The DADT paradox

| Staff Columnist

‘Catch-22” is a funny book. It’s probably one of my favorite books that I read in my AP English class senior year. But we all know the reason why it’s such an iconic book—it provides readers with a searing account of militaristic violence and bureaucratic entrenchment in the modern world through its sharp sarcastic undercurrent. To think, then, that the U.S. Army currently employs a program that would give Joseph Heller enough fodder to write a sequel to his classic is remarkable.

The U.S. Army’s position on gay and lesbian soldiers serving active duty is a policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell”—which for more than 17 years has casually swept the rights of members of the LGBT community under the carpet in the name of “unit cohesion” and a “warrior culture.” This policy is not only offensive to Americans (whether gay or not), but it is also unnecessary. Multiple examples prove that “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) should be repealed.

First, members of the upper echelon of the U.S. military support repealing the policy. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified to Congress that “no matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have…a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” Ultimately, Mullen said, “it comes down to integrity—theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

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Mullen’s testimony taps into the most basic (and, as Heller would note, paradoxical) problem with DADT. Gay and lesbian men and women must suppress their personal freedom to fight for the larger freedom of the American public. And, to make it worse, their suppression of personal autonomy does not help the military in any way. As a matter of fact, an article published by Mullen’s office indicates that “there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals openly serve.”

Further, not only does scientific evidence favor repealing DADT, the majority of active members in the military also support efforts to allow gays to openly serve. According to a 2006 Zogby survey, 73 percent of military personal said they would be comfortable serving with openly gay or lesbian troops.

Finally, it is worth pointing out the ideological reasons Congress should repeal DADT. Even if Mullen’s statement that scientific evidence does not prove that unit cohesion would be affected was false, and even if the Zogby poll were not true, DADT should still be repealed. Simply put: It is not in alignment with the Constitution or, for that matter, in alignment with the past 150 years of social progress in America. From the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, America’s arc of social justice has bent toward freedom of individuality and expression. Whether it be the integration of troops during World War II or the slew of civil rights acts of the 1960s, America has continually granted rights to those who were at one point disaffected by the law. Repealing DADT to allow openly gay and lesbian individuals to serve is just the next logical step in America’s trajectory toward a freer and more accepting culture.

I understand that a policy shift to allow all Americans—regardless of sexual orientation—to serve in the military would face opposition. But so has every other massive piece of social legislation that has been enacted in the past. As a result, Americans should pressure President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise to help repeal DADT. Americans should also applaud the efforts of senators like Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., who recently proposed the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010, which would make it illegal to discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation.

While Heller’s novel left readers with a sour and hopeless taste in their mouths, I don’t think Americans should view the debate surrounding “don’t ask, don’t tell” with the same nihilistic outlook. As a matter of fact, repealing DADT would be the ultimate sign of American patriotism and prosperity. It would be a symbol that America believes so deeply in its core beliefs—freedom for all, regardless of creed, race, sex or sexual orientation—and it would, literally, push those beliefs to the forefront of American interaction with the rest of the world.

Luke is a freshman in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at luke.schiel@wustl.edu.