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Posted by on Feb 3, 2010 in Breaking News, Politics, Religion, Society, War | 17 comments

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Changes of Mind but not of Integrity

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee to call for an end to the 16-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” law.

While the Admiral’s words were eloquent, heartfelt and powerful, I doubt that the appearance and the words of our highest ranking active-duty officer— nominated to his present position by George W. Bush—changed many minds, especially among Conservative lawmakers.

However, minds have been gradually changing on the issue of gays and lesbians serving openly in the U.S. military. Here are a few examples.

General Colin Powell, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993, supported and helped shape “don’t ask, don’t tell” laws and policies.

In December, 2008, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria asked Republican General Powell about his thoughts on the 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.” Powell said:

We definitely should reevaluate it. It’s been 15 years since we put in “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which was a policy that became a law. I didn’t want it to become a law, but it became a law. Congress felt that strongly about it.

But it’s been 15 years, and attitudes have changed. And so, I think it is time for the Congress, since it is their law, to have a full review of it. And I’m quite sure that’s what President-elect Obama will want to do.

… But times have changed. This is not 1993. It is 2008. And we should review the law.

Today, General Powell came out unequivocally in support of repealing the law he once helped usher in.

In a statement issued by his office he said:

In the almost 17 years since the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed…I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.

In January 2007, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the policy was implemented, said in a New York Times article:

Last year I held a number of meetings with gay soldiers and marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq, and an openly gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew. These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers.

This perception is supported by a new Zogby poll of more than 500 service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, three quarters of whom said they were comfortable interacting with gay people. And 24 foreign nations, including Israel, Britain and other allies in the fight against terrorism, let gays serve openly, with none reporting morale or recruitment problems.

I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces.


When that day comes, gay men and lesbians will no longer have to conceal who they are, and the military will no longer need to sacrifice those whose service it cannot afford to lose.

More recently, on January 26, 2010, Gen. Shalikashvili said in a statement:

As a nation built on the principle of equality, we should recognize and welcome change that will build a stronger, more cohesive military. It is time to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” and allow our military leaders to create policy that holds our service members to a single standard of conduct and discipline.

Generals Powell and Shalikashvili are not alone in changing their minds.

In November, 2007, a group of 28 retired generals and admirals released a statement calling for the repeal of DADT ban, stating, “Our service members are professionals who are able to work together effectively despite differences in race, gender, religion, and sexuality…such collaboration reflects the strength and the best traditions of our democracy,” and “Those of us signing this letter have dedicated our lives to defending the rights of our citizens to believe whatever they wish.”

No one knows how many of those high-ranking officers may have changed their minds on this issue, but it is likely that at least a few have had a change of mind, a change of heart, in recent years.

Then, in November 2008, more than 100 retired generals and admirals, in a letter to Congress, called for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” signaling growing support for repeal of the law. The group included retired Adm. Charles Larson, a four-star admiral and two-time superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy and Clifford Alexander, Army secretary under former President Jimmy Carter.

But it is not just the generals and admirals who are changing their minds.

Poll after poll, survey after survey, attest to the fact that Americans—civilians as well as military, Democrats as well Republicans—have increasingly more tolerant views on gays, gay rights and, more specifically, on gays serving openly in the military. This perception is supported by an Annenberg 2004 survey, a 2006 Zogby poll, a July 2008 Washington Post-ABC News poll, a 2008 Pew poll and Research Center reports, a May 2009 USA Today-Gallup poll.

I would be remiss, however, not to mention a change of mind by a powerful and respected politician, former military and a war hero.

Back in October 2006, Republican Senator John McCain, in a speech to Iowa State University students, said:

The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, “‘Senator, we ought to change the policy,” then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it.

But, on Tuesday, when the Secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff came before him, McCain had apparently changed his mind. He chastised both men and ignored—some say ridiculed—what I felt were the Admiral’s “eloquent, heartfelt and powerful words.” Words such as:

It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do…We have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as institutions.

Admiral Mullen told the panel that included Senator McCain:

“No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens or me personally, it comes down to integrity, theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

No way of changing the mind, or the integrity, of this Admiral.

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  • JSpencer

    Excellent post Dorian. The way forward couldn’t be more clear. I applaud the brave and accomplished men who show how change and growth can happen even among gray hairs who might easily have stayed set in thier old ways. And then we have Sen McCain who shows not only how badly out ot touch he’s become, but how he can’t keep even his own promise. I especially applaud all the people who serve and protect this great land of diverse people, people who have one thing in common, we care about our country, our loved ones, and we care about the chance to make it a better place to live. One day soon a generation will look back and wonder what the big deal was, and those older folks who can’t understand it, who can’t come to terms with it will eventually take their grumbling to a rocking chair and nobody will care what they think any longer. As far as I’m concerned John McCain can’t take that course any too soon. 😉

    • DdW

      Thanks, JSpencer.

      I especially like your:

      One day soon a generation will look back and wonder what the big deal was, and those older folks who can’t understand it, who can’t come to terms with it will eventually take their grumbling to a rocking chair and nobody will care what they think any longer.

      As is so true with so many of the other great “issues” our society has faced, and overcome such as discrimination based on race.

  • redbus

    Dorian, this is a very strong post. There is no question that a “re-think” is happening not only over DADT, but on the larger issue of homosexuality. As a Christian minister – and a traditional one at that – the issue cannot be considered apart from a deep and comprehensive look at what the Bible has to say. I won’t rehash that old argument here, except to say that the conversation is happening, and in sophisticated ways. When all the smoke clears, it will come down to the interpretation of a single NT passage, namely, the end of Romans 1.

    Tony Campolo is a Baptist minister and college professor, and has been well known in evangelical circles for quite some time. I read a chapter in a book where he dialogs with his wife, who is an Episcopalian and sees no problem with gay “marriage.” Tony was willing to concede that the other handful of passages in Scripture could be seen other ways, but despite his wife’s best pleadings for other interpretations, he remained unconvinced about Romans 1. Now, that might seem like a small point, but in the science of biblical interpretation, it’s very important. Passages that are less clear are to be interpreted in the light of passages that are more clear. Unless Christians that view Scripture as the “rule of faith and practice” and also see gay “marriage” as acceptable before God and in the Church can convince what is still the large majority of believers on the basis of the Bible, gay “marriage” will be a non-starter.

    Sorry, that’s only marginally related to the topic at-hand. I’m still thinking about the DADT issue. It should be interesting to see where the conversation leads. I do think that if the policy is repealed, it will have a major impact on what our country ultimately decides at the grass-roots level about this issue.

    • DdW

      Sorry, that’s only marginally related to the topic at-hand

      Thanks for your comments Redbus. I am not an expert on the Bible, but I do believe that the subject you bring up is more than just “only marginlly related to DADT.” As you have seen and will see whenever this subject is brought up, the Bible is used by many to support their opposition even to DADT.

    • tidbits


      Though I disagree with you on the issue of gay marriage and support repeal of DADT, yours is an excellent explanation of the views from the traditional Christian perspective. Thank you.

  • DaMav

    An interesting case of misstatement of fact and duplicitous treatment of data.
    Misstatement of Quote
    Mullen took great pains to say that he was speaking personally, for himself, and this was his own personal opinion. Yet most of those agreeing with him are ignoring his preface to his remarks.

    Once again, here is how the exact quote starts out:
    “MULLEN: Mr. Chairman, speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.”

    Adm. Mullen is an important military figure expressing his own personal opinion. He made it clear that he is not speaking for the “military leadership”. Why keep misstating his testimony?

    Therefore McCain’s statement was in no way a contradiction to his prior statement that ‘when the military leadership’ comes to him… etc. He did not say, “when one admiral comes to me with his personal opinion”.

    Duplicity of Data
    I find it contradictory that when polls say we should repeal DADT, that is treated as a mandate to do exactly that. Those opposed are expected to be silent and accept the common will. Yet polls also show most Americans opposed to ‘gay marriage’, and every time it has faced the voters it has been defeated. Why don’t we hear the same message then? Be silent. The public has spoken.

    Weighty decisions are deliberately designed not to be made based on fleeting popularity or unpopularity. This is a feature, not a bug. In this case, the law will be studied, the study reported out to Congress, and Congress will make a determination as to whether to repeal DADT.

    Meanwhile this ought to be treated more honestly, and as an issue with two sides to be examined carefully, and debated freely.

    • JSpencer

      I just re-read Admiral Mullen’s comments in order to be certain of his meaning. I read them in their entirety and in context. There is little doubt he believes DADT needs to be lifted. Maybe you would benefit from going back for another read. There is a growing consensus on this issue and I believe that in years to come you will look back and see that you’ve been on the wrong side of it.

      There was a time in our country’s history when it was commonly accepted that people with dark skin were to be denied access to any number of rights, including defending their country. This repressive behavior was lifted at various times when there was great need, but it was done temporarily and progress wasn’t really made in the area until the mid 20th century. Many of the same arguments for denying access to black people’s rights are now being used to deny people who are gay. It was shameful and wrong then. It is shameful and wrong now. No amount of spin, rationalizing, personal bias, or excuse making changes that fundamental fact.

    • tidbits

      DaMav –

      My impression from the hearings was that the Admiral was speaking both personally and presenting a recommendation as Chair of the Joint Chiefs. This, combined with the Secretary of Defense and the hundreds of current and former high ranking officers should cause Congress to do exactly what you suggest, to study, debate and decide. I disagree to the extent that I do not see the issue as being presented dishonestly.

      One sincere hope is that this will not be turned into a partisan issue, though I fear it will be. Wouldn’t it be nice if libertarian Republicans and moderate Republicans, and Blue Dog Democrats could all vote their conscience on an issue like this instead of being pressured into a partisan, party-line vote? There may be an opportunity on this issue to break the partisan divide, with some Republicans voting to repeal and some Democrats voting against…if the partisan leadership on both sides will let it happen.

      • casualobserver

        Interesting thought, your last paragraph. At some point, if there gets to be a “conscience vote” on any matter, it might well be the watershed that breaks the automatic side-taking.

        However, pay close attention to how this is vocalized from here on out. Let’s be candid, this has to come from the Democratic side to be intitiated as legislation. If its peddled in a non-demagoguing manner, who knows, it might just work. However, I think it will be demagogued…which is an announcement by Nancy Pelosi that this is another round of us vs. them. In that case, why should any R vote for Nancy’s team regardless of their conscience?

        • tidbits

          Unforunately, CO, I agree with your assessment and expect it to be demagogued from both sides of the aisle…to appease each party’s respective base.

  • Leonidas

    The new policy should be Don’t ask Don’t care. Because if someone is willing to put their life on the line for the nation, we shouldn’t care what sexual orientation they are. I’ve got a very good opinion of Sen. McCain, and I can understand his point about timing, but he should have come out and acknowledged that his conditions were met and it was time for serious consideration. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t come out in favor of a repeal, or a more serious consideration once the current conflicts are resolved however. Personally I’m for it immediately, but I could cut McCain some slack if he had expressed a support but not at this exact moment. I can’t cut him any slack with his present answer, however, unless he ammends it.

  • DaMav

    This is not purely a Democrat vs Republican issue by any means. There are key Democrats who do not want to see a change in the policy as well as Republicans.

    • Schadenfreude_lives

      And vice-versa, too.

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