However, the admiral remains opposed to rum and the lash…

Just thought I would provide y’all with a place to comment upon Admiral Mike Mullen’s testimony yesterday in favor of eliminating the policy generally (although, I keep hearing, inaccurately) described as “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” To quote the most pertinent part of the admiral’s remarks:

No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens

Personally, I don’t have much to say about it, beyond not being able to resist a play upon the famous Churchill quote about naval tradition, since this message came from an admiral. Beyond that, and moving on to more pertinent observations, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has always sounded pretty good to me, although I certainly don’t pretend to being an expert on it. It matched my own personal policy about such matters, which is that I won’t ask, and I don’t want you to tell, and I won’t bother you with my proclivities, either. (And when I DO slip and display them, y’all should call me down for it.)

Interesting thing about that policy. Everyone acts like it was some horrible thing instituted to persecute people, when actually it marked the end of the witch hunts that preceded it. (In that regard, it reminds me of all the folks who are so indignant over “minimally adequate,” when Chief Justice Finney thought it was a great improvement on what preceded it. Irony abounds.) Remember the prolonged efforts by the Navy to weed lesbians out of the Marine Corps at Parris Island back in the 80s? It was pretty ridiculous, and a huge waste of resources.

Anyway, I’ve always attached a great deal of importance to the opinions of the military brass on this subject. And before yesterday, they generally presented a fairly solid phalanx against changing the policy. But now that Adm. Mullen has tacked in a different direction, I think his position deserves just as respectful a hearing (my joke about the Churchill quote notwithstanding).

While the admiral is providing powerful testimony to the contrary, I am sensible of the traditional arguments about what open sexual tensions can do to unit cohesion. There’s a good piece about that in the WSJ today (which you may want to read as the complement to the admiral’s testimony), complete with an interesting discussion about the difference between philia, the kind of love that is nonexclusive and multidirectional and which promotes unit cohesion (a love among band of brothers stuff — rather than a love between), and eros, which is specific and exclusive and militates against esprit de corps. One flaw in the piece is that it doesn’t mention what the inclusion of women on U.S. Navy ships and in other situations has done to morale. (I’ve always thought that was a very bad idea, and I’d be very interested to see a really frank and objective study of how that has played out.) But the same argument holds in that case.

One more point: Whether allowing gay personnel to be open about their sexuality is a good or bad idea, it is certainly completely invalid to compare it to the racial integration of the military. As I often say about bogus comparisons of gender and race issues, boys and girls are different; black people and white people are not. The issues involved here are just as different. The aforementioned piece quotes Colin Powell putting it better than I can:

Skin color is a benign nonbehavioral characteristic. Sexual orientation is perhaps the most profound of human behavioral characteristics. Comparison of the two is a convenient but invalid argument.

The only arguments that seem relevant to me are those that bear on whether the current policy or its amendment or revocation would be best in terms of the military’s effectiveness. And I’d like to see a good discussion of that.

Now, y’all go ahead and discuss, and I’ll move on to other matters…

33 thoughts on “However, the admiral remains opposed to rum and the lash…

  1. Doug Ross

    What punishment is given to soldiers who openly admit their heterosexuality and speak openly of heterosexual acts performed while on leave?

    Are heterosexual soldiers allowed to display photos of their wives or girlfriends openly? Do their spouses get to live on military bases?

    Those who have a problem with serving with homosexuals need to get over it.

  2. bud

    Here’s what bothers me. I really don’t much care about the don’t ask, don’t tell policy. Seems like much ado about wording. I don’t think PDA in any form is good for the military or for that matter a business. That would be the case whether it’s about homo or hetero. I’d go along with the Admiral’s recommendation here but it’s not something to lose sleep over.

    Now, what is really disturbing is the breathtaking waste of money our military is taking away from the rest of the economy. I read somewhere today that the military is asking for a 2% increase in it’s budget. That would break the $700 billion mark. That is insane. We could probably adequately defend this country from legitimate threats for about $200 billion. Now there is something to get worked up over.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Doug, bringing up heterosexuality would be relevant if we were talking about women being in the same combat unit with men. That’s why I say I’d like to see a frank, no-holds-barred, unprejudiced assessment of how that has worked on Navy ships and in other relevant situations.

    You’re bringing up the emotional “let me be myself” argument, which to me is irrelevant. We don’t have a military for the purpose of self-affirmation of its members. We have it, much to bud’s irritation, to fight wars and to act as a deterrent.

    We’ve had policies that seek to avoid sexual attachments between members of a given unit (the former ban on women on ships, and the current ban on overt homosexuality) in order to avoid anything that might undermine readiness and effectiveness. In this, the only rational context to my thinking, the “DADT” policy is more closely related to policies banning fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel than it is to any of the debates over sexual orientation that we have in civilian life.

    The question is, does the policy promote and protect esprit and cohesion or does it not? Seems to me some strong arguments could be offered on both sides of that, but that seems to me to be the legitimate question.

  4. Doug Ross

    I can’t agree with your thoughts that preventing a person from speaking about his personal life somehow promotes cohesion. The heterosexual members of the military can speak openly with all levels of crudeness about their sexuality and that behavior is tolerated (in fact, more likely encouraged in the whole “espirit d’ corps” attitude typically seen in frat houses across America).

    You know and I know that a soldier who is suspected of being gay will be tormented, persecuted, and not given the same treatment as “regular” soldiers. And let’s not forget that DADT was a compromise (much like moving the Confederate flag) that didn’t actually solve the problem.

    It’s a shame that there are apparently two sets of rules in this country when it comes to equality – the military rules and the rules for the rest of us Americans.

  5. Burl Burlingame

    If you think that Americans are freaked out about homosexuality, the Muslim world is far more gone on the subject. You want Muslims to fear American troops? Imagine an entire battalion of gay soldiers. The 101st Screaming Meemees are after your ass, hadji! The Americans have the physical AND the moral high ground!

  6. Kathryn Fenner

    Brad–You are being totally disingenuous when you say you have a similar “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy personally as the one imposed on gays. You are married with how many children? I think we may make a reasonable inference–not a nonrebuttable one, but still.

    Look, women have served in the military for a long time, and now in roles that look a lot like combat–at least well in the line of fire. Many have suffered sexual assaults at the hands on their “brothers” in arms. Most women are physically weaker than most men, and yet we allow women–nay, encourage women to serve in the military.
    The only reason gays aren’t allowed to serve in the military is the sort of prejudice that precluded blacks from serving with whites. Once blacks and whites were forced to serve together, the prejudices were replaced by “judices” –judgments based on actual experience.Most of us know more gay people that we realize we do.
    We need all the troops we can get, at the rate we’re going. We lose well-trained, expensively trained gay persons solely because it is “discovered” that they are gay.
    Now your pal McCain is back-tracking on his “whatever the military wants” stance. How convenient.

  7. Brad Warthen

    Yes, Doug, it IS a compromise. But unlike the flag compromise, it was a good one.

    I realize it arose from political expedience of the moment (1993), but I thought it struck a really good balance, was just about right. Now the admiral says otherwise. I give that a great deal of weight, while still seeing the merits in the arguments that caused me to form my original impression.

    And Kathryn, as an exemplar of the military himself, John McCain is entitled to have his own valid opinion. Perhaps one might say that, having never risen to the rank of a four-star admiral, he should just go around with a salute stapled to his forehead… but he earned a right to talk while in uniform, and since he is both the son and grandson of four-star admirals, maybe he feels a little less in awe of Adm. Mullen’s gold braid than most sailors would be…

  8. bud

    And Kathryn, as an exemplar of the military himself, John McCain is entitled to have his own valid opinion.

    I wasn’t going to say anymore on this topic but this little bit of nonsense can’t go unchallenged. Of course John McCain is entitled to his opinion. Kathryn is not suggesting otherwise. Rather she is pointing out the flip-flopping nature of McCain’s position on this issue. It’s just one more nail in the coffin of his ridiculous claim of being a non-partisan pragmatist. He’s nothing but a bastion of the tired old neocon obstructionism that has become so prevelant in the GOP for the past couple of years.

    As for the main point, as someone pretty much indifferent on the issue Doug and Kathyrn make the more persuasive debating points here.

  9. Doug Ross

    Can anyone point me to a definitive statement that explains what would happen to troop morale if General John Doe said, “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it?”

    Seriously – what would happen? Some bigots would quit. Good. What else – aside from the obvious taunting, persecution, and violence that some soldiers would choose to inflict on their “brothers in arms”.

    Here’s the U.S. Army pledge:


    The way I read that, Obama can make DADT gone tomorrow if he wants to. Too bad he’s too much of a political animal to do the right thing.

    As for McCain, someone needs to let him know that being all maverick-y was made him a political joke.

  10. Kathryn Fenner

    but McCain SAID he’d go with what the brass said, until he didn’t find it so politically expedient.

    and as a taxpaying, civically-engaged citizen, my opinion has exactly the same validity as Senator McCain’s….perhaps more so, as I have never made a dime off my civic service, while the good Senator has milked it for all it was worth.

  11. Brad Warthen

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion. And I am entitled to give greater weight to some opinions than others.

    On this subject, I value the observations of Admiral Mullen and Senator McCain more than I do those of someone with, say, MY credentials. If you’ve served on board ship or in a platoon or a squadron under trying or life-threatening circumstances (combat, or a particularly harrowing storm at sea or such), trusting those around you in those circumstances, you simply have understanding of the dynamics that I can only guesstimate by reading books. I could go on eloquently about the importance of personal bonds in a combat unit because I’ve read so much about it. I could go on and on about the well-established principle that a soldier fights not for an ideology or a flag or even Mom’s apple pie or the girl next door back home, but for the soldiers beside him on that line. I can even say that it’s well-documented that that bond rivals that between brothers, or between married people. I can SAY all that because I have it from so many better-qualified sources. But I can’t speak from personal experience.

    That business about your opinion being just as valid because you’re a citizen and taxpayer reminds me… I was going to write something about the rise of populism today, but ran out of time…

  12. Kathryn Fenner

    I also do plenty of civic service…I’m not talking pure populism at all. I do resent the notion that some service is more valuable than others, especially when that service is paid, while other, less valued service is unpaid, volunteer work.

    I daresay Admiral Mullen’s experiences might be more informative than those of a fighter pilot who served 45 years ago. Things change, albeit far too slowly sometimes.

  13. Doug Ross

    Colin Powell has gone rogue…

    “In the almost 17 years since the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed. I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen,” Colin Powell, today.

    And your rationale gets weaker and weaker, Brad, as you expand on it further. You are making it very clear that you believe the mere fact that someone is gay would cause one soldier to distrust a member of his own platoon. Why? What is it about being gay that diminishes the trustworthiness of a person?

    Ask your father what he would have done had he known one of his military colleagues was gay. Would he have quit or would he have punched the guy in the mouth?

  14. Burl Burlingame

    McCain is certainly entitled to his opinion. Whatever he is told is going to be today.

    The Repubs grilling the admiral noted that the military should not be a place for “social experimentation.” I guess Truman didn’t get the world when he integrated the armed forces in 1948.

  15. Karen McLeod

    With DADT as it is now, a homosexual person who has been long partnered with another cannot admit to that partnership, even if the partner is non military. If, on leave, he/she cohabits with that person it can be grounds for dismissal. No. That’s not fair, nor reasonable.

  16. bud

    Brads obstinence on this issue raises a much bigger red flag than the simple DADT policy. The military industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned us of has permeated the very fabric of our society. When folks with military credentials can be afforded greater weight on the issues of our nation then we know it is way past time to scale back on the military monster. How in the world can someone that has so obviously sold his soul for political expediency the way John McCain has be considered someone with more of a say in this matter than the president. At least that’s the way I view Brad’s comments. Seriously this is complete madness. The military machine is dangerous and if we don’t check it’s power it will ultimately destroy our nation just as surely as it did Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union. And Obama is playing the game too. In recent speeches he has taken military spending off the table as something that can be cut. Given the horrendous waste and the temptation for overseas meddling we simply must put a stop to the growth of this oversized monster. Too bad Obama is failing us on this important issue. If we don’t get a handle on it soon DADT will be the least of our problems.

  17. bud

    Here’s another thought that just popped in my head. Brad has argued that the person MOST affected by a pregnancy, the mother, should not be the person who makes the final decision regarding abortion because her mental faculties are clouded by the enormity of it all to the point of rendering her judgement flawed.

    Wouldn’t the same logic apply to DADT? A soldier who is or has experienced combat would have clouded logic since he is so close to the issue. Hence, according to this line of reasoning, someone with a more dispationate perspective, i.e. someone who has not experienced combat, should make the decision.

  18. Brad Warthen

    First, about what am I being obstinate?

    Second, what on Earth is ominous about valuing the advice of military people on the issue of how to run the military?

    And Doug, thanks for sharing that comment from Powell. Of course, it doesn’t affect the point I was making when I quoted him. What I said — and you can scroll up and check — was that whichever view is right on DADT, it is fallacious to pretend that this issue is a logical extensio of racial integration of the military. Two different things entirely.

  19. Brad Warthen

    Nice try, bud, but the logic doesn’t apply. The first is a question of whether we should require due process (which, in our system of justice, requires that interested parties be recused) in a life and death matter. The logical comparison is to the ways we impose the death penalty (something else I oppose, but at least we employ due process).

    The second is an administrative matter — an issue of whether it is conducive to good order and discipline to allow certain dynamics to be introduced in a military setting. To compare that to the question of whether to require due process in matters of life or liberty is absurd.

    But thanks for remembering my arguments in that completely unrelated matter…

  20. bud

    what on Earth is ominous about valuing the advice of military people on the issue of how to run the military?

    This is the gold standard for obstinance. NO ONE has said we don’t value the ADVICE of military people on miliatary issues. Just go read what everyone has said. What we’re saying is that military folks should not be afforded GREATER WEIGHT in making the final decision.

  21. David

    I think Brad has staked out reasonable ground on the issue in deferring to the judgment of our military leaders.

    When DADT was passed, as a society, we were less accepting of homosexuals. Today we are much more accepting and therefore, as Admiral Mullen, Secretary Gates and others have pointed out, DADT has become bad policy. That doesn’t mean it was bad when it was enacted. It may have always been unfair but not useless. There is only so much policy can do for civil rights. People themselves need to accept the rights of others in a healthy society.

    It is likely the compromise served its purpose and allowed our military to function as best it could while our society transitioned and continues to transition to one with a better understanding of homosexuality and a greater acceptance of LGBT people.

    So it’s not unreasonable to defer to the judgment of our military leaders on that issue as it pertains to our armed forces. Of course it’s unfortunate that DADT was ever needed, but that’s just the reality of a society that is slow in evolving towards acceptance of all people.

  22. Brad Warthen

    Don’t know what you mean about “making the final decision.” If you DO value someone’s advice more, of course that advice bears upon your final decision. It doesn’t mean you go that way in the end, but it affects your thinking more than advice from less informed quarters.

    And bud, I think you have something backwards here. Note that McCain is saying it’s up to the Congress, NOT to the military, and he likes it that way, because he doesn’t like where the top brass is going.

    Basically, if it were left up to the military, McCain would not get his way — which should please you.

    Frankly, I see this as a purely administrative matter that SHOULD be left to Mullen and Gates, but the politics dictates otherwise…

  23. Doug Ross


    What you are being obstinate about is explaining what the “dynamics” are regarding one soldier knowing another is gay. What is the harm? Tell us what specifically will happen if one soldier is aware of the other’s sexuality that will compromise the capabilities of the unit.

    Yesterday’s USA Today opinion page had their views on why DADT should be repealed along with a rebuttal from a soldier. But the soldier’s rebuttal was a lot like Brad’s.

    Five paragraphs of history and then just a general statement:

    “Interjecting sexuality into a ground combat team potentially creates an emotional divide between Marines that undermines confidence and prevents that interdependent bond from forming, ultimately compromising the combat effectiveness of the unit.”

    No explanation or rationale for how being gay prevents a soldier from forming a non-sexual bond with other soldiers. Because there is no explanation.

  24. Doug Ross


    Your comments on the military industrial complex are dead on.

    $350 million dollars spent on each F35 fighter jet. $350 MILLION dollars. This country’s priorities are screwed up due to the government’s creation of “evil empires” that must be vanquished around the world. USA Today reported the other day that there are 14 million kids going hungry in the U.S. How about we cut a couple fighters and buy some food instead?

  25. Brad Warthen

    Doug, I think David is paying somewhat close attention to what I’m saying than you are. Remember my points about philia vs. eros. Remember that I have the same concerns about women serving closely with men, and how I’d like to see a really objective assessment of how that’s working on U.S. Navy ships?

    And remember that ultimately, I place great weight on what Mullen and Gates and other brass say.

    In the end, I think what’s happening here is the same thing that happened with broadening women’s roles — the very real concerns that military authorities have is being outweighed by the difficulties in filling the billets in an all-volunteer military. I was at the Pentagon back during the Clinton administration and had the opportunity to speak with some top officials about women’s roles, and their reply was unequivocal — we need them to fill the billets (even though some very rational barriers, such as those that keep women out of combat infantry, remain). I think I hear some of the same dynamic at play in Adm. Mullen’s remarks. I think I see a sea change going on in which the brass resolves to simply DEAL with the problems that sexuality introduces in order to fill the billets. No one’s saying that overtly, but I get that sense. And you can sort of read it into the quote from Mullen at the top of the post, where he says he’s “troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

    I consider that completely legitimate. It’s their job to seeing that the military is fully manned. Or womaned. Whatever.

  26. Doug Ross

    I paid very close attention to your philia vs. eros statements. They don’t make any sense. Unless I am wrong, you are saying that knowing a person is gay means there must be some type of sexual tension between the members of a military unit. I don’t agree. Do you sense the sexual tension when you are around open homosexuals? Does it alter your ability to work with them?

    Seriously, I’m still waiting for an explanation of what will happen when a soldier says, “I am gay”. If the soldier has been serving side-by-side in combat with his unit and that spirit of philia exists now, are you saying it will disappear because the other members of the unit will now be “fearful” that they’ll be the target of unwanted advances?

  27. bud

    This discussion makes me appreciate libertarian thinking. I’ve had issues with them over the years but on this one they are spot on. Clearly the military has gotten out of hand with it’s clamour for more money, greater clout and generally a bigger presence in the nation’s affairs than at any time since Vietnam. Given the limited threats we face from abroad there can be no legitimate justification for this expanded roll. What the military is asking the taxpayers to fund is weaponry to fight an advanced military superpower. But what we’re actually facing is an “enemy” that lives in caves and communicates through the internet or on cell phones. This dreaded enemy resorts to underwear bombs and box cutters as it’s “high tech” weaponry.

    Yet somehow this ragtag bunch of thugs is such a threat we are required to spend 3/4 of a trillion dollars per year acquiring gold plated weapons such as F-22s and nuclear aircraft carriers.

    Let’s just take a step back and look at how absurd this is. Whoever was to blame for the Christmas day underpants bomber getting on the plane it certainly was not because we don’t spend enough money. Yet here we are increasing the military budget yet again. And we have a president who campaigned on a peace platform no less. This is mind boggling folks. How the corporate military elites continue to get away with this atrocity really is amazing. And I don’t even see too many in congress who even suggests a reduction in military spending. Perhaps Bernie Sanders from Vermont but that’s about it. Right now I’m way more concerned about the potential for abuse from our military than I am of the threat from foreign attacks. But I’m probably largely alone in that regard. I’m sort of like Oliver Douglas in Green Acres.

  28. Brad Warthen

    And I’m like Eb…

    And no, Doug, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is what I said. And I’ve said it often enough now. If you’ll note, I’ve moved on to other issues…

  29. Doug Ross

    Apparently “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” applies to your philosophy of explaining what the specific problem is with gays in the military. I know it’s a tough position to take without “coming out” and saying that gays make you uncomfortable.

  30. Brad Warthen

    No, Doug, what’s “tough” is being understood when you have a position that is more thoughtful and nuanced than what the people on both sides of the Culture Wars constantly shout.

    That’s why I really hate addressing issues such as this. I thought the admiral’s testimony was significant enough that I should provide y’all with a place to have a thoughtful discussion of it, and then once I had done that, I felt obliged to TRY to explain my own thoughts on the subject, but as always, the effort doesn’t seem to be worth it. A lot of heat, only a little light.

    That’s why I wish issues like this would just go away. And yes, I know how all “right-thinking” people will react to that: “You just want to wish these PEOPLE away! Well, get used to it! They’re here and they’re… etc.”

    Which of course would be willfuly ignoring what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that I don’t believe these debates get us anywhere. We just go in circles. Neither side in these shouting matches thinks what I think, and it’s just hard to be heard clearly on the subject, even on my own blog.

    So in the end, it just doesn’t seem worthwhile. The very fact that I occasionally TRY to address such issues is evidence of a masochistic streak on my part. Which makes me wonder, would THAT keep me out of the Army?…

  31. Kathryn Fenner

    You don’t think there’s any tension between heterosexual men in uniform–sexual jealousy about a woman seems to be standard fare in war movies, anyway.

  32. Brad Warthen

    Yep — that’s why they didn’t let them into the platoon or on board the ship. Most of the fights over women took place off post, and far from the front lines…

    Actually, if you want to get really academic… long before got civilized enough to blow each other up, warfare among primitive men was very often about women. They were the point, the casus belli. If you looked at it in evolutionary terms, I suppose it had something to do with diversifying the gene pool. But basically, one tribe would raid another tribe to steal the women, and then that tribe would raid to steal them back, etc.

    In other words, there was nothing particularly unique about the Trojan War being fought over Helen. Boys will get worked up over a girl.

  33. Brad Warthen

    You know what really disappointed me about this thread? Nobody said anything, good or bad, about the headline. Nobody said, “nice allusion,” or “that’s awful!” or ANYthing. Maybe y’all have all decided that if you ignore me, I’ll stop.

    Shows how much you know. I’m just going to have to try harder.

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