DADT is Experimentally Wrong

There aren’t a whole lot of things I believe about politics in America that I think are true with a certainty approaching 100%. In fact, I did a quick check just now, and I came up with just four. On everything else, I can think of enough counter-arguments I can’t entirely answer, or enough places where the data are ambiguous, that even though I might have an opinion I am constantly having to work to re-evaluate my position (I try to continue to challenge these 4 other beliefs continually too, but I’ve been doing so for such a long time that I have to wait for someone else to think of a new counterargument, because mine are used up).

Anyway, most of these things I feel “certain” about are things that I believe are true because of some theoretical principle. But when it comes to the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, which congress recently was too busy playing politics to bring an end to*, is unique in that I’m certain it should be ended and I think this for mostly experimental reasons.

I guess there is one theoretical principle involved: I think, in general, any law that treats one group of people differently than another shouldn’t be a law at all unless there is some compelling reason why it needs to exist. But I would think we could all agree to that.

And now the experimental evidence: here is a list of countries which currently allow gays to serve openly in their militaries. There are 25 countries on the list, nine of which were part of George Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing” back in the day. Of the five countries from that coalition which actually contributed troops, three of them allow open service by homosexuals. We’re not one of them.

So there you have it. Other, modernized countries, including other countries that routinely engage in combat missions like the UK and Israel, have found a way to make this work. This is an experimental fact. I thus submit that, unless you are prepared to argue that the American soldier is somehow so much more irreversibly bigoted, cowardly, or closed-minded than the average Englishman in uniform, you cannot rationally advocate  in favor of DADT. And that would be a ridiculous thing to argue.

I’ve actually talked with a lot of people who serve or have served in the US military about this, including several who have seen combat. A decent portion of them agree with me, and the ones that don’t have all just said one thing: basically, that an openly gay person who joins the military is just “asking for trouble” and is “not going to make it,” presumably because of the hazing they will face.

They may be right, and they would know better than I would. But clearly that is not the point. No one is advocating that we should repeal DADT in favor of “Always Ask and Always Tell.” Gay people who felt uncomfortable would still be able to hide their sexuality if they felt they wanted to or needed to. So I appreciate the concerns of those who think gays should be kept out of the military in order to keep them safe; I just think they should get to choose for themselves whether they want to take that risk. Really, I would think more of the right-wing , anti “nanny-state” crowd would be with me on this.

And yeah, it might be tough for a while. But since I’ve already proven experimentally that it can be done, then the law is not a necessary thing. It is not preventing the military from collapsing, because we’ve seen other military forces survive the same change. The whole thing is a little bit like this: If I told you that the Israeli army had trained their soldiers to run twice as fast by making them run twice as much every day, would you accept it if any politician said “We shouldn’t do that; there would be a temporary period of transition while the soldiers were getting used to the new policy during which many of them would be uncomfortable and unhappy”?

Maybe there’s some grand difference between our army and the armies of these other countries that I don’t know about. But all I ever hear is predictions that we would have to spend a fortune on separate barracks and that our soldiers would never ever be able to overcome their initial biases and prejudices. And thus all the physicist in my can think is, “gee, those seem like reasonable experimental predictions, but I’m pretty sure a group in England already did this experiment and got very different results. Also I think those results were confirmed by groups in 24 other major countries.”

* I know, I know, there are some supposed “explanations” for why even pro-repeal republicans voted against it this time around. From my personal understanding, it seems like they are all based on misreadings of the bill text in question, which would still give congress 60 days to reverse the repeal if for some reason the Pentagon review recommended that DADT be kept.


About Colin West
Colin West is a graduate student in quantum information theory, working at the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. Originally from Colorado (where he attended college), his interests outside of physics include politics, paper-folding, puzzles, playing-cards, and apparently, plosives.

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