We’ve known for a long time that the US military exemplifies a lot that is best and brightest about our society. Our service members aren’t comic-book heroes.
But they are professional, thoughtful, incredibly dedicated, and courageous beyond most of our reckoning.
They’re also — compared with most Americans — sophisticated and even cosmopolitan.
Yes, many recruits come from rural communities, often in the South. But many of those men and women have spent the last decade deployed in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
They’re not tourists, after all. They live and work (and fight) within cultural settings that are complicated, requiring constant negotiations and compromise.
Which is why this week’s Pentagon report on repealing “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” seems like such a no-brainer.
For years, opponents of repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military have suggested that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines would quail at the idea of an openly-gay colleague serving in close quarters.
Again and again we hear about that dreaded moment in the shower or the foxhole.
The horror of such intimacy! How would our military units survive such a trauma intact? Surely unit cohesion and readiness would be wrecked!
The fact that many of the most deadly military forces in the world — the Israelis, the British — integrated openly gay men and women into their ranks long ago is discounted. Those are, after all, foreigners.
We’re talking now about America’s fighting men and women.
But it’s also true that polls now regularly show that most of us see a repeal as common sense. Don’t ask-don’t tell doesn’t actually ban gays from serving. It just requires them to lie about their lives.
The most recent Quinnipiac Poll found that even the family-members of soldiers support a repeal by 55-38% margins.
But the moment of truth finally came this week when we heard from the service-members themselves.
The survey found that fewer than a third of the men and women polled thought the change would be a negative one. 28% said they would ask for reassignment if billeted with a gay or lesbian colleague.
Those numbers aren’t insignificant. They suggest that the repeal needs to be handled carefully.
But these negative views are heavily outweighed by the service-members who say that integrating the military and ending don’t-ask-don’t-tell would be either a positive step, or would have no impact whatsoever.
Interestingly, nearly 70% of those surveyed by the Pentagon said they had already served side-by-side with someone they thought was gay.
When asked what they would do if ordered to bunk with an openly gay soldier, 51% said they would take take no action, or they would “discuss our expectations.”
In other words, they would be professionals and adults. Then they would go back to the business of doing their jobs, fighting wars and protecting our security.
Change isn’t easy. When African Americans and women moved into mainstream careers within the military, it was a brutal controversy.
There were instances during World War I of black soldiers being lynched for daring to wear the American uniform.
But my guess is that this integration won’t be nearly as difficult. The simple truth is that we have a far better educated and more sophisticated military.
It should come as no shock at all that our soldiers are, as always, ready.