Thursday, May 24, 2007

Firing gay Arab linguists

Nowhere is the damage wrought by the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy more apparent than in the continued firing of gay Arab linguists. It's good to see some pushback from Congress on the matter:

Seizing on the latest discharges, involving three specialists, members of the House of Representatives wrote the House Armed Services Committee chairman that the continued loss of such "capable, highly skilled Arabic linguists continues to compromise our national security during time of war."

One sailor discharged in the latest incident, former Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Benjamin, said his supervisor tried to keep him on the job, urging him to sign a statement denying that he was gay. He said his lawyer advised him not to sign it, because it could be used against him later if other evidence ever surfaced.

The US government has a desperate shortage of Arab linguists. This is not the time to aggressively seek out and fire gay employees with these critical skills. Particularly ironic is that the armed forces of many of our European allies, like Britain, are happy to accept gay soldiers:
Since the British military began allowing homosexuals to serve in the armed forces in 2000, none of its fears — about harassment, discord, blackmail, bullying or an erosion of unit cohesion or military effectiveness — have come to pass, according to the Ministry of Defense, current and former members of the services and academics specializing in the military. The biggest news about the policy, they say, is that there is no news. It has for the most part become a nonissue.
In fact, the integration of gay soldiers has gone so well that the British military has to be careful to be quiet about it to avoid embarrassing us:

Nonetheless, the issue is extremely delicate now. The military does not want to be seen bragging about the success of its policy when the issue can still cause so much anguished debate in the United States.


For this article, the Defense Ministry refused to give permission for any member of the forces to be interviewed, either on or off the record. Those who spoke did so before the ministry made its position clear.

“We’re not looking to have quotes taken out of context in a way to imply that we’re trying to influence the debate in the United States,” the British official said. “There are some sensitivities over the timing of this. We have had communications from our counterparts in the United States, and they have asked us questions about how we’ve handled it and how it’s gone on the ground. There does seem to be some debate going on over how long the current policy will be sustainable.”

Maybe the British should be a bit more assertive and make it clear to our government that our policy is deeply flawed. On a more general note, I'm completely unsurprised by the benign presence of gays in the British military. As a Massachussetts native, I witnessed the most sensible people convincing themselves that the sky would fall when gay marriage was permitted. Three years later, the most noticeable thing about gay marriage has been its complete nonimpact on anybody who isn't gay.

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