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Op-Ed

Equality in the Military:
"A Social Experiment?"
by
Wes Davey, MSG, USAR (Ret.)

It wasnít a surprise to anyone when the GOP presidential candidates all agreed that gays and lesbians should not be allowed to serve openly in our military - their position comes straight from the Republican Party play book.

Still, two of the candidates Ė former Gov. Mitt Romney and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani Ė took their opposition to repealing "Donít Ask, Donít Tell" a step further by asserting that "social experiments should not be conducted in time of war"; which should have left the 79% of Americans who favor repeal wondering how Mitt and Rudy turned "equality" into a "social experiment."

Political pundits reported those comments made in the Manchester debate, but few seemed willing to challenge either part of that flawed assertion, the "social experiments", or "in time of war" - neither of which is supported by our history or by the reality of todayís military. Mitt and Rudy need to look no further than the history of World War II to learn that "social experiments" (giving "equality" to those without) in "time of war" does work and has helped our past war efforts.

During WWII conservative politicians and War Department generals alike were skeptical that Japanese Americans could be trusted to serve in our military. With patriotic zeal and a desire to prove they deserved equality, young Nisei men eagerly joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team ("Go For Broke"), and then served with great distinction in the European theatre of war.

Those same politicians and generals questioned whether African Americans had the intelligence and the guts to fly planes in critical war-time missions. Their questions and skepticism were quickly put to rest when the Tuskegee Airmen finished their training and began flying in the flak filled skies over Europe. The Tuskegee Airmenís example of outstanding service during WWII was surely a catalyst to the integration of our military not long after the war.

Navajo-speaking Native Americans enlisted in the Marine Corps in order to use their unique and virtually undecipherable native language to help defeat the enemy in the Pacific theatre of war. Despite prior skepticism of this "social experiment", no one can doubt the great value of the "Code Talkers" as they served in missions fought by the Corps on those faraway islands. One can only guess how many American lives were saved by this "social experiment."

The "Go For Broke" regiment, the "Tuskegee Airmen", and the "Navajo Code Talkers" are all now revered in the annals of American military history. In their own ways, they demonstrated to the skeptics hiding in the hallways of Congress and the generals cloistered in the corners of the War Department that they were wrong.

Those who object to repealing "Donít Ask, Donít Tell" would argue that such repeal canít be compared to bringing equality to Japanese Americans, African Americans, and Native American during WWII. They then rely on their often repeated contention that straight service members wouldnít feel comfortable serving with gay service members, enlistments would plummet, and the strength of our military would be in jeopardy. Replace "gay service members" with "African Americans" and you have the same arguments that were used 60 years ago when the integration of our armed forces was being discussed.

Further, our allies around the world heard these same arguments a decade or more ago when they addressed this issue. Great Britain, Israel, Germany, Spain, Australia, France, and many other American allies set aside the homophobic fears advocated by some, and then allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly. The experiences of our allies have unequivocally shown those prior homophobic fears to have been unfounded.

And yet there are some in Congress and in the Pentagon who would like us to believe that the attitudes of our service members are different from those of our allies, and that chaos would ensue if gays served openly.

The reality is that younger service members today donít carry the same homophobic prejudices of the older generations, as evidenced by a much quoted Zogby poll: 73% of returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan are comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians.

Finally, the "in time of war" needs to be addressed further here.

President George W. Bush and his followers have often stated that the "War on Terror" will last for decades to come Ė perhaps 50 years or longer. Indeed, this war on terror has now been identified as the "Long War."

Do these candidates credibly believe our country will sit on this issue for another half-century? Does it make any difference to them that most Americans believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to openly serve in our military?

Those of us who support repeal are not going to wait that long for equality. At most, we begrudgingly acknowledge the political reality that "Donít Ask, Donít Tell" will not be repealed during the Bush administration. But longer than that Ė no; we will not wait longer. And come 2009, the new president and the 111th Congress will repeal "Donít Ask, Donít Tell." Of that there can be no doubt, no skepticism.