At the end of November, the Defense Department’s Comprehensive Review Working Group released its Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Working Group was tasked with predicting the effect open service would have on “military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting, retention and family readiness.” Soldiers and their families were sent surveys, participated in face-to-face, on-base “information exchange forums,” given an on-line inbox to give their opinions, and were included in focus groups. Additionally, the Defense Department hired a private company to solicit the views of queer service members to allow those soldiers to keep their anonymity. After 9 months, the Working Group concluded:
Based on all we saw and heard, our assessment is that, when coupled with the prompt implementation of the recommendations we offer below, the risk of repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to overall military effectiveness is low. We conclude that, while a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will likely, in the short term, bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting, and can be adequately addressed by the recommendations we offer below.
TADA! A smoking gun! The military has spoken: Combat readiness will not disintegrate! Unit cohesion will remain intact! Incidents of stigmata will be minimal! It is as close to a coup de grâce as we’ve seen – not to the policy itself, but to the idea that repeal might be deterred. While this review was being conducted, the Department of Justice argued that the court should uphold the policy while the military collected information and created a plan for implementation. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pointed out, if the repeal doesn’t happen in this session of Congress, it is likely a judicial challenge would be successful. In that case, the timeline for implementation the court demands could be much shorter than the one the Defense Department has outlined. To summarize: this repeal is happening. If the Republicans want a gradual approach, then Legislative Repeal is the strategic choice.
You know who’s not having any of this repeal business? The Robot They Replaced John McCain With After The 2000 Election (hereafter referred to as “John McCain.”) In yet another display of recalcitrant ignorance, McCain looked at this report which polled service members on their experience working alongside queer soldiers and rejected the findings because the Working Group hadn’t asked them what they thought. Secretary Gates countered that the military has never held a referendum on a policy decision, ever. McCain complained that the study didn’t gather responses from all service members, and ignored Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen’s explanation that the response rate was typical for the military and that the results were statistically significant in all categories.
What struck me about the congressional debate over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is what a shitty job queers are having to beg to work. A soldier signs up for years of indentured servitude, subject to extension without warning. They surrender their autonomy completely to a mission whose objective is rarely clear, are constantly having assholes in suits use them as rhetorical battering rams, and if they aren’t killed in battle or don’t take their own life there is always the possibility that they will be murdered and their death will be ruled a suicide. It is fucking revolting to consider the amount of nuclear-grade pearl clutching we have seen over the thought that straight service members might share shower facilities with queer service members, with that horrible Elaine Donnelly repeating over and over that such an arrangement would lead to a rise in sexual harassment. Even if all that bullshit wasn’t false and fucking insulting besides, it ignores the fact that the military HAS a rape and sexual harassment epidemic that it is actively ignoring. An epidemic that is so well concealed that Kathleen Parker could write an apology of it and still be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Sexual predators in uniform? TOO. FUCKING. LATE.
But still, people enlist. For those raised in poverty, the military represents a tangible opportunity to move out of the caste they were born into. Several members of my family have served; my father used the G.I. Bill to finance his education. In a “cumulative family history” way, my ability to go to college was the result of people close to me enlisting in military service. But also in a more immediate “his enlistment bonus paid for my last semester of University” way, my brother is responsible for my degree. So when John McCain sits at the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee and plays these disingenuous games demanding reports and then ignoring them, acting personally affronted that the top military brass disagrees with him, insulting Admiral Mullen by claiming his opinion doesn’t matter since he isn’t directly commanding any soldiers, and periodically throwing temper tantrums, he is actively blocking social mobility for queers and their families and championing a policy that demeans and degrades queer soldiers. He is relying on bigotry and ignorance to carry the day, ignoring the overwhelming popular support of repeal and the findings of the Working Group, and doing what is easiest for him. He is not being a steward, a leader, or a maverick.