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DADT Unravels Further

SLOWLY, VERY SLOWLY, the pressure is building to overturn the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy.
“I think it’s going to end.”
That is Charles Moskos talking. Moskos, a professor of military sociology at Northwestern University, is generally regarded as the principal author and staunchest proponent of DADT.

Moskos told the magazine “Lingua Franca” he thinks the policy will be gone in five or ten years.
It would be easy to cite several reasons for its demise, from the increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians in civil society to the growing importance of the gay vote to both political parties.

But just as important, the arguments supporting the policy are unraveling and there is increasing awareness that its rationale is built on sand.
The reason most often cited for barring gays is “unit cohesion,” the idea that the presence of openly gay or lesbian personnel would harm a unit’s ability to work effectively.

But an excellent article in the October issue of “Lingua Franca” summarizes the evidence for and against the “unit cohesion” argument-and leaves the rationale in tatters.
Briefly put, the evidence shows that:

  • Cohesion is a result or by-product of working together, not a pre-condition for doing so;
  • Successful performance is due to agreement on the importance of the task, not social closeness or group pride;
  • There is no evidence that more cohesive military units perform better in combat situations.
  • Surprisingly, Moskos himself seems to dismiss the “unit cohesion” argument as unimportant.

“Fuck unit cohesion. I don’t care about that,” he told “Lingua Franca.”
Moskos’ own argument is that gays and lesbians should be barred because of “modesty rights for straights.” That is, people (heterosexuals) have the right not to be looked at as objects of sexual desire.
“I should not be forced to shower with a woman. I should not be forced to shower with a gay [man],” Moskos says.

During the 1993 controversy over DADT, Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., appealed to the same idea in his famous televised visit to a submarine, showing the close quarters the crew lived and worked in.
But Moskos’ argument seems very “Old World,” prudish, and distant from the realities of recent decades.
Even if we accepted Moskos’ parallel between male-female and gay-heterosexual situations:

  • Nowadays people of both sexes seem comfortable looking at each other’s bodies and having their own bodies assessed, comfortable even being viewed as possible objects of sexual desire. They seem to welcome it.
  • This is an era of bikini swimsuits, Lycra sportswear, revealing underwear and lingerie ads in mainstream newspapers. Men and women both work out a health clubs with little purpose other than to look appealing, as if to say, “Hey, look at me.”

But Moskos’ parallel itself breaks down at crucial points.
One argument against including women fully in the military has been the fear that the mutual attraction of men and women would create problems of improper fraternization and sexual intimacy. In short, men and women might too much welcome being viewed with sexual desire rather than being offended or upset by it.
But now exactly the opposite argument is being promoted to keep gays and lesbians out: The concern that heterosexuals would not want to be viewed with desire, i.e., the desire would not be mutual. This seems inconsistent.

Another reason Moskos’ parallel does not work is that in our society, as in most societies, women are much more encouraged to feel modest about their bodies than men are. Men are hardly encouraged to feel modesty at all.
On the contrary, men are generally expected to feel pride in their body and its attributes, and to welcome, even expect, being viewed with sexual desire as a validation of their attractiveness and manhood, whether they feel desire in return or not.

Thus, for instance, gay men are typically comfortable, even pleased, if a heterosexual woman finds them sexually attractive, even if they do not think of her sexually at all. So the “modesty” argument seems implausible.
Further, if the “modesty” argument had merit, women, as the more modest sex, should oppose the presence of lesbians, who might view them with desire, more than heterosexual men should oppose the presence of gay men.
But just the opposite is true. A small survey of army personnel conducted by Moskos himself in 1998 found that more than half of military women (52 percent) supported letting open gays and lesbians service. Fewer than one-fourth of the women (22 percent) actually opposed gays and lesbians serving.

So the modesty argument breaks down at the one point where it can be tested empirically.
In fact, of course, there has long been a disproportionate presence of lesbians in the military. Objections to them seldom come from heterosexual women who fear being viewed as sexually desirable. Instead the objections come from heterosexual males distressed that the lesbians do not regard them as sexually desirable.
But if gays are a threat neither to unit cohesion nor modesty, there is no rationale remaining for the gay ban except sheer homophobia. And prejudice is not a reason.