by Gary Farber.
Doctor Science wrote a superb post in the last week of December on DADT and Rape Culture, which didn't get remotely the attention it deserved, because, of course, it was just after Christmas, and before New Year's, in America, according to the majority calendar.
Spirited debate did result in comments, and the debate, while tedious and understandably offensive to many, nonetheless had many comments I thought worthwhile. Open debate is something we try to aim for at Obsidian Wings, though like all bloggers, we have our personal views and prejudices.
I'm extremely grateful to long time and valued commenter Mike Schilling, who has been writing smart stuff online at least since the Nineties on Usenet, for reminding us, and me in particular, of the late Major Andrew Olmsted's, former co-blogger here on Obsidian Wings and elsewhere (see our upper right sidebar, please), first under his own name, and then under the pseudonym of "G'Kar," from his beloved Babylon 5, which was one of the best serial space operas yet made for American television, words and views about gays in the military, written December 21, 2007 in a post entitled Military Musings.
Andy started off talking about the M4 carbine, and then moved onto this, which I'll quote, because he isn't here to do so himself:
[...] Now, on to other topics, like heterosexism in the military and the breaking of the Army. While I am sure that what OCSteve recalls as the situation extant in his unit when he served prior to Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) may have been the case in his unit, I find it less plausible that a similar situation obtained across the entire military. As Jesurgislac points out, the military was discharging people vigorously for their sexuality throughout the 1980s; DADT may have made matters worse for gays and lesbians, but they were far from accepted before that policy arrived. I have nothing but contempt for a policy that permits convicted criminals to serve while asking people to leave simply because their sexuality or gender does not fit neatly into society's binary system.
I cannot say whether I have ever served with any gay or lesbian soldiers; DADT became law about a year after I was commissioned, and while I'm sure that the law of averages means that some of the men and women I worked with over the years were gays or lesbians, I'm equally confident they would not feel comfortable volunteering that information under the threat of DADT. But I can say with complete confidence that I would greatly prefer going into combat with a gay man than with a criminal, and the notion that homosexuality is in any way worse than criminal conduct is abhorrent. Would allowing openly gay people to serve in the military cause serious damage to the institution? While I cannot guarantee that the answer would be no, clearly the available evidence would suggest that, in fact, the answer is no. The British Army opened its doors to gays and lesbians years ago, and I am aware of no evidence that decision has had any effect on readiness. American society is, slowly and painfully, adjusting to the 'horrors' of publicly gay and lesbian people living their lives just like heterosexuals, and while there have been many growing pains, I have seen no evidence to suggest that society is worse off for that (often-grudging) acceptance. (For the record, claims that society is going to hell in a handbasket precisely because homosexuals and, less often, transgendered people are better accepted is not an argument, it's a value judgement, and it holds no weight with me.) Why would the military be any different? Yes, we can expect to see some growing pains as an institution that historically has disdained LBGT people is forced to accept them, but I have seen no evidence that would suggest that soldiers, who are trained to go in harm's way, cannot discipline themselves to deal with the far less dangerous prospect of serving alongside LBGT individuals. Indeed, I suspect that such a move would only benefit the Army and society as a whole by showing more people that, much to their surprise, LBGT people are much like 'normal' people in many respects, and that in all respects they are, unsurprisingly, people.
Better still from the perspective of an Army that has been strained significantly by the past two decades, permitting LBGT people to serve would provide the Army access to a far superior talent pool than the criminals and high school dropouts it has been forced to accept in increasing numbers over the past six years. As hilzoy noted, the Army is facing some pretty significant strains right now. If you're a soldier, you pretty much accept that you'll be in Iraq or Afghanistan for 12-15 months every few years, and it should come as no surprise that many people are choosing other careers than the Army.
I'd be curious to see the actual evidence that the Army is, in fact, losing its best young officers, though. While graduates of the United States Military Academy do cost the Army more than ROTC or OCS graduates, I have seen no evidence in almost 20 years of uniformed service that USMA grads make superior officers. I have seen excellent USMA graduate officers, and I have seen lousy ones, just as I have seen good and bad ROTC and OCS graduates. It may well be that the Army's best young officers are leaving; I don't know one way or the other. I just hope that the article is not conflating 'USMA graduate' with 'best young officers.'
The article is correct in its larger conclusions, however. I see many of these problems firsthand. I am a 'tweener' in this fight; I grew up in a peacetime Army, but am not senior enough to be running anything significant in the service and am now getting an opportunity to see the fight at close range. I see the younger officers who already have far more combat experience than I did with twice their time in the Army. And I see them being ill-used by senior officers who grew up, as I did, in a peacetime Army, training to fight high-intensity conflicts, and frequently unable to wrap their minds around the idea that this conflict is different. We've been in Iraq for four-plus years now, and yet I still see many commanders who spend far more time worrying about raids than helping the locals learn how to protect themselves or letting the Iraqi Army take the lead. It's very difficult for people who trained for close to 20 years to fight a war to force themselves to understand and fight as a counterinsurgency force. All too often, people end up trying to do what they know rather than stepping outside their comfort zone. And that can drive young officers right out of the service, because they see little reason to stick around when they see senior officers doing the wrong things.
This problem is not insoluble, however. Prior to the Cold War, the United States maintained a small cadre Regular Army that was sufficient for handling minor tasks, and ramped up to a larger, citizen Army when war loomed. While that often led to difficulties, American armies throughout history have demonstrated comparable skill at all levels to those of far more militaristic states. A smaller Army would be far better suited to retaining only the best officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs), as pay scales could be increased while slots were decreased, placing converging pressure on poorer performers. This wouldn't guarantee a great Army by any stretch of the imagination, but it would increase the probability of building a solid cadre while allowing the Army to stop bringing in poorer performers to fill in its increasingly poorly-manned ranks. Such a reduction would also reduce the ability of Presidents to rely on military adventurism to fill out their 'legacy,' a not-inconsiderable benefit.
Of course, before we can get to that point, we would have to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm not holding my breath.
And now people can be reminded of what this heroic officer, my friend, the hero, our Army's best, a Soldier who died as he wanted to die, thought and posted on December 21, 2007, 08:30 AM, when posting as "G'Kar," the name of a man of war who turned to peace.
Thank you again, Andy. We'll always remember you.