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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 30, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 52
DADT repeal one year later
Nathaniel Frank on understanding the politics of paranoia
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DADT repeal one year later
Nathaniel Frank on understanding the politics of paranoia

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Last week marked a full year since Congress passed and President Obama signed the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010.' It also marks three months since the new policy of open Gay service went into effect in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

So far, so good - not one major incident has been reported.

'For years, defenders of anti-Gay exclusion in the military have claimed that equal treatment was incompatible with a strong military,' wrote Nathaniel Frank, author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America, for the Huffington Post this week. 'For nearly as many years, researchers pointed out that there was no evidence to support this claim that letting Gays serve openly would harm cohesion, recruitment, or readiness, and that all the data actually showed the opposite: discrimination and dishonesty were what undermined the military; equal treatment strengthened respect for military law, helped expand the pool of qualified recruits, and removed an impetus for harassment and denigration that are anathema to good order and discipline.'

Now, one year after DADT repeal, Frank asks, 'So how do we assess the change, and equally important, now that it's behind us, does it even matter anymore?'

Frank says that during the years he spent researching and writing about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' he frequently pointed out that when other countries lifted their bans, nothing bad happened. But people weren't convinced that the same would hold true here.

'As my colleague Aaron Belkin has theorized, in the U.S., fear and anxiety about change had swelled into full-blown paranoia,' he said. 'And this sentiment was being exploited and inflamed by political opportunists. There is even firsthand evidence that military and cultural leaders exaggerated the threat to unit cohesion throughout the debate over 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' in an effort to give credibility to what was, at bottom, simple prejudice.'

This is why assessing the ultimate impact of ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' matters enormously.

'Throughout our history, opponents of equal treatment have insisted that it would wreak havoc on society, indeed that it would cause such grave disruptions that equality was an unacceptable threat to civilization,' said Frank. 'This 'disruption' theory was wielded against African Americans, immigrants, women, Gays and Lesbians, and Transgender people, to name a few. It is perhaps the sharpest tool in the arsenal of people who refuse to rise above passions and prejudice, but who know that they can't win their argument using religious and moral dogma alone. So they deploy arguments that sound secular and pragmatic - equality will somehow harm kids, undermine the family, destroy civilization - to mask what really amounts to feelings of discomfort, resentment, or simple opposition to sharing first-class citizenship.'

According to Frank, the 'disruption' theory was exactly what was applied - and finally defeated - in the effort to keep Gay people from serving openly in uniform.

'For years, we heard that lifting the ban would undermine cohesion, spur a mass exodus of troops from service, hurt military families, and actually cost lives, that it would disrupt our defenses, weaken our country, and threaten civilization,' he points out. 'Yet the ban ended three months ago, with little fanfare. Were all the naysayers wrong? Have any of them been held accountable? And will opponents of equality going forward get away with using the same 'disruption' theory to convince policymakers to oppose full equality for LGBT and other Americans?'

'Because that's what they're trying,' he continued. 'We hear that letting Gay couples marry will disrupt the social fabric of American life, undermine marriage, kill a 'culture of life,' dry up the Western population, and threaten our civilization. If this is what was said about Gay people serving openly (which it was), and if none of it happened, then the lesson is monumental: a culture of anxiety has become a politics of paranoia, which has pulled the wool over our collective eyes in service to maintaining an unjust status quo. Will we let it happen again and again and again? Will anyone be held accountable for steering us so terribly wrong?'

Next spring, Frank says, he will co-author a study for the Palm Center to assess the question of how DADT repeal has affected the military, and the Pentagon will be doing its own version of the same.

In the meantime, Frank has released a provisional framework for evaluating the change. The report, 'Accountability and DADT,' documents 60 of the main predictions of disruption that would allegedly result from openly Gay service, and the names of the people who made them.

'Prejudice is not illegal. Neither is paranoia or its political exploitation,' concludes Frank. 'But accountability is essential to justice - past, present, and future.'

'The next time you have a discussion about the costs and benefits of equal treatment, remember (whatever your position) what history shows: opponents of equality always claim it will disrupt society; almost always, it doesn't,' he said. 'If this holds true for ending DADT, will the naysayers have the courage to say, 'I was wrong?'

The following are some notable predictions from Frank's report:



'[Lifting the ban] may even prove decisive to the viability of the all-volunteer force. That viability may, in turn, determine our ability to avoid in the years ahead - as we have for the past four decades - a return to conscription to meet our requirements for warriors in those conflicts.'

-Frank Gaffney, Jr., Center for Security Policy, 2011.



'I hope that when we pass this legislation that we will understand that we are doing great damage, and we could possibly and probably - as the commandant of the Marine Corps said and I've been told by literally thousands of members of the military - harm the battle effectiveness, which is so vital to the support, to the survival of our young men and women in the military.'

-Sen. John McCain, 2010. '[Surveys suggest that if the ban is lifted, a minimum of] 24,000 current members of the armed forces might be lost over and above normal discharge attrition in a one-to-three year period... Because these personnel would be completing one or more terms of service, they would, in fact, represent a hemorrhage of mature, skilled losses from the professional ranks. This is an enormous risk to the viability of our armed forces.' -General Carl Mundy, former commandant of the Marine Corps, 2010, in a letter addressing Congress. 'When your life hangs on the line, you don't want anything distracting. ... Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives. ... Assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level.' -General James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, 2010, discussing his reasons for opposing openly Gay service. 'The core values of the military profession would be seen by many to have changed fundamentally if homosexuals were allowed to serve. This would undermine institutional loyalty and the moral basis for service, sacrifice, and commitment.' -Military Working Group on homosexuality in the military, 1993 (the military's official 1993 report on ending LGB exclusion). '[Openly Gay service would be] prejudicial to good order and discipline.' -General Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1992.

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Winning our fight in 2011
A monumental year for LGBT equality

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SGN Exclusive Interview: Freedom to Marry's Thalia Zepatos
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DADT repeal one year later
Nathaniel Frank on understanding the politics of paranoia

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