Patrick B. Pexton (whomever he is…the article fails to make clear) writes in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post that gays join the military for the same reasons as straights, yet live with the fear that they could be outed and discharged every single day: 

Homosexuals say that the crucible of basic training, the hardships of military life and the stress of combat allowed them to discover, understand and accept who exactly they were. War is an ugly business. It forces people to look deep within to find reserves of strength they didn’t know they had. They quickly begin to see themselves, and the world, squarely for who and what they are.

For the vast majority of homosexuals in the services, military life gave them the courage to acknowledge that yes, I am brave, I am masculine and I am also gay. They, too, live every day knowing an enemy’s bullet can abruptly end their lives. But they live with the added fear that at any moment a fellow soldier could rat them out for their sexual orientation and end their military career. These are not cowards.

There is some truth to the idea that servicemembers often join to prove their masculinity.  I saw it in spades when I was in the military–there were legions of short officers trying to compensate for inadequacies by becoming the next Napoleon. 

But the idea that gay servicemembers live with the fear of being ratted out is patently false.  The policy is that the military won’t ask about a sevicemember’s sexuality so long as they don’t brazenly flaunt it.  In practice, it means that homosexual advances towards a non-gay servicemember could result in a discharge if the non-homosexual member complains, but that’s the whole point behind the policy.  The only way a gay servicemember could have their sexuality ratted out is if they do it to themselves.  Gay servicemembers know when they sign up that the military will leave them alone so long as there is no homosexual hanky-panky directed towards other servicemembers.  Which would anyway be sexual harassment if it involved two heterosexuals, which could also be cause for discharge. 

The hyperbole in so much of this debate has been, like this piece, utterly over the top.  With only two puny low-level combat engagements going on about now, very few servicemembers “live every day knowing that an enemy’s bullet can abruptly end their lives”.  There are lots of ways to die, but the odds that an enemy bullet will kill any individual servicemember is probably a good deal lower than the odds that a gangbanger in LA will die by a bullet fired from the gun of a rival gang member. 

Don’t ask, don’t tell has been equated, ad nauseam, to the civil rights struggle for blacks, and in this piece, to the acceptance of women in the military.  Gay rights do not equate in either instance, and particularly not in the context of military service.   Gays simply don’t face any of the same sorts of discrimination as once faced by blacks, never mind women.  With whom one desires sexual relations is a personal matter, that need not be shared with anyone.  Being black or female is pretty much impossible to hide.   The only restriction gays face, and really ever have, is being open about their homosexuality.   There have been times and places in the US where homosexual behaviors were criminalized.  But there has never been much effort or success at enforcing laws that proscribe behaviors between consenting adults behind closed doors, so homosexual behavior, though often illegal, was almost never prosecuted.  In any event, all those sorts of laws were effectively overturned by the US Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.  New York City’s Halloween Parade had routinely made a mockery of them years before.

If the US faced an existential threat, which we haven’t since the old Soviet Union disintegrated in the early nineties, the US military maybe wouldn’t be considered such an ideal place for performing social experiments.  The military ostensibly exists to defend the country (or should), yet there is very little right now to defend against.  So, instead, it has become something of a laboratory for performing the social experiments of ideological progressives.  Or, at least it has become a laboratory for hosting social experiments that also does the occasional double duty as a mercenary force for angst-filled, existential American presidents.  The US military is now an institution that has become as muddled and unclear in its purposes as the public schools, which have so many social experiments foisted upon them by the chattering do gooders until their mission of teaching reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic gets nearly completely lost in the white noise of the education bureaucracies grown up to service the experiments.  Fortunately, for now, none of the military’s ongoing missions have much immediacy so far as national survival is concerned.  At the moment, we can afford to use the military as a rarefied sociology laboratory, at least until the bill comes due for having an education system that exists for everything except educating children to survive in the world.  Then our uniformed social laboratory might need to be capable of more than just performing social experiments, as our waning economic strength makes defending the borders something of a higher priority for the military than providing research fodder for sociology Ph.D’s.

Try as I might, I can’t muster much dander either way for keeping or getting rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.  Getting rid of it presents some logistical challenges:  Since barracks are generally segregated male and female, presumably because of the latent sexual desires that might ignite by dint of close proximity, how to deal with openly homosexual servicemembers?  A separate barracks for them?  But each gay servicemember assigned to such a barracks would be like a rooster in a hen house, surrounded by potential sexual partners.  There is no easy answer.  But I’d say we ought to ditch the policy if for no other reason than it would rob the gay lobby of its rights-assertion prerogatives.  Along the way, give the gays the right to eviscerate their happily non-committed lives with marriage.  What else  could they possibly want once they can be openly homosexual and married while serving in the US military?  Perhaps then we can get them to shut up. 

But I doubt it.  Victimology is time-honored American pastime, with each victim group competing with the other for status as the most oppressed.  An episode comes to mind of ABC’s Modern Family where the male gay couple with an adopted daughter thought they were a cinch to get their baby in to the exclusive day care (because of their unique status), only to have their victimology trumped by a lesbian couple in which one of the partners was disabled.   The hilarity really began when one of the male gays tried to trump the disabled lesbian by claiming to be Native American.  And always remember, truth is stranger than fiction.