Homosexuality should not be a limiting factor in US Army service. In this essay, three points of view will be examined: why homosexuals have been excluded from the Army in the past, what are the origins of the Army’s current stance on the issue, and what conditions must occur before sexual preference can be discounted in the assessment of Army personnel. It is the opinion of this writer that, regardless of any merit it may have had in the past, the Army’s current position on homosexuality is an example of choosing the easy wrong over the hard right.
In the past, a sizable portion of the Army was a conscripted force – soldiers were either drafted into service or sent by the courts for dodging the draft. After WWI, the size of the Army fell to just around 200,000 personnel. When WWII broke out, and the ranks of the Army had to be filled-out again from the general population, a more selective process was adopted. An argument against the conscription of openly homosexual males was made based on the findings of a special committee of the American Psychological Association (APA). Through their research, they had determined that acts of overt homosexual behavior were detrimental to unit cohesion. The proponents of this view argued, and rightly so, that in an organization where a units level of professionalism could mean the difference between life and death, any relationships, such as those that inevitably result from romantic interaction, that would erode a unit’s professional atmosphere were not only inappropriate but dangerous. To quote the 1981 version of the directive (DOD Directive 1332.14):
“The presence of such members [homosexuals] adversely affects the ability of the armed forces to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among service members; to insure the integrity of the system of rank and command; to facilitate assignment and worldwide deployment of service members who frequently must live and work under close conditions affording minimal privacy; to recruit and retain members of the armed forces; to maintain the public acceptability of military service; and to prevent breaches of security.”
According to the argument, it was therefore necessary, in an era of compulsory service, to take precautions against such occurrences. However, one will note the inconsistency between the date of the quotation above and the end of conscripted service in the United States (~1973). The elimination of the draft and the creation of the “All-Volunteer Force” (AVF) removed the cornerstone of the argument against homosexuality in the Army. In an ideal AVF, professionalism can be counted on to supercede sexual orientation. In practice, however, this has not been the case. Although DOD Directive 1332.14 was again revised to permit “closeted” homosexuals to enter into service, the Army’s current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy does not reflect the equity supposed in the ideal case.
Instead, together with its companion, “Consideration of Others” (CO2), “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prescribes avoidance of the issue. While it is a valid point that fraternization within an organization is often detrimental, these policies go beyond simple encouragement of a more professional working climate, prohibiting acknowledgment of facts. These policies assume that homosexual personnel cannot conceivably be professional enough not to bring their sexuality to the workplace.
By adopting policies of avoidance, the Army actually sidesteps the issue all together. The reality is that sexual preference does not necessarily have any effect on the ability of a person to be a good soldier. Having established the AVF and touted its focus on professionalism, it is contradictory to assume that, based on no other information than sexual preference, one will not behave in a professional manner. If this was to be the case, then no female should ever be placed in command of a largely male company. It must be understood, however, that these policies are only reflections of society’s view of homosexuality, and no regulation or directive in existence can change someone’s attitude. It is still perceived as a radical lifestyle in this country, and as such it is at best a sensitive issue to try to amalgamate into doctrine and at worst huge political problem. Still, this is a practical justification and not an ethical one.
The Army must be concerned with practicality, but has claimed since the Geneva Convention and especially in recent years, to be a bastion of ethical behavior. Based purely on ethical standards, it is wrong to prevent people of a homosexual orientation from entering into military service or to discharge them once they have admitted to such inclinations. In reality, ethical standards are not the only consideration the Army makes when adopting policy. For logistical reasons, many of the Army’s installations are located in rural locations where tolerance and progressive ideas are not necessarily widespread.
Also, a good portion of the Army comes from these very areas. While these may be poor excuses for the ethicist, the pragmatic understands completely.
The Army is not a political institution, but it must but subject to the shifting winds of politics. Because it is first and foremost mission oriented rather than politically motivated, its administration must sometimes make pragmatic decisions that are not necessarily ethical. Only when popular politics has accepted homosexuality into its fold will the Army be able to act ethically on this issue.