I was recently engaged in a debate on DADT, spurred by yesterday’s disappointing vote. While debating, one of the people said this:
If your purpose is to keep an effective military, this doesn’t help. If your purpose is social engineering, just say so.
That phrase stuck out to me. At first, I just passed over it and didn’t immediately respond, instead I replied to the other points being made. But as I thought about it, it occurred to me that this is what this debate is really about. There is a belief out there that repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and allowing gays to serve openly in the military is an attempt at social engineering.
Social engineering is a discipline in political science that refers to efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale, whether by governments or private groups. In the political arena, the counterpart of social engineering is political engineering.
(Not to be confused with social engineering that refers to tricking people into violating security protocols.)
Let’s make one thing clear. Social engineering isn’t by itself bad. In a democracy, one must persuade, inspire, and convince others that your side is correct. That is a necessary part of the process and democracy breaks down without the ability to freely share ideas with the obvious intent of convincing others that those ideas are good. Under a military dictatorship, all one needs is coercion, which is a form of social engineering premised on forcing others to agree with your ideas, be they good or bad, or else.
What this tells me is that opponents to DADT repeal see this as a form of coercion. They are being forced to accept the mandate of someone else against their will. They are being forced to accept gays serving openly alongside them, or their family members, or serving in their stead for those who are not in the military or a military family.
But this ignores the obvious truth: repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell increases total freedom of ideas and opinions. Homophobic service members and their families have every right under DADT to hate, loathe, and distrust gay service members. No law will ever take that away from them. The only “freedom” they will lose is the ability to harass and demean gay service members with impunity, since the gay service member cannot report the crime without outing themselves. That’s a “freedom” no person should enjoy, in the service or out. If DADT is repealed, homophobes have just as much right that next morning to hate, fear, and distrust gay people as they do today.
Obviously, this is still bounded by the normal military restrictions on speech and political activity; namely, don’t let anything you do interfere with your obligations as a soldier or the ability of other soldiers to fulfill their duty. That catch-all includes everything from religious proselytizing and political speech to showing up late.
So I posit the opposite: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is the more coercive form of social engineering. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines can serve as openly Jewish, openly Muslim, openly an immigrant, openly non-white, and every anti-Semite, anti-Muslim, and national or racial purist needs to suck it up and serve alongside them, or leave the military. No one will form an all-white, all-Christian unit just to appease a few who let their prejudices get in the way of their service. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell fixes in law the idea that homosexuals are a class of people where the burden is on them to make others “comfortable” with their service, rather than those around them to buck up and deal with it.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is the social engineering platform of a shrinking minority, seeking to force others to adhere to their idea of what is right and what is wrong, rather than competing openly in the war of ideas like everyone else.
Lady Gaga said it right: if you have a problem serving next to a gay soldier, you are the problem and need to resign your commission, not them.