BY FROMA HARROP
Don’t ask, don’t tell – don’t know why we’re still talking about this. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is the rule barring openly gay soldiers from serving in the U.S. military. This relic of the culture wars is so past its prime that even Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh don’t spend much time whipping it up.
The waning days of the lame-duck Congress offer an opportunity to cross at least one item off the checklist of time-consuming issues of small national consequence. The House passed repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in May, and there seem to be enough votes for it in the Senate, but the Senate must find time to do the deed. The next session of Congress will further empower a Republican leadership less motivated to give up a matter that lets it throw an occasional raw hamburger to a shrinking but fervent segment of social conservatives – and at no cost to taxpayers.
It was feared that the struggle over the expiring Bush-era tax cuts might crowd out a quick burial of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” With that apparently taken care of, there seems to be time to administer the last rites.
President Obama, most Democrats and some Republicans support getting rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” A recently released Pentagon study found little utility in extending it. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen testified that openly gay soldiers pose no threat to America’s military readiness.
On the other side, a Marine commandant and the Army chief of staff argued against letting openly gay people fight in combat units serving in Afghanistan. But they tempered their position, opining that such change is inevitable, just not advisable when their units are engaged in deadly operations.
The other opinions don’t really matter. That would include the thoughts of Elaine Donnelly, the high profile anti-gay-in-the-military activist who founded the so-called Center for Military Readiness in Livonia, MI. Letting gays serve openly, she told The Washington Post, “would be a strong disincentive for families considering military service for their sons and daughters.”
That is a remarkable thing to say because 1] soldiers are grownups; they decide whether they will join the military, not their mom and dad, and 2] military service is not some whim. The notion that soldiers with the grit to confront Taliban terrorists would melt at anyone’s declaration of sexual preference is both insulting to them and ludicrous.
Adm. Mullen testified: “I went to war with them [gays and lesbians] aboard a destroyer off the coast of Vietnam. I knew they were there. They knew I knew it. And what’s more, nearly everyone in the crew knew it. We never missed a mission, never failed to deliver ordinance on target.”
Israel allows openly gay personnel in its tightest combat units. The armies of Canada, Britain, Australia and the Netherlands don’t require soldiers to hide their sexual preferences, and they have fought alongside ours.
If this whole issue bores you to stupefaction, you are forgiven. Some older people may have trouble adjusting to a new social reality in which homosexuality is no big deal. But there’s no stopping the march of progress. I recall passing two guys holding hands at the Omaha airport a couple of years ago and thinking: The days of persecuting gays are so over.
Ditching “don’t ask, don’t tell” would end another form of discrimination while giving the armed services more fighters to choose from. And it would end the year 2010 with one less pointless thing to argue about. Let’s tack “don’t ask, don’t tell” on the Smithsonian’s wall of artifacts and move on to almost any other subject.
– Froma Harrop’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer