for service members to do their jobs effectively. And it would go a long way toward ending the discrimination, misogyny, and homophobia that put so many lives in danger.


Photo is from Wikimedia "Barack Obama speaks to US Troops at Camp Victory on 4-7-09"