Wall Street Journal Op Ed Argues Women Should Be Banned From Military

Read the article by Mackubin Thomas Owens here:

As Sen. James Webb (D., Va.), who was awarded the Navy Cross for valor as a Marine officer in Vietnam, wrote in the Weekly Standard in 1997, “There is no greater or more natural bias than that of an individual toward a beloved. And few emotions are more powerful, or more distracting, than those surrounding the pursuit of, competition for, or the breaking off of amorous relationships.”

The destructive impact of such relationships on unit cohesion can be denied only by ideologues. Does a superior order his or her beloved into danger? If he or she demonstrates favoritism, what is the consequence for unit morale and discipline? What happens when jealousy rears its head? These are questions of life and death, and they help to explain why open homosexuality and homosexual behavior traditionally have been considered incompatible with military service.

Err, wait, hold on a second. Got confused there — I guess he’s not trying to ban women from the military after all, he’s just trying to keep Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in force. Which is funny, because under the argument he’s using here, allowing the ladies into the exclusive homosocial bonding zone of the military should apparently have resulted in the destruction of our armed forces.

But we have had women serving in the military since 1941. (Actually, they’ve been serving in the U.S. forces much long than that, dating as far back as to when it was the U.S. forces were only known as the Continental Army. It’s just that women have just only been able to serve openly since WWII). And yet, as far as I’m aware, our military is still considered to be at least moderately impressive in its size and capabilities.

So we have 70 years of experience with having in the ranks military personnel who are openly attracted to their fellow service members, and yet we have no proof that there is any accompanying reduction in military effectiveness. But even allowing for the sake of argument that having people in the military that, theoretically, could be in relationships with each other might cause “[f]avoritism and double standards [that] are deadly to philia and its associated phenomena—cohesion, morale and discipline,” the military has well developed institutional methods for addressing their potential threat.

First, the military has strict rules on fraternization for this very reason. You do not have to be romantically in love with someone to hesitate before selecting them for a dangerous mission; good old friendship will cause the exact same problem. The military therefore takes steps to prevent service members from developing relationships that might undermine the normal command structure. Having a “absolutely no dating anyone under your command” rule would involve no change from current policy.

Second, the issues Owens brings up all are strictly combat related issues. And yet we are kicking people out of the military who serve as interpreters, cooks, or accountants. At the very least, Owens should be advocating for DADT to be reduced so that it applies solely to combat positions, instead of arguing for a stupidly broad blanket prohibition. Because Owens is unable to offer even one argument for why having a gay interpreter is a problem for the military.

What infuriates me the most about Owens’ oped — and the arguments of others like him — is the naked bad faith of their claims. Owens writes,

There are many foolish reasons to exclude homosexuals from serving in the armed services. One is simple antihomosexual bigotry.

But the only justification Owen proffers that makes any coherent sense is an argument premised upon uncontrollable bigotry in the ranks. I much prefer those who simply argue that “they shouldn’t have to shower with gays because that’s gross.” Because that is what Owens’ argument actually is, although he disguises it with a thin cover of irritating and inconsistent rhetoric.

Because there is one fundamental fact that those arguing for the continuation of DADT almost uniformly fail to acknowledge: gays are not banned from the military, nor is anyone trying to implement such a ban. There are gays in the military right now — always have been, always will be, and that is not subject to change.

So with that in mind, Owens’ argument, stripped down, is the following:

  1. It is unquestionable that gays currently and legally do serve in our armed forced.
  2. However, having gays in the military causes problems X, Y, and Z.
  3. Therefore, we should not allow it to be known who in the military is gay.

There is an obvious gap in the chain of logic here, to put it mildly. Gays cause problems, therefore we should make it so we cannot know who the ones likely to cause problems are? This makes no sense. If they are going to be there anyway, shouldn’t we at least be able to flag the potential trouble spots?

But Owens is not actually unaware of this flaw in his logic. Although he hides it with poetic entreatments to honor and comradery, what Owens is truly arguing is this:

  1. Gay people may or may not directly cause problems for the military. But they are not severe problems, because if they were, people who are against DADT would be arguing to exclude women from the military. Or, failing that, they would not be arguing so strenuously for policies that allow these threats to enter into the military and yet prohibit us from identifying and locating them, therefore preventing us from taking steps to reduce the risk.
  2. But whether or not gays are unable to carry out the military’s mission in the same manner that a straight person is, having gays serve openly in the military may (note the may: I have yet to see anyone produce empirical evidence that they actually do) create conflict and morale issues with other service members that were not there before. Just like women, non-whites, and people who are extremely socially awkward, the presence of gays may cause a decrease in unit cohesiveness.
  3. Therefore, in order to prevent the precious, delicate flowers that are our service men and women from experiencing any discomfort, which might cause a decrease in morale, we should force everyone in the military who is gay to live their life in the closet, so as not to cause those military members who are prejudiced from experiencing mental stress.

Of course, there are two possibilities here.* Owens’ arguments may just be the apology for ‘antihomosexual bigotry’ that they appear to be. Or, instead, Owens might honestly believe that allowing people who are romantically attracted to each other to serve in the armed forces is destroying the military. However, Owens knows there is not a chance in the world that we will go back to the dark ages of banning women from the military, so instead he draws his line in the sand at maintaining DADT. Although DADT will not directly prevent the problems that having gays in the military causes, Owens believes it will make life so uncomfortable, unhappy, and stressful for gay service members that they will be greatly reduced in number, thus decreasing the threat posed by them.

But neither of these rationales are worth listening to. The first argument is too hopelessly inconsistent — by allowing non-whites and women into the military, we have already made clear that our military will be integrated, and that the individual prejudices of service members is not a justification for prohibiting an entire class of people from serving. The second argument is too dishonest — if you do believe that gays qua gays are destroying the military, don’t advocate for policies that decrease the quality of life of gay service members in order to try to force them out. Be honest about your position and simply try to prohibit them all together.

Neither argument is a suitable basis for military policy.

Finally, even if we decide that, due to the unique nature and purpose of the military, we must allow discrimination and prejudice to be the basis of decisions governing military operations, the onus should always be on those in favor of discrimination to show that there are benefits to continued bigotry.

This means that before a policy like DADT could exist, there must be, at a minimum, empirical evidence showing that allowing gays to serve openly causes decrease in military effectiveness . But not just that — you cannot look at the negatives alone. In addition to showing that DADT furthers military objectives, those in favor of legislated bigotry need to also show that the detriment caused by allowing open homosexuals to serve in the military is not outweighed by the benefits that ending DADT would have. Among these benefits are: (a) Halting the mindless expulsion of service members who have irreplaceable skill sets and extensive training that is hugely expensive to replace; (b) Improving the morale and welfare of the many gay men and women currently serving in the armed forces; and, finally, (c) Acknowledging our nation’s dedication to the idea of civilian control over the military, by acceding to a political decision that is supported by the vast majority of American citizens.


*To be fair, there is a third possibility as well. You could also argue that gays are so inherently immoral, perverted, and malformed that they are simply not qualified to serve in the military. But because people who tack to this line of argument are incapable of being reasoned with, I will not bother to address it here.

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