War and DADT

I don’t make a habit of writing about things that seem obvious. Torture, for instance, is morally reprehensible and pragmatically ineffective, which is as close to a definition of un-American as I think you can come up with. Once you get caught up in trying to define the gray area, you’ve missed the point.

Same goes for DADT, in my book. I won’t write about it often, because to me, there’s just not a whole lot of ground to cover before you run into the basic injustice of the policy. But I bring it up because of this TPM article on Adm. Michael Mullen’s remarks before the Senate two weeks ago. The article suggests that Mullen’s testimony represented a tipping point in the effort to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. And that might be true.

But if it is, I think it’s also in large part because the U.S. military has been at war for the past nine years. And although I’ve never seen it first hand, from everything I’ve read about war, it tends to reduce abstractions to the basic bedrock truths, by putting social constructs and received assumptions to the test of fire. In wartime, the essential question, and in some ways the only question, is, Does it work?

So yes, there have been enormous societal changes in the past 20 years that have prepared the way for the open service of gays and lesbians. But the fact that many of the men and women serving in the military know that they have already been to war with their gay and lesbian fellow soldiers and officers, and that sexual identity made no difference on the battlefield, is what has put the lie to the arguments that go into maintaining DADT.

This wouldn’t be the first time that war has driven progressive social change within the military. It’s unlikely, for instance, that the armed forces could have been integrated when they were had the service of black soldiers throughout WWII not laid the groundwork.

Other factors were necessary in both cases. But the wartime experience accelerated the process of recognizing that the societal assumptions on which the previous policy were based were outdated and unjust.