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Tilting at Windmills

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May 24, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

FIGHTING THE REAL MENACE....The military is still busily firing gay Arabic linguists in its continuing quest to keep America safer. I would personally prefer it if they spent more time keeping us safer from the Arabic-speaking jihadists who are trying to kill us and less on the gay menace that merely wants the right to look fabulous, but I guess we all have our quirks.

James Joyner doesn't defend the law, but he does defend the Pentagon in this case: "The military is simply following the law, ousting service members who make it publicly manifest that they are gay." That's a fair statement. That is, it would be a fair statement if it were true in the case at hand. Here's what happened to former Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Benjamin:

He said he was among about 70 people investigated at Fort Gordon in Georgia for using the computer to send personal notes. He said others who are not gay kept their jobs even though they were caught sending sexual and profane messages.

Benjamin said investigators from the Defense Department's inspector general's office pulled the message logs for one day and reviewed them for violations. Some people, he said, received administrative punishments for writing dirty jokes, profanity and explicit sexual references.

So Benjamin wasn't making it "publicly manifest" at all. Publicly, he was keeping a low-enough profile that nobody had ever hassled him before. Rather, he was fired for writing explicitly private emails that could have quite easily been ignored. Benjamin could have received the same administrative punishment as everyone else.

But we're quibbling, I suppose. James and I both agree (I think) that the rule against gay service members ought to be consigned to the dustbin so that nitpicking like this is unnecessary. Obviously the military could help by recommending that the ban be ended. Conservatives could help by recognizing that a strong military is more important than keeping James Dobson happy. And even if they won't do that — and they won't, since the culture war is still more important to them than real war — then Democrats could simply vote to end the ban. So far, though, we're only up to 124 House members in favor. We've got another hundred to go.

Kevin Drum 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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Comments

Did you see this in the New York Times on Monday, regarding gays in the military in Britain?

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/21/world/europe/21britain.html?ex=1180670400&en=3816e7365391da4e&ei=5070&emc=eta1

Posted by: Andrea on May 24, 2007 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

If we don't hold the line on gay linguists, we will invite cultural suicide. The radical Islamists who are our cultural enemies and want to see our American way of life destroyed, well, they not only want to put our blonde, fresh-faced American women into burkhas, they're also anti-gay, so we need to stand tall against them by...oh. Wait.

Posted by: shortstop on May 24, 2007 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

From "The Cost of Don't Ask, Don't Tell"...

Rarely is a precise price tag put on bigotry. But that's what happened last year, when a University of California commission totaled the costs associated with the Pentagon's indefensible and staggeringly counterproductive "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding gays in the American military.

That cost, according to the commission, is $369 million over 10 years, almost double the estimate originally offered by the Department of Defense. That shocking figure includes $79.3 million for recruitment of service members, $252.4 million for training, $17.8 million for officer training, and an additional $14.3 million for "separation travel" for those discharged under the policy.

The shameful "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is not merely a waste of taxpayer dollars. Much more important, the Clinton-era program lowers military readiness and jeopardized Americans' safety by removing essential, skilled personnel from our armed forces. In January, the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military released Pentagon figures estimating that 10,000 gay servicemen and women were discharged from the U.S. armed forces since 1994 under the don't ask, don't tell policy. Among them were some of the most highly trained and educated soldiers in the military, including 137 officers and 244 medical and health professionals. Even more incomprehensible, the "post-9/11" military continues to dismiss gay linguists skilled in essential languages such as Arabic, Farsi and Urdu, among others.

Posted by: Angry One on May 24, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

James and I both agree (I think) that the rule against gay service members ought to be consigned

And what about unit cohesion? The troops can no longer trust each other because his fellow soldier might be homosexual. This will result in to a loss of military effectiveness making it easier for the terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan to pick off our soldiers one by one resulting in the death of our troops. And troops will be afraid of gay soldiers bullying them into homosexual relationships. Allowing homosexual soldiers would have a catastrophic effect on our military making it weaker so that it can no longer effectively defend ourselves from the Islamofascist threat.

Posted by: Al on May 24, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently, Kevin thinks that the 08 elections are a lock for the dems and/or the American electorate has become sufficiently enlightened as to be in favor of the ban removal or indifferent to it, or that the issue is of sufficient magnitude as to warrant risking defeat in 08. I for one would like to see some polls on the subject.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on May 24, 2007 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

And troops will be afraid of gay soldiers bullying them into homosexual relationships.

Al, there would be no bullying necessary. You know darn well, because so many preacher men have explained it, that once hot man-on-man love is allowed no man will ever want to have any other kind.

Posted by: shortstop on May 24, 2007 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

One thing that makes me scratch my head is this--is there a correlation between being gay and being an Arab linguist?

(And yes, "Don't ask, don't tell" is a hideous blot, as was the previous policy of summarily kicking out gays whether they were "asked" or not.)

Posted by: RWB on May 24, 2007 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

This 2003 article says that the FBI was refusing to hire Jews as Arabic translators. Presumably their reason was to not offend Muslims. Maybe the gay translators are being pushed out for the same dumb reason.

There are many reasons why it's wrong to reject translators based on the sexual orientation or religion. Discrimination is wrong as a matter of principle. Also, we need all the Arabic translators we can get. In any event, the US government should not kowtow to pressure groups.

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 24, 2007 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

This bullshit "unit cohesion" argument has been used against integrating women and african americans into the military. It's never been anything other than 100% bogus, and it's only advanced by morons who don't actually know any gay folks OR soldiers, because they'd know better.

On a related note, is anything Rush Limbaugh says (which is brainlessly repeated by his sheep on message boards) ever true?

Posted by: DH Walker on May 24, 2007 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Conservatives could help by recognizing that a strong military is more important than keeping James Dobson happy.

Yeah, but religious conservatives aren't really worried about what happens in this world. It's all about pleasing The Big Guy so that the next life will be cushy.

Posted by: Fred on May 24, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

is anything Rush Limbaugh says (which is brainlessly repeated by his sheep on message boards) ever true?

Well, he is indeed from Missouri - much to my chagrin.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on May 24, 2007 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

This is one more piece of evidence that the Republican Party is a dinosaur, mired in the tar pits of the 1980s, unable to adapt or free itself from mindless bigotry and patriarchical attitudes and facing imminent extinction.

Talk to anyone under age 25 and you will find that 90+% of them do not care whether a person is a homosexual and they overwhelmingly support equal rights for gay couples, whether you call it marriage or not. A similar attitude exists toward abortion. Young people in no way want to see abortion criminalized.

Make no mistake - conservatives are losing the cutural war. In addition, demographic trends are working against the GOP. By 2050, whites will be a minority in this country and since the GOP depends heavily on the angry white male as it's primary constituency, the GOP's days of dominance are numbered. Let us all work very hard to hasten it's demise and send it off to the scrap heap of history.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 24, 2007 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Oy vey.

Let me ask a question here.
Is there a substantive difference, from a perspective of a linguist's availability to help evaluate intelligence information on the ground and to facilitate US unit interaction with Iraqi forces and civilians, between outing one that is gay, and shooting him(or her) in the head at the latrine?

To get more explicit - are not both, cases of giving aid and comfort to the enemy?

Has a shortage of interpreters led to the loss of life among units deployed in Iraq and the 'Stans?
I'd be very surprised if it hasn't.

I'd like to recommend that the UCMJ have an article added, criminalizing the anonymous outing of gay personnel - at the very least, of those who are linguists in combat zones.
And it should be a crime comparable to treason.
If the outer uses their own name, fine. So long as the platoon members who have to scrape up the guts of one of their own know where to find the guy who got Bob the interpreter kicked out, so they had no way to understand the kid saying "there's a bomb down that street."

Posted by: kenga on May 24, 2007 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

One thing that makes me scratch my head is this--is there a correlation between being gay and being an Arab linguist?


I think almost all the Islamophilia of the left results from gay romanticisation of the Islamic world.

Posted by: cld on May 24, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Here's what the great moral issues of our time are according to Dobson and his ilk:

. . . the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children."
http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/03/14/evangelical.rift/index.html

Yep, that's it. All sex, all the time. Because when Dobson talks about the sanctity of life he means no abortion. Deaths from war, starvation and disease can be rationalized away.

So it doesn't matter if it hurts our war on terra' or costs millions of dollars to remove gays from the military. Because according to him one of the great moral issues of our time is to oppose hot man-on-man sex. Now if the Vice President's daughter wants to have a same-sex partner, well, IOIYAR.

Posted by: cowalker on May 24, 2007 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

GC: That may be true, but it's not repeated ad nauseam by morons on message boards.

What gets me is how many conservative "arguments" are premised on the notion that soliers are all irretrievably stupid. We can't criticize the civilian leadership because the troops can't handle it. Tough talk "supports" the troops because they can't be expected to actually understand policy. They need to be kept in the dark (ie, no you-tube, etc) or lied to (WMDs, Jessica Lynch, Pat Tillman, etc) for their own benefit because they aren't smart enough to handle the truth in a responsible way. This whole notion that straight soldiers would live in fear of gay bullying is just more spitting in the face of people who know better.

Posted by: DH Walker on May 24, 2007 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

I was just being a smart-ass. I am prone to that affliction...

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on May 24, 2007 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Republican = gutterminded fairylander.

Posted by: cld on May 24, 2007 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

GC>: :) I'm hip. It's called for far more often these days than it used to be, I think. :)

Posted by: DH Walker on May 24, 2007 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

I have yet to hear of any incident where any man could be "bullied" into getting turned on by another man. (unless they WANTED to be bullied, that is.)

All the scaredy cats who are afraid of gays no doubt have small endowments and are embarrassed that they don't "measure up" if someone checks them out.

Posted by: Mrs. Peel on May 24, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Mrs. Peel: Exactly. I occasionally hear some right-wing nutball talk about the "gay agenda" and how we're essentially on the precipice of a tidal wave of people being converted to gay-ism. On, and on, and on about how evilly tempting the gay lifestyle is - so much so that we all have to be on constant guard against it. Because it's sooooooooooooooooo tempting.

Um, really? I can't say I've ever been tempted - and I've even been asked out, directly, by gay friends in the past. Nothing underhanded or deceptive about it. And .. no interest. But then again, I'm straight. :)

Posted by: DH Walker on May 24, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, good Ford..."ex-liberal" cites World Nut Daily...

You're realyl phoning it in these days, aren't you, "ex-liberal"? Why do you bother?

Posted by: Gregory on May 24, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Unit Cohesion? Please. Look at other NATO militaries who allow not only homosexuals but even those who are 'out'. It isn't a problem. I must refer all of you to the NYtimes article posed by Andrea at the begining of this thread about homosexuals in the British military.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/21/world/europe/21britain.html?ex=1180670400&en=3816e7365391da4e&ei=5070&emc=eta1

It's not a problem for them, why would you think it would be a problem for us? Are British troops just more accepting? Are they more concerned about winning wars effectively than American troops? Al, are you suggesting that American troops are so homophobic as to not be able to get past another soldier's sexual orientation in an effort to win a war? Do you really have such a low opinion of the American Armed Forces? Why do you hate America so much?

Posted by: Everblue Stater on May 24, 2007 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Shouldn't this be a pretty big test for the Democrats, and for the Republicans as well, in 2008?

Posted by: Brian on May 24, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

some right-wing nutball talk about the "gay agenda" and how we're essentially on the precipice of a tidal wave of people being converted to gay-ism.

Oh my. Can you say "projection"? Perhaps they need a "massage". Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.

Posted by: Joshua Norton on May 24, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

I can't believe you are falling for their trick. It's out of their hands. They're just following the rules.

Clinton tried to make open service allowable in the military. The DOD basically made it clear that they would not follow those rules, that's what led to the DADT "compromise". Back then, they had some leeway apparently.

But somehow under don't ask don't tell, they have no leeway. Even with stop loss, they can't keep a gay soldier.

And by the way, scanning an email would on the surface appear to be "asking". They could punish him for the personal email, or the profane content, as those military regulations do not have a "don't ask" premise to them. However, the information that he is gay was not properly obtained in this sense.

Posted by: gex on May 24, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

A 'private' email is one that is sent from a private computer. If Benjamin sent his messages from a goverment computer, then the communication, by definition, was not a private one.

All military members are advised of this rule. During the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, many military members were disciplined for sending "private" emails which contained "contemptuous communication"--ridicule, jokes or otherwise--of the Commander-in-Chief of that time.

Posted by: baldilocks on May 24, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Well, he is indeed from Missouri - much to my chagrin.

Yeah, but he's from just north of the boot-heel, appropriately enough.

Posted by: Disputo on May 24, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Brian: Shouldn't this be a pretty big test for the Democrats, and for the Republicans as well, in 2008?

That's what I'd be disingenuously arguing for if I were in your sad shoes, Bri.

Posted by: shortstop on May 24, 2007 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

I would personally prefer it if they spent more time keeping us safer from the Arabic-speaking jihadists who are trying to kill us and less on the gay menace that merely wants the right to look fabulous...

Or the right to serve their country openly and with honor. YMMV.

I know it's just harmless sarcasm, but still.

Posted by: Chip on May 24, 2007 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Hey y'all. At my last unit, before we deployed, one of our sergeants came out -- Trying to get out of deployment. He should have gotten out, and all of my platoon supported him getting out. He ended up deploying with my platoon, and after about three months we were all sent back. Anyways, we had absolutely no problems with him being a homosexual or whatever. He'd joke about it, we'd joke about it, and it wasn't a big deal. I don't understand all of you people that seperate "soldiers" and "general society." We're not a seperate class of people -- We're just like you, and we deal with the same things you deal with. Sometimes it bothers me that we're put on a pedestal...and...I don't really have the words, as I'm not that verbose, but I get two feelings, most of the time: Soldiers are put on a pedestal, as somewhat untouchable heroes, or we're talked about like we're children that have to be protected from everything. We're all smart enough and mature enough to handle homosexuality. And, those that are homophobic/bigotted towards homosexuals would probably end up getting chaptered for EO violations, just like white or black supremacists in the military.

Posted by: PVT Snuffy on May 24, 2007 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

My dad said that when he was on Midway, eventually damned near everyone was in his office at some point trying to come out to get out. (two islands, 2.4 square miles total, kinda has the effect of making you as crazy as a shithouse rat after a while). He would simply ask them what that had to do with their ability to do their job? (This was circa 73-74.)

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on May 24, 2007 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

One thing that makes me scratch my head is this--is there a correlation between being gay and being an Arab linguist?

I'm sure there isn't (not that there'd be anything wrong with it!), but the same thing occurred to me with this latest story. We only ever hear about Arab linguists when one of them gets kicked out of the military for being gay, and I swear there have been more stories about gays being kicked out who were Arab linguists than gays who weren't. And such reports are always coupled with the assertion that there's a terrible shortage of Arab linguists in the military.

So how many are there overall?

Posted by: Swift Loris on May 24, 2007 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

The Arab Linguists are the darlings of the day - it goes on across the board, but the discharge of accounting clerks from base comptrollers offices isn't sexy and has no aura of "stupidity trumps security."

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on May 24, 2007 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Al: "And what about unit cohesion?"

They. Are. Arabic. Translators.
Not spearchuckers for Sgt. Rock.

Get it yet?

Posted by: Kenji on May 24, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Come on, they are gay AND arabic. Queer jihadists!

And this is the "war on terror".

So the Bush administration is trying to send us a message here. Pay attention.

Posted by: ron on May 24, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

The policy is exceedingly stupid, and the way this guy had a regulation selectively enforced is stupid, but people really ought to learn that that there is no such thing as a private e-mail, especially if the computers are not owned by the individuals involved. Unless a person is comfortable with sharing the thoughts expressed with the world, that person would be better off not sending them via e-mail.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 24, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

September 10, 2001: The National Security Agency intercepts conversations from a known al-Qaeda operative saying, "Tomorrow is zero hour!"

It wasn't translated for two weeks because of a shortage of Arabic translators; most had been fired because they were gay.

This was reported in Newsweek in October 2003.

I'm surprised this wasn't mentioned in Kevin's post or in the Guardian article. Seems a key point in rebutting the idea that gays are some kind of threat, as opposed to a salvation.

Posted by: captcrisis on May 24, 2007 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

just because al admits he can be bullied into having gay sex, doesn't mean everyone else can.

Posted by: merlallen on May 25, 2007 at 7:03 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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