Don't ask, don't tell

Nov 30, 2010

Tim Haggerty, a contributor to the original Rand study that resulted in the adaption of the policy currently known as 'Don't ask, don't tell' and a policy analyst and historian whose research examines the social impact of wartime service, will be online Tuesday, Nov. 30, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss 'Don't ask, don't tell" and today's release of the Pentagon report on how ending the ban on gays in the military might impact troop readiness and morale.

Haggerty currently directs the Humanities Scholars Program at Carnegie Mellon University.

My name is Tim Haggerty, and I am a historian at Carnegie Mellon University.  In 1993, I was a contributor to the study published by the Rand Corporation that preceded the policy now known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  The work I completed was an overview of the policies that have been developed during the last hundred years concerning military service and same-sex behaviors.  Since then I have published widely on the topic.

When will the Senate vote on the repeal of DADT?

My understanding is that Majority Leader reid intends to bring the issue to a vote perhaps as early as next week.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told NBC's Meet the Press recently that he wants a "thorough and complete study of the effect on morale and battle effectiveness of the United States military." Do you think this study meets Sen. McCain's requirements?

My belief is that this is probably the most thorough review that could be done at this time.  No report can capture all information completely, but this appears to be a honest attempt to discuss and plan for the possibility of repeal.

Given that curently gays represent a "protected class" in terms of serving in the military.  Do you think that doing away with the 'Don't ask, dont tell' policy , in effect, doing away with a "protected class," is the first and necessary step to re-instating a "DRAFT"? Some folks should be careful of what they wish for!

I'm not quite sure what a "protected class" here means; my understanding is that gays and lesbians are asked to refrain from certain kinds of communication and behavior while in service.  But no, I don't foresee DADT being a precursor to reinstating conscription; the issue of gay and lesbian participation in the services has been relevant in both draft time and the all volunteer force.

If the don't ask don't tell law is to be continued, and considering that the law should be equal for all people, all soldiers, gay and straight, should be subject to don't ask don't tell. This would mean that conversations about one's wife, girlfriend/husband, boyfriend would need to be eliminated for straight people, as well as ensuring that spouses and significant others could not be greeted with a kiss, nor handed a flag at military funerals. I put forward this challenge to all people - soldiers and civilians, so that an understanding of the difficulty of consistently hiding this part of life can universally be understood.

But the service has always included families -- parents, siblings, adults, spouses in regard to its personnel policies.  The repeal of DADT would require a great deal of adjustment until its full impact is understood, but it seems unfeasible and untenable to remove familial involvement in the Armed Forces.

Forgive me for being blunt, but I served in the Canadian Army back in the 70s and 80s - and they have had openly gay soldiers for two decades now, as do most NATO countries that are fighting with us in Afghanistan. Many of the gay soldiers I served with as a Sergeant or Master Corporal are married, have kids, and retired after serving 20 years openly. So, why don't we just end this farce here?

1y years ago, relatively few countries had Armed Forces that allowed gay men and lesbians to serve openly.  Now, we are the anomaly: The only other NATO Force that prohibits open service is Turkey, and other countries allow open service.

Social conservatives seem hung up about a gay guy serving in a foxhole with straight guys. If a soldier is unprofessional, sexually speaking (gay or straight), that hopefully will come to light before combat and have that member ejected. We know there are gays and lesbians in the service. But in the time of DADT, how many were discharged for actually coming on to a fellow soldier (i.e. the foxhole sexual advance)? As far as I can remember, the discharges stemmed from either being outed by someone or admitting to being gay, but not a sexual advance or assault on a fellow soldier.

The data I have seen from the Servicemembers Lega Defense Fund and the Palm Center are that most separations have been initiated through intelligence operations or complaints, not from scenerios that could be seen as harrassment.

As one of the thousands of people who completed the military spouse version of the survey, I felt that many of the questions were designed to elicit anti-gay answers. There was a question asking if I would be less likely to shop at the commissary if I knew that there would be gays and lesbians there. Come on, really? I was offended by much of the survey, but more so by the fact that there was a survey at all. Since when is the military run by polling? My husband (a Marine) pointed out to me that those people worried about the Corps having to include extremely stereotypical gay men who would not fit with the warrior ethos need to remember that "girly girls" who cry over a broken nail don't become Marines just because they let women in. Marines will still be Marines, they just won't have to violate their own honor code by lying about who they are.

This is interesting; you azre the first respondent I have heard from.  I did not read the survey questionaire itself, but my understanding was that it was used to ascertain opinions among servicemembers and their families, not act as a referendum.  Any discussion of sexual orientation necessarily brings up issues of stereotypes in gender roles as well, but these are becoming less pervasive culturally over time.

Sir, I just heard about you, so I don't have time to research anything about you right now, so first I would like to know if you ever served in the military. I do know a bit about the history of DADT and how it was a political compromise. Do you think that the country has come far enough along that we no longer need this sort of compromise? Do you think that the survey that is being released today will have a significant impact on what happens regarding repeal, or do you think that most congresspersons are already set in their ways and unwilling to listen to the American people and the opinions of the troops? I am sorry that this is lengthy, but from my perspective DADT has done more to hurt unit cohesion than to help it. I understand that this probably was not the intent, but when you see your best friend, who is by all accounts a model Airman, discharged from your unit and our family, your views on DADT suddenly become a lot stronger. That does a lot to show how wrong it really is. Thank you for your time.

I have not served in the Armed Forces; I am a historian by training and my area of study is the social impact of armed services upon society in the 19th and 20th centuries.  I believe that the data of this study strongly suggest that our culture has changed to the point where the DADT compromise is no longer necessary to maintain an effective fighting force.

If almost a third of those questioned see problems and the 70 percent answering it won't be all that bad - where any asked "do you think it's a good idea to repeal" ?

As a historical analog, I think that both the racial integration of the Armed Services in the 1950s and the issues of gender equity in the 1970s onwards where intiated during periods when there was far less support for those positions than the survey results that this report proports to show.   I would imagine that with proper leadership, this change can be initiated fairly smoothly.

Do you still think DADT is the best way to deal with gays and lesbians in the service ?

I was disappointed with DADT as a compromise in 1993.  I felt that it exacterbated, or validated a condition that many gay men and lesbians had already experienced, and forced them into personally compromising positions.  I also think that our culture has changed significantly and that we are more openly accepting of gay men and women as part of our everyday lives and institutions.

I was watching John McCain's interview on the 14th where he stated an additional study was needed to determine how ending DADT would affect the morale of U.S. forces as well as battlefield effectiveness. Doesn't this study address this specifically? If not, is another study really warranted?

I believe this report should answer questions to the point where an informed vote can be made.

Can you talk about how the latest study is different from previous studies (such as the Rand study) and what it adds to the conversation?

I appears to provide far more data generated from the Armed Services themselves, and systematically examines the experiences of those separated under the DADT policy.  Prior to 1993, separation was done through administrative discharge or in courts martial; necessarily, the earlier study used historical analogies and the experiences from the few services where openly gay men and women served.

Do you find it strange that liberal media, including the Washington Post, write multiple articles on DADT with regards to "civil rights" when gays can serve as long as it is not openly and why the media runs away from writing about the impacts of gays serving openly rahter than simply address the program as a social engineering move? Not one article has been written about what happens when a gay colonel influences a private to submit to gay acts or when an openly gay sailor constantly annoys his shipmates or when a drill sergeant catches two gay marines in an act and cannot enforce any discipline? Nothing has been written about combat conditions, tight living quarters, temporary duty assignments, etc. Isn't that all part of the consideration about our combat readiness and ability to win wars rather than social engineering and so-called rights to serve openly?

I think these issues have been addressed: subordination, fraternization and unbecoming conduct are forbidden for soldiers and sailors regardless of sexual orientation.  The services have engaged in what you are referring to as "social engineering" since their inception:  the Armed Forces have selected their men and women based on a set of criteria that has altered over time, generally becoming more inclusive in terms of race, sex, or ethnicity.


I know that other countries have removed their bans on gays in the military over the last 10 to 15 years, and none had significant issues. Can you give us an idea of what we might expect in the U.S. military if the ban is repealed, based on the experiences of other countries?

I suspect that there will be a relatively quick period of adjustment.  The All volunteer force is largely comprised of young men and women who share a core set of values and can accomodate this change with the proper procedures and leadership. 

How do you think ending the ban might affect recruitment into miltiary service?

Honestly, I don't know.  I suspect that military manpower needs will be met and recruitment will be able to make any adjustments that are necessary.

Regardless of whether one believes the military should or should not make a social change that "might not be a problem", is now the time to make such a change, during two on-going wars, participated in by tens of thousands of uniformed military as well as USG civilians and an unknown number more than 100,000 contractors? If the military decides now is the time to make the change, because "we need enlistees", shouldn't the military reconsider many other disqualifications as potential enlistees, giving others a chance to serve their country in uniform? And, last, if now is the time to "make the change", would it be fair to deny anyone currently serving who objects to opening the military (say, for religious reasons, or any other reason because the rules are different than when they enlisted/were commissioned) the right to leave the service (early contract termination)...and at no loss of benefits?

These are a lot of issues.  However, it could be argued that the stressors of wartime service highlight the kind of changes that might make a fighting force more effective. DADT has come under criticism for making it difficult to recruit or maintain individual with critical skills.  If a servicemember had trouble adaptting to this new set of regulations, should repeal occur, it should be handled on a case by case basis, in my opinion, during the period of adustment referred to by Gen. Gates and Michael Mullen in their report and press conference.

Wasn't DADT a way for gays to actually serve in the military? Previous to its enactment if someone suspected you were gay/lesbian you were discharged. It's too bad that they call it discrimination today.

It was a compromise that asllowed gay men and lesbians to serve.  However, the military has studied the incidence of homosexuality within its ranks for close to 75 years, and the overwhelming preponderance of evidence has suggested that the vast majority of gay servicemembers have served honorably and without incident.

I am a retired older citizen, I served in the Army in the 1950's, there was no policy as far as I know about gays (the term wasn't gay in those days, quite frankly the term was queer.) There were at least two gay guys in our Company that made no secret of it, yet bothered no one. One of them was a good soldier, the other was an outstanding soldier. There was never any problem caused by either of them, about the only comment one ever heard was oh SGT. ----, he doesn't have family, he's a bit different. So HERE is my question to you, since you were in on the decision. Why on earth did the don't ask don't tell policy get implemented in the first place??? I suspect the military has lost a lot of potential in the ranks due to this policy for which, there was no need. Just Curious Tim

Great question.  The policy to prohibit service by gay men and women was actually only put into effect in 1980 at the end of the Carter Administration.  As you may rmember, the 1970s and early 1980s saw a series of legal challenges to exisiting regulation in the civil courts; the 1980 regulation was put into place to close those loopholes.  Prior to that, the separation of soldiers varied across services and commands much more; some received Section VIII discharges, some were court martialed, most finished their hitch.  Starting in the Cold War, however, employment in the Federal Government was restricted on the basis of sexual orientation, which led to a more heightened period of intelligence activity in the services.

Secretary Gates's strongest point was that the risk of having a federal judge overturn DADT was potentially a greater disruption than implementing the repeal in an orderly way. His viewpoint assumes that the Supreme Court will side with lower courts and change the way the military functions. With regard to drafting women in the 1980s and with regard to DADT in the 1990s, the Supreme Court said that the military is Congress' responsibility. For Gates to believe the Supreme Court will change this viewpoint there must be five votes for overturning past precedent. Which justices would vote to overturn years of precedent regarding the military, and whose vote will be the critical fifth vote to assure that DADT is repealed?

I think that Robert Gates's concern is for an orderly transition to occur if we are to repeal this policy.  As the "freeze" of the opinion issued a federal appeal court earlier this year suggested, gthe process of adjudication could occur over a number of years, in fits and statrs, until it reached the Supreme Court, making implementation of institutional change a bureaucratic nightmare.

If the military did not prohibit gays when I was younger, I might have joined (actually went to a recruiting station). I couldn't live a lie. As many of my friends also left the service early for that reason. So repeal of DADT should help those areas, although I wouldn't expect a rush of gays to join, but rather the ones who would like to but feel they can't under current policy.

As someone who grew up in a period where service by openly gay men and women was prohibited, I agree with you.  Rhetorically, I think the repeal of DADT would help gay men and women claim both the rights and responsibilities of full civic engagement.

My hope with all of this at the end of the day can be summed up in one statement, "now that we got that all cleared up, if I promise not to ask, will you promise not to tell?" I mean, do people really need to wear their sexuality on their sleeve like a badge of honor? I am very liberal and yet I think that the point of DADT is pretty salient. Sexuality is NOT a topic of discussion. It is not on the table, don't bring it up. I am a manager. When I am hiring, I ain't asking, and I don't want you telling me either. You should not be openly ANYTHING sexual in the workplace.

I think it depends on how you define sexuality.  My familial relationships are certainly salient to my everyday life, and the inability to talk about the circumstances engendered by a partnership, spouse or child might very well effect me. I have little stomach for prurient conversation in any case and agree that they should remain private.

Does rank have any effect on opposition to repealing DADT or discomfort serving with gays and lesbians? Geographic origin? Race? Religion?

Interesting question!  Secretary Gates suggested that this report might show the differences among different demographic groups, other than simply the separate branches of service; it will be well worth it to see those differences as soon as the report is published.

Do you suspect that all those who have been court-martialed/kicked out because of being outed previously will ask to get back in? How would this process be administered?

I don't know what form of redress separated servicemenbers might have, though there are advocacy groups such as the Servicemembers Legal Defence Fund who can address this more directly.  Anecdotally, I have heard of members separated under this policy who attmped to reenlist during the short period of time when Judge Phillips' injunction was in effect.

I'm curious as to why DADT strictly applies to the military as opposed to any other cohesive working unit. I understand that a high-stress environment such as a combat zone necessitates a certain level of camaraderie and mutual understanding among soldiers, but what about medical practice? Teams of emergency medical technicians? How do policy makers draw the line between needing this level of examination of soldiers versus people in other occupations?

Good question.  In 1993, other high stress occupations were examined by the earlier Rand study to see to whether sexual orientation had any impact upon group functioning.  I know police and fire personnel were surveyed; i don't know if EMT were.  The conclusion was that even under those stresses, people functioned well in task completion regardless of any differences in opinion or orientation.  DADT acknowleged that gay servicemenbers had the capability of task completion and the discipline to remain in the serve, but it also took into account the cultural and institutional differences that existed in the Armed Services at that time.


Mr. Haggerty -- Thanks for taking questions and for your work. Time and time again Sen. McCain and others opposed to lifting the ban have said that they'll listen to what the military says on this issue, only to dismiss military opinion which they don't agree with, followed by the same old tired lines about why the policy shouldn't be changed, etc., etc. In my view, Sen. McCain has lost all credibility on this issue, but is this report likely to have any impact on breaking that cycle? In other words, does it give him (and others with similar positions) political cover to change their minds?

It will be interesting, certainly, to see what Senator McCain's reaction to the study is now that it has been released and commented upon.  Sen. Lindsey Graham has already predicted that the policy won't be repealed, so we will have to keep a close eye on the hearing that are scheduled to see if they have any impact on this political process.

Most gay people I know are liberal and anti-military and anti-war. Why would gay people served when they want to cut the defense budget by 90 percent?

This is interesting.  When I was first made aware of the political issue of openly gay servicemenbers, I woud have probably agreed with you.  But over time, I have come to see the service of men and women as a symbol for open participation in American civic society; it is not a choice I may have made for myself if the opportunity was available at that time,  but is one I can certainly support as part of a nation's collective duty.

Do we have an estimate of how much this policy has cost the U.S.? A while back I read of a servicemember separated under DADT and then being hired by a contractor and working with his old unit as a civilian doing the same job for much more money.

I do not have the current cost figures on hand, but i do know that this has ben tabulated by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network on their website and in all probability, current figures will be included in the report issued today.  During the 1980s, when this policy first went into effect, the average annual cost to the service for separation of servicemembers and the subsequents costs of retraining their replacements was estimated at approximately $40 million annually, with approximately 1400 separation occurring a year during that time.

I'd like to thank everyone today for writing into the Washington Post.  Our hour is up. but it's been a great time answering your questions. 

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Tim Haggerty
Tim Haggerty is a policy analyst and historian. His research examines the social impact of wartime service, and he currently directs the Humanities Scholars Program at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1993, he was a contributor to the original Rand study that resulted, finally, in the adaption of the policy currently known as 'Don't ask, don't tell.'
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