On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates released a long-awaited Pentagon working-group report on the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy enacted under President Bill Clinton. Most troops, the review found, would not object to a repeal.
Some troops made strong arguments in favor of repeal. As one service member noted, "We need all available men and women who are willing to serve their country, no matter what their sexual orientation is." Another said, "We shouldn't turn people away because of things they do in their private life."
One gay service member noted that a repeal would "take a knife out of my back." Amen to that. They have our back; we should remove the knife pointing at theirs.
Besides, I have to agree with the gay service member who predicted, "If it is repealed, everyone will look around their spaces to see if anyone speaks up. They'll hear crickets for a while. A few flamboyant guys and tough girls will join to rock the boat and make a scene. Their actions and bad choices probably will get them kicked out. After a little time has gone by, then a few of us will speak up. And instead of a deluge of panic and violence ... there'll be a ripple on the water's surface that dissipates quicker than you can watch."
That doesn't mean that there won't be problems. As Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., noted during Thursday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, the review also found that 58 percent of Marines in combat units and 48 percent of Army combat troops feared that repealing "don't ask, don't tell" would have a negative or a very negative impact on the ability of their units to work together. America is at war and Washington has to address the concerns of combat troops.
"Morale wins battles," said Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which opposes a repeal. Like McCain, Davis objects to the fact that the Pentagon review never polled troops on whether they wanted to end the policy. "I wish that the question was asked pointblank -- repeal, yes or no."
The Department of Defense, for its part, is very aware that civilians control the military, not the other way around. Hence, its resistance to polling troops. But I must pass on Davis' observation that although most civilians favor ending "don't ask, don't tell," most civilians have not enlisted. "You're telling someone else what to do, but you would never ever consider joining the military. That's pretty hypocritical in my humble opinion," he said with military precision.
While he understands societal change, Davis added, "The military is about the team; repeal is about the individual."