Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Is Bigotry A National Security Concern?

I recently completed a two-part series on China (here and here) as my contribution to the cross-blog forum hosted by the Daily Demarche. In those posts, I argued that the reckless tax-cut-and-spend policies pursued by the Bush administration, as well as their reluctance to pursue environmentally sound efforts toward developing alternative fuels, have compromised our national security vis a vis China.

An article in the latest edition of The Atlantic (scroll to bottom of page) raises the specter that our own bigotry may be negatively impacting national security in other areas of the globe as well.

It's debatable whether kicking homosexuals out of the military is good for unit cohesion and morale, as the policy's defenders claim - but there's no question that it's bad for the military budget, and probably for military readiness as well. According to a report from the GAO, the Department of Defense may have had to spend as much as $95 million to recruit and train replacements for the 9,488 service members discharged for coming out in various ways since "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" took effect, in 1994. In addition, 757 of those discharged were in "critical occupations" - many of them intelligence-related jobs such as "voice interceptor" and "interpreter/translator." (The report found that 322 of those discharged could claim knowledge of important foreign languages such as Arabic, Farsi, and Korean.) [emphasis added]
Clearly there are cultural reasons why certain members of the military community would bristle at the thought of serving with openly homosexual soldiers, though they undoubtedly serve with closeted soldiers as is and always have, but this type of bigotry is interfering with our ability to tap the best and the brightest needed to combat terrorism and pursue other vital national security goals. This is particularly egregious with soldiers who have rare specialized skills, such as interpreters and intelligence personnel, but the recent recruitment difficulties experienced by the Army and Marines suggest they could use all the soldiers they can get.

The whole basis of the theoretical advantage enjoyed by liberal meritocracies is that they utilize and reward acumen and ability over other arbitrary criteria such as birth right, ethnicity, creed, or sect - thus insuring that the best and most talented rise to the top. Just as opening opportunities for minorities and women over the past century has helped the United States to better maximize on the vast potential of its citizenry, so too will our acceptance of homosexuality open up a new vein of talent ripe for tapping.

And consider this, the war on terror has been used to justify many encroachments on our way of life and the principles we hold dear, from the Patriot Act to massively expensive military adventures in the Middle East. So why does the buck stop with the military's self-defeating policy on homosexuality? Is this bigotry so sacrosanct?

The good news is, there are signs that a de facto tolerance is mitigating some of the disruptions and setbacks.

These costs may help explain why the military seems to have scaled back such discharges since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon recently announced that only 653 gay service members were discharged in 2004, down from around 1,200 a year in 2000 and 2001.
That is a positive indication, but wouldn't it be better for our safety if that number were 0? I understand the reality that this bigotry exists and that forcing the issue could hurt morale and negatively impact enlistment in its own right. But the time is far past overdue for the military culture to begin teaching tolerance and fostering a more productive and efficient mindset. There is no doubt in my mind that at some point in the future homosexuals will openly serve in our armed forces with pride and distinction (as they have done in secret in the past and present), but it seems like the time should be sooner rather than later. I think that this process would be aided by a general cultural shift toward tolerance which should begin at the top. Sadly, our President, and the Republican leadership in general, prefer to rile up emotions and bigotry in order to capitalize on these sentiments at the ballot box. The truth is, bigotry hurts us on many levels.

(cross posted with slight modifications at Liberals Against Terrorism)

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