Ask. Tell.

The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has been in the news lately. President Obama wants it repealed. I agree, though I disagree with him as to why.

The law, as it stands, is incoherent. It begins with the assumption that it is detrimental to the military to have homosexuals in the ranks (let us accept this axiom arguendo, for now; we shall revisit it below). It then imposes an artificial veil of ignorance as to whether this undesirable state of affairs actually obtains. If that veil should in some way happen to be lifted, however, the military is then free to discharge the party thus exposed.

The absurdity is obvious enough if we imagine this reasoning applied to other military procedures. (Please keep in mind throughout that solely for the sake of argument we have accepted the premise, obviously implicit in the existing law, that the military is better off without homosexuals in the ranks.)

Let’s say that the Army procures rifles from various suppliers. Clearly it is in the Army’s, and by extension the nation’s, interest to have the most accurate rifles it can get. Let’s say also that some manufacturers make rifles that are less accurate than others, but look just the same. Finally, let us propose a rule that makes it illegal to test shipments of rifles for their accuracy. The only way rifles can be rejected is if the manufacturer reveals that they are defective, or if the defects are revealed by a third party — or become obvious in the field.

Crazy, right? Obviously such a policy would impose an unjustifiable cost upon the fitness of our military, and no sane person would ever sign it into law. But if we accept its implicit premise, this is just what “don’t ask, don’t tell” does. So why does this cockamamie law exist? It is based on a fundamental, and all-too-pervasive, liberal misunderstanding of the role of the military: a misunderstanding that extends also to a great many other government agencies — for example fire and police departments — and indeed to government itself.

This inverted perspective on the part of modern-day liberals leapt out at me during President Obama’s recent State Of The Union address, in which he said the following:

This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.

Notice: the “right” to serve. Note that the President was not attempting to persuade us that there is such a right; he simply assumed that such a “right” clearly and uncontroversially exists, and that it was being “denied” to homosexuals. I sat bolt upright when I heard this, and fully expected that it would be pounced on during the news-channel post-mortems, but it wasn’t. Nobody seemed to have noticed.

This is a very clear example of the proper function, to the liberal mind, of of all agencies of government: they exist not only, or even primarily, for the limited and specific purposes they were created to serve — which would mean that they should be optimized for those purposes and no other — but must also serve as publicly funded venues for the self-actualization of individual Americans, even if performing such a function is to the detriment of their original purpose.

On what possible basis, other than this, would anyone imagine that there is a “right” to serve in the Army? Indeed, why even have an army? The very notion of maintaining a standing army was looked on with considerable distaste by the Founders, who saw it as a financial and organizational burden, and a potential threat to liberty. Certainly they would all have agreed that if a national military force must be assembled, the only acceptable criteria for its composition and disposition would be those of military efficacy. And those criteria are still, at least partially, operative today: there remain various qualifications — of age, fitness, intelligence, etc. — that must be met in order to serve. I, for example, have no doubt that if, at 53, I were to apply for recruitment I should be turned away. But where, then, is my “right to serve”? In my case, nobody seems to mind that I have no such” right”; I am simply too old. Presumably, then, at least some of the criteria still in effect are there in order to select those recruits that will lead to optimum military efficiency. But given that maintaining a standing military force is an enormously costly and burdensome enterprise, and one that we would prefer not to have to undertake at all, why would we not make the optimization of its composition and operation our only criterion for recruitment? Why should we consider anything else?

We do so now only because of this topsy-turvy understanding of the proper role of the military. The current, absurd policy is an attempt to make it serve two purposes at once: its original, proper role as the guarantor of our nation’s security, and its new, altogether unintended role as a publicly funded jobs-and-social-outreach program. These are utterly incommensurate functions, and the discomfort over this schizophrenic “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is entirely the result of the tension between them. President Obama is quite right: it should be done away with. But nobody, gay or straight, has a “right” to serve in the military. The idea is absurd.

So, then: should homosexuals be allowed to serve in the armed forces? If it makes for a stronger military, then yes indeed they should. If not, then no. It’s as simple as that. I realize that this may be a difficult question to answer, but we should make a sincere and serious effort to resolve it, as empirically and objectively as we can, without worrying about howls of “discrimination” from people who cannot understand why we even have a military in the first place. If, after careful study and frank discussion, we conclude that the answer is yes, then we should admit gays freely and openly, and accord them full respect and martial honor. And if the answer is no, then we should not be afraid to list “heterosexuality” as a necessary qualification like any other. But the present arrangement is as infantile as it is insulting.

I want to be quite clear that I take no position one way or another here as to what the answer to that question shall be; it is beyond my expertise to answer it. (There is no need to remind me of similar controversies regarding race.) My only point is that the sole consideration for the admission of any person, or class of people, into the armed services ought to be the optimization of the military itself. That this is not immediately self-evident to all is itself a symptom of our political and cultural effeminization and decline.

Related content from Sphere


  1. “… self-evident to all …”

    I completely agree with your analysis and your final observation, though I am more pessimistic. Not only is it not self-evident to all, but I suspect it is not self-evident to most. Sigh …

    Posted February 2, 2010 at 6:52 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Thanks, Henry, and welcome. I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.

    Posted February 2, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  3. bob koepp says

    Malcolm –
    Given how the notion of ‘rights’ functions in positive law in our fair land, your suggestion that there is no right to serve in the military is bonkers. In our system, unless something is forbidden, it’s permitted. And if it’s permitted, each of us has a right to give it a whirl.

    On the other hand, I think that we might need some careful study and frank discussion about whether allowing hazel eyed folk to enlist would make for a stronger military. Nah, that gets priorities and burdens of argument exactly backwards.

    Posted February 2, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Sadly, Bob, you are right: this is indeed how a great many people imagine the concept of “rights” these days — including, as we have seen, the President himself.

    It’s utterly daft, of course: it is not forbidden for me to be, say, the White House chef, but I would hardly claim that I have a “right” to be.

    Posted February 2, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  5. JK says

    Remember the Spartans.

    Posted February 2, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    Don’t get me started, JK. I’m a Wolverines fan.

    Posted February 2, 2010 at 9:53 pm | Permalink
  7. JK says

    There is a “tie-in.”

    Posted February 4, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Permalink