Friday, June 27, 2008

Repealing Don't ask, Don't tell is Fundamental to Freedom

Last December the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes featured a story about Don’t ask, Don’t tell – the misnomer people commonly use for the Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the Armed Forces. Correspondent Lesley Stahl spoke to a number of gay veterans who had served in the US Armed Forces. She also spoke to one soldier who appeared on camera while still serving in the Middle East. Yes, he spoke out publicly about his sexual orientation while still in the military. His name was Darren Manzella.

After completing their tour in the Middle East, Manzella and his unit returned to Fort Hood, Texas. Over six months since speaking out on national television, Manzella was finally discharged under the policy earlier this month. Yet another waste of talent, training, experience and all the money invested in giving him that talent, training and experience. Besides being a waste of money, the current law is an unnecessary assault on personal liberties.

The rationale behind the current law is that the presence of a known homosexual service member would disrupt the military unit's morale and cohesion. In other words, straight people and gay people can't work together to accomplish a mission. In the past fifteen years, since the law was debated and codified, there has been no evidence whatsoever to support this rationale. The case of Darren Manzella and numerous others actually provide quite a body of evidence that the rationale is completely wrong.

Congress and the courts have given the military a lot of discretion when it comes to regulating their own activities. And sometimes that includes regulations that would be unacceptable in civilian society. In particular, judges recognize that they may know very little about what is necessary to train and lead an army, so they let the army commanders decide what is best so long as it isn't too extreme. But the case of Darren Manzella makes me think about why Congress felt it was necessary to create this law, instead of leaving it in the hands of the military commanders.

Part of my outlook on life - and what attracted me to the Libertarian Party - is a sincere belief in the worth of the individual. That each one of us is valuable in some way. And when I was a sergeant in the Army, I tried to look at my soldiers that way. They were all able to do a variety of tasks, but some were simply better at doing certain tasks. I could assign a soldier according to his strengths in order to more effectively accomplish our mission. If we were in training, I could assign a soldier according to his weaknesses, so that he could get better.

No matter how much uniformity you try to instill in soldiers, they are always and will always be individuals. A common mission brings them together so that they may apply their individual strengths. The key to building a successful squad or section in the Army is a lot like building a successful (and free) nation - you rely on and exploit the strengths of the individual. Successful military leaders know this. They also know that you cannot crush the individual because crushing the individual also means crushing his strengths.

Successful military leaders want to retain those service members who have demonstrated their strengths, but when one of those service members happens to be gay, they have no say in the matter. Like Darren Manzella, and more than 12,000 other former service members, gay Americans who are honest about their sexual orientation are forced out of the service.

The public's opinion about gays in the military has changed dramatically over the past fifteen years. And the officers and NCOs in our military have shifted as well. Few of them will openly declare their support for gay soldiers, but, like Darren Manzella's commander, they will openly ignore a good soldier's sexual orientation for as long as possible. Time is ripe, the supporting rationale is weak and we should prepare to make a decisive blow for liberty.

Many will say that Don't ask, Don't tell shouldn't be a priority, but how can we advance liberty for all gay Americans when there are thousands of gay American soldiers who still cannot even come out of the closet without retribution?