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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

DADT: Sense and Nonsense

I've not commented recently on the whole DADT thing because it's all such a muddle, and now it's tossed salad between the courts and a lame-duck Congress and a dithering President.  Who knows how or when it will ever get repealed.

I will say, and some of you may disagree, that it seems to me very improper for one District Court judge in California - who is very low on the totem pole, as federal judges go - to resolve the whole big debate by a singlehanded "worldwide" ruling.  The reason being, guys, that the military is a special case for several very good reasons.  And the Constitution makes the President the Commander-in-Chief, while Congress holds the purse strings.  The Supreme Court, it seems to me, is the only body that can possibly have a say in the matter, so for constitutional reasons, I'm glad the appeals are headed that way.

Similarly, my love for my country requires me to sharply disagree with the notion proposed today by Adam Serwer today in the Washington Post blog The Plum Line, in an article entitled "On DADT, it's imperial presidency time," where he argues:
If Republicans continue to block DADT repeal from even coming to a vote, the president should take a page from Truman and end the policy through an executive order advising the military not to enforce the policy and cease defending it from challenges in court. The military's own empirical studies show allowing gays and lesbians to serve does not hurt military effectiveness, and the military's own policy of occasionally delaying DADT investigations of deployed troops confirms that finding. The military in Truman's time was deeply opposed to integration, and if he had waited for a favorable political climate to act desegregation might not have occurred for decades.

During the Bush years, liberals complained about his "imperial presidency," and so the idea that Obama should simply end the policy by fiat would seem hypocritical. But the use of an executive order to end a policy a majority of Americans, including conservatives, want to end, is no more undemocratic than Republicans' use of procedural maneuvers to thwart an up or down vote. Republicans holding the legislative process, and the fundamental rights of gay and lesbian servicemembers, hostage to their own homophobic prejudices, would still be the greater act of tyranny.
This is an extremely short-sighted view, and a very, very dangerous one.  Guys - think about it.  No matter how hurt, disappointed, or outraged we may feel at this moment over the delay in repealing DADT, you really don't want to live in a banana republic where the Congress passes laws that the President of the day simply ignores at will.

Nor do you want government-by-opinion-poll.  Just think about that.  Serwer's proposal would throw the entire Consitutional system of checks and balances into the toilet, and set an incredibly dangerous precedent for future presidents.  Some of whom will be Republican.  Or worse.  We do not want a system where the President just does whatever the hell he pleases, when he pleases.  Do you understand?

The glory of our nation is that we live under the rule of law, not of men.  That rule was already stretched nearly to the breaking point by the last President.  Let's not go backwards, fellas.  You want to make rules for others to live by?  Well then, knucklehead, you have to live by the rules and play by the rules yourself.  Didn't you learn that on the playground in first grade?

Also, you need to understand, as I've blogged about before, that Truman did not wave a magic wand and zap! integrate the military overnight, with everybody loving up on everybody else and saying ain't it wonderful.   It took more than ten years, from the first surveys of troop attitudes during World War II to the removal of all segregated facilities on military bases.  If you want to be truly informed - and therefore, worth listening to on this subject - go read the timeline of military desegregation at the Truman Presidential Library website.

Also, you should understand that when Truman issued his executive order, Congress had never passed a law requiring the armed forces to be segregated; it was merely longstanding policy.  The difference today is that Congress did pass a law, DADT, which makes it a different ballgame.  Yes, the Supreme Court ought to rule that DADT is totally unconstitutional - but we just aren't there yet.

Dr. Gregory Herek, psychology professor at UC-Davis, has an excellent web site with many valuable links pertaining to DADT.  Also, after noting the somewhat reluctant use of black troops from the Revolutionary War to World War I, Herek explains (emphasis mine):
At the beginning of World War II, as in the past, personnel needs dictated that Black recruits be accepted for military service. Once again, Black enlisted personnel were segregated from Whites – usually led by Black officers – and placed in support roles. As the war effort progressed, however, the Navy experimented with integration of enlisted personnel, which was less expensive than maintaining combat-ready segregated units. By the War’s end, more than one million African-Americans served efficiently in various service branches. Inter-racial conflict did not appear to be a problem in combat zones, although some tensions were reported in rear areas. As Stouffer and his colleagues concluded in their social scientific study of the American soldier, events in World War II demonstrated that Blacks were effective fighters and that racial integration in the military would not compromise unit effectiveness.

Nevertheless, racial segregation remained official government policy until President Harry Truman's historic Executive Order 9981, issued a few months before the 1948 election, which "declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin." Following this order, the armed forces began to institute a policy of racial desegregation. Desegregation proceeded slowly, however, and met with resistance.

Most civilians and military personnel opposed racial integration. One month before President Truman's Executive Order, a Gallup poll showed that 63% of American adults endorsed the separation of Blacks and Whites in the military; only 26% supported integration. A 1949 survey of white Army personnel revealed that 32% completely opposed racial integration in any form, and 61% opposed integration if it meant that Whites and Blacks would share sleeping quarters and mess halls. However, 68% of white soldiers were willing to have Blacks and Whites work together, provided they didn't share barracks or mess facilities.

As the 1993 RAND report noted,

"Many white Americans (especially Southerners) responded with visceral revulsion to the idea of close physical contact with blacks. Many also perceived racial integration as a profound affront to their sense of social order. Blacks, for their part, often harbored deep mistrust of whites and great sensitivity to any language or actions that might be construed as racial discrimination" (National Defense Research Institute, 1993, p. 160).

As in past wars, the Korean conflict created a shortage of personnel and Black Americans helped to fill this need. Because of troop shortages and the high costs of maintaining racially segregated facilities, integration rapidly became a reality. In 1951, integration of the Army was boosted by the findings from a study of the impact of desegregation on unit effectiveness of troops deployed in Korea. The researchers concluded that racial integration had not impaired task performance or unit effectiveness, that cooperation in integrated units was equal or superior to that of all-White units, and that serving with Blacks appeared to make White soldiers more accepting of integration. By the end of the Korean conflict [1953], the Department of Defense (DOD) had eliminated all racially segregated units and living quarters.
Igor Volsky at the Wonk Room has transcribed some surveys done by the American military from 1942 to 1945, which reveal how widespread and unpopular the idea of racial integration was among enlisted men and officers:
These surveys show that the same attitude pervaded the military: 3/4 Air Force men favored separate training schools, combat, and ground crews and 85% of white soldiers thought it was a good idea to have separate service clubs in army camps . . .

While smaller, these racial polls share some common questions with the DADT survey. In fact, in some instances one can even replace “negro” for “gay” and end up with today’s questionnaire. Both polls ask servicemembers if they objected to working alongside minorities, how they felt serving with minorities, how effective minorities are in combat and if their feelings have changed about the minority after serving with them. (Interestingly, 77% of respondents said they had more favorable opinion).

Truman integrated the forces despite the objections of the troops and it remains to be seen if Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen and President Obama (who have to sign off on the DOD study) are willing to do the same for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
The surveys make interesting reading; good stuff to know if you get into a conversation about DADT.  Here's the transcript of what Volsky found:

Final Race Wonk Room

Bottom line:  Fight hard, fight fair, but it's important to play by the rules, and to expect a period of adjustment even after DADT is repealed - which it will be one day, please God.  But nobody and nothing is going to make it all happen peachy-keen overnight. 

And you absolutely do not want a fucking dictatorship where that could happen.  Think it over, guys.  The rule of law, checks and balances, constitutional government:  gay or straight, white or black, male or female, our first allegiance must be to all those those things that make our country what it is, and will in time make it what it should be.

Without them, America would not be worth living in.  Without them, we would be the Evil Empire of the world.  I don't want to go there, do you?

Update:  Kevin Drum at Mother Jones via Andrew Sullivan:
Let's face it: if you pick your jurisdiction right you can probably find a district court judge to rule just about anything unconstitutional. It would be easy, for example, to find a district court judge somewhere to say that the healthcare reform law was unconstitutional. If this happened in 2013 and President Palin decided not to appeal the ruling, thus overturning the law, what would we think of this? Not much, and rightfully so. A district court judgment is just flatly not sufficient reason to overturn an act of Congress.


FDeF said...

Thanks, Russ, for a very reasoned and well written article on a policy many of us want to see changed and often are too quick to conclude that it can be done with a stroke of the Presidential pen and overnight at tha

Russ Manley said...

Appreciate the feedback, Frank. It took all morning to write, glad you found it worth reading.

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