The Corner

Rhetoric on DADT Was Overblown

My award for schmaltziest lede of the year goes to the New York Times for kvelling in an editorial yesterday that “More than 14,000 soldiers lost their jobs and their dignity over the last 17 years because they were gay, but there will be no more victims of this injustice.” Can we have a little reality here, please?

Certainly there have been some unjustified separations under the policy which came to known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (the case of the highly qualified Air Force pilot named Mike Almy, who was discharged after e-mails to his boyfriend were discovered on a work-related e-mail account, comes to mind). But a few years ago, Charles Moskos, the late military sociologist who drafted the DADT language, went back to study discharges under the policy. He found that about 80 percent were voluntary, meaning they had been initiated by the soldier.

In other words, a guy or girl had gone to his or her CO and said something to the effect of, “You know, I’m gay.” This earned the serviceperson an honorable discharge — and maybe a relatively painless end to what might have been an inconvenient service contract.

In a study a few months ago, the Pentagon affirmed Moskos’s research, finding that “approximately 85% of discharges for homosexual conduct have been made on the basis of statements by the Service member.” It also noted that “approximately one quarter of these discharges have occurred in the first four months of a Service member’s service,” which would seem to back up the notion that DADT was widely used as way to get out of contracts.

And the “tellers” weren’t necessarily gay. As one Col. Om Prakash put it in a 2009 report for the U.S. War College, one possible explanation for the rise of discharges for homosexuality observed after DADT was that “given the recent reduction in stigma associated with homosexuality in society at large, simply declaring one is homosexual, whether true or not, is the fastest way to avoid further military commitment and receive an honorable discharge.”

There’s been an awful lot of over-the-top rhetoric about life under DADT. Last week, Politico ran an opinion piece citing the “fearful reality of what it means to live under this law,” as if gay and lesbian servicepeople spent their lives fearing a knock on the door.

This is not at all what I observed in the five years I spent working on a book about the U.S. military. In fact, I observed supervisors who went out of their way to avoid the career-ending charge of homophobia. Most of my military friends describe a world in which gays serve alongside straights in a workaday manner. An Army friend of mine captured the essence of it when she observed, “There are plenty of gays in the military. They are known, usually among friends in the unit, but don’t make a big deal about it. I’ve never seen anyone discharged simply because they were gay and I’m in [the Army’s legal corps] so you’d think I’d have seen one or two.”

The bottom line is this: Whether you liked DADT or not, the rhetoric surrounding this issue has been out of control.

Stephanie Gutmann is the author of The Kinder, Gentler Military: How Political Correctness Affects Our Ability to Win Wars.

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