Not the time for inside conflicts
The Pentagon's announcement that it would begin to ease restrictions on the nation's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bans gays from serving openly in the military, is long overdue. The new policy would disallow informants from outside the military to prompt an investigation of a service member's sexuality, and only generals and admirals will have the authority to discharge members for being gay. While these steps are admirable in ending this discriminatory policy enacted by the former President Bill Clinton's administration, the law should be repealed in its entirety.
This is an issue that — in May 2009 — had 69 percent of adults, along with 58 percent of self-described conservatives, calling for an end to "don't ask, don't tell," according to a USA Today/Gallup poll. Most industrialized nations like the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Israel allow for gays to serve openly in the military without morale or recruitment problems. Concurrently, the United States joins the ranks of Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Venezuela in the prohibition of gays in the military. Americans constantly critique the numerous ruthless measures that those oppressive and tyrannical nations commit; yet, when it comes to removing prejudices in the military, we stand side by side.
It is my understanding the United States military consists of the best and most professional soldiers in the world, and by discriminating against those who can serve our country honestly and openly, we dilute the power of our troops. Since 1993 more than 13,000 openly gay soldiers have been discharged from the military — with more than 750 of those warriors holding "critical occupations," such as voice interceptors, data processing, technicians and translators. These critical jobs take serious time and fiscal dedication in order to perfect and cannot be replicated overnight. In fact, the United States has spent nearly $400 million after openly gay members were discharged, according to a 2006 Blue Ribbon Commission report conducted by the University of California. The United States can no longer afford to replace fired soldiers merely based on their sexual orientation.
The tireless argument over how gays in the military jeopardizes camaraderie and puts straight soldiers at risk of sexual harassment, and feeling uncomfortable is an obsolete argument. There is no room in the military for sexual harassment, and all soldiers who commit this type of misconduct should be discharged; yet, that should stand for straight soldiers as well as gays. Two separate standards based solely on sexuality of individuals is discriminatory any way you look at it. When black and white units in the military integrated in 1948 many members of the armed forces did not accept their new diverse counterparts until the Korean War, when they realized that soldiers — regardless of race — could posses the same lethal productivity as any other soldier.
While the United States currently discriminates against gays having the right to marry, and the military currently outlaws gays from serving openly, Americans must keep in mind that the "separate but equal" law is prejudice in its foundation. When Thomas Jefferson wrote, "All men are created equal," he did not chime in that those who are gay or black do not apply. Our Constitution and Declaration of Independence are not flawed, nor is our system. Rather, it just needs serious modifications in order to grant all Americans equal opportunity. The Constitution allows for change through an amendment process, and as the commander in chief, the president has the power to ensure that his armed forces are the most viable and lethal as possible. I am not calling for entitlement programs or equal outcome — Jefferson did not believe that two people could be identical and I do not think that any two people can ever be exactly the same. But, all U.S. citizens must be able to utilize the same aspects of the American legal systems as any other American citizen. To deny someone the chance to serve and protect their country, based on the gender of their significant other, infringes on the rights of that person to create their own destiny and not be subjugated to the demands of the government.
According to Gen. John M. Shalikashvili — the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Clinton — more than 4,000 gays in the military voluntarily leave service every year due to "don't ask, don't tell." On the other hand, up to 40,000 new recruits may join in if the policy ends. Shalikashvili has seen through countless interviews with gay soldiers and the productivity of other nations who allow gays to serve, that unit cohesion is not a problem when members are open with their sexuality.
Since the Pentagon began gathering annual information on the discharge of gay soldiers, 2009 has posted the fewest amount of gay soldiers expelled from the army due to their sexuality. While this may seem like an additional step in the right direction, it could also mean that less and less gays are enlisting in the armed forces — due to a fear of being caught by their superiors. There are more than 65,000 gays currently serving in the armed forces, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. If that figure is correct — and less gays are enlisting due to the nation's discriminatory policy — are these gay soldiers serving at their fullest capacity? Or is their performance hindered due to the possibility of being caught and fired from their job of preserving and protecting the constitution and American people?
This archaic policy must come to an end. Sexual orientation based discrimination in the military and civilian workplace reduces efficiency. If they are willing to serve and protect us, we should honor these fine men and women by granting them that privilege.
Aaron Marcus is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in political science and history.