Saturday, March 6, 2010

NYT Op-Ed Defends Sexism and Homphobia in the Military

The New York Times has published an op-ed written by Merrill McPeak, a former Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Although McPeak's essay has the appearance of reasoned debate, it cannot escape his narrowness and bigotry.

McPeak was a military chief when Congress passed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." President Clinton vowed to lift the military's ban on "homosexuals" altogether, but a loud and homophobic reaction led to the DADT compromise. McPeak's essay simply reiterates the same unsubstantiated claim he made over a decade ago -- that "allowing open homosexuality in the ranks would probably damage the cohesiveness of our combat units."

Contrary to Peak's mischaracterization, lifting the ban would not allow "open homosexuality" in the ranks. Instead, it would permit out gays and lesbians to serve.

McPeak refuses to accept this issue as a civil rights question. Although he rightfully argues that legal standards often allow the military to utilize different standards than civilian society, this does not make DADT a rational or lawful policy. Even in civilian employment, persons can be excluded for traits that are validly linked to job performance. So, for example, a person who cannot walk probably could not legitimately argue that he or she should qualify as a firefighter or as a member of a SWAT team.

Homosexuality, by contrast, is not linked to performance, and McPeak's essay does not even try to make the connection. Therefore, his comparison of military and civilian standards is unpersuasive.

Instead of showing that individual gays and lesbians are unfit for military service, McPeak makes the tired assertion -- refuted by several studies -- that the mere presence of openly gay and lesbian servicemembers will undermine cohesion among the troops. In particular, he says it will degrade the military's "warrior culture":
Armies have to care about what succeeds in war. Sometimes they win or lose because of material factors, because one side has the greater numbers or better equipment. But armies are sure to lose if they pay no attention to the ideas that succeed in battle. Unit cohesion is one such idea. We know, or ought to, that warriors are inspired by male bonding, by comradeship, by the knowledge that they survive only through relying on each other. To undermine cohesion is to endanger everyone.

I know some will see these ingredients of the military lifestyle as a sort of absurd, tough-guy game played by overgrown boys. But to prepare warriors for a life of hardship, the military must remain a kind of adventure, apart from the civilian world and full of strange customs. To be a fighter pilot or a paratrooper or a submariner is to join a self-contained, resolutely idealistic society, largely unnoticed and surprisingly uncorrupted by the world at large.

I do not see how permitting open homosexuality in these communities enhances their prospects of success in battle. Indeed, I believe repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” will weaken the warrior culture at a time when we have a fight on our hands.
McPeak uses the exact same arguments that have justified the exclusion of people of color, women and gays and lesbians from the military. In fact, his view that "male bonding" is a key ingredient of a successful military would justify the exclusion of women -- even though their presence in "combat" situations today is greater than at any period in history.

I find it odd that McPeak apparently believes that so-called "warriors," whom the nation expects to defend the USA, invade other countries, put their lives and health at risk, and to abandon families and loved ones, would become blithering idiots around out gays and lesbians. Perhaps McPeak is simply projecting his own homophobia upon the nation's "warriors."

1 comment:

Indra said...

Thanks for bringing attention to this issue - it is good to see people calling McPeak out on his inconsistencies. A lot of other bloggers have also pointed to The Palm Center's scathing response to the op-ed, if you'd like another good read.

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