Although I was working last week, I paid as close attention to the hearings on DADT repeal in the Senate Armed Services Committee as I could. I was encouraged that the service chiefs were as supportive of the report as they were, as well as their attitudes towards their respective services’ ability to implement repeal should it be ordered by Congress to do so.
As a Marine who personally supports the repeal of DADT, I have been working over the past several days to understand the position of the Marine Commandant, General Amos. Specifically, although he recognized that, according to the Comprehensive Review Working Group’s report, over 80% of those who have knowingly served with gay service members in their units have a relatively positive (or neutral) view of repeal, nearly 45% of troops who have deployed have a negative view. He used this latter statistic as the basis for his apprehension towards repeal at this time. I agree with the Commandant that, although a statistical minority, this figure represents a segment of the military that cannot be ignored.
At this point, let me be clear that I support the Commandant’s perspective. He has been appointed to the position he now holds because he is a respected Marine officer, and his position grants him access to information that I as a company-grade officer do not have. He also has an entire career of experience on which he bases his opinion, whereas I have under nine years.
This is an important point to be made, and I believe explains why relatively little has been heard from Marines on the topic of DADT repeal. Marines have a great loyalty to the institution and the chain of command, in some ways more than the other services. We respect the authority of those appointed over us and trust our leadership to make decisions on our behalf. Perhaps it is because as a service we are more combat oriented and therefore our obedience to orders is required not only for mission accomplishment but for our own survival.
Marine officers have a long tradition of issuing orders as though they are our own. This is facilitated through our concept of “centralized authority, decentralized execution”. “Higher” never tells our Marines what to do, we tell them ourselves; we issue orders as though they are our own, which further reinforces the strength of the chain of command by granting even the smallest unit’s leader a stake in the success or failure of a mission.
So, it is as a company-grade officer that I share my opinion on the matter of DADT repeal, with a full understanding that my decisions are based on the intent of my higher headquarters. As I’ve said many times before and feel compelled to repeat, the opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent those of the Department of Defense or any of its components.
I believe that the reason 80% of service members who have served with gays in their units believe repeal would have a neutral or positive effect on the military is because they have realized that the link between one’s sexuality and one’s ability to be an effective soldier doesn’t actually exist. The concern that some military leaders (and many Americans) have revolves around stereotypes. For them, they see the stereotypical military member and the stereotypical gay person as too incompatible to reconcile. In this respect, they are absolutely right, and as long as those stereotypes are reinforced by members of Congress, military leaders, or the general public, reconciliation is impossible.
The problem with stereotypes is that they do not represent an entire group, but are based on the most pronounced characteristics of the most outspoken members of that group. Stereotypes have a certain degree of accuracy or else they wouldn’t survive. Nevertheless, they are based on the observer’s unfamiliarity with the group being stereotyped, and this is where the problems begin to arise. A lack of familiarity leads to the necessity of the observer to make assumptions about the group being observed–assumptions that are then applied indiscriminately to all members of the group.
To reconcile the disparity between the stereotypical Marine (I won’t pretend to know enough about the other services to speak knowledgeably about their culture) and the stereotypical gay, we must address two assumptions: one from each stereotype. From the stereotypical Marine, we must address the assumption that the image of a Marine is somehow tied to his sexuality (although this equally applies to females, I won’t address that in this post). From the stereotypical gay man, we must remove the assumption that his outward masculinity is a reflection of his sexuality. In essence, once we understand that sexuality is not actually tied to the effectiveness of a Marine or the masculinity of an individual, the distinction between a gay Marine and a straight one (or anything in between) is much harder to make. And once these Marines become indistinguishable from each other, objections to gays serving lose much of their credibility.
The strongest evidence I can present in this case is that gay and straight Marines are indistinguishable from each other. How do I know this? Because there are already gays serving in the Marine Corps, indistinguishably from their straight comrades. The Marine Corps is probably the most “macho” of the services; as such, it is least compatible with the stereotypical gay man. The problem, again, is the stereotype. Those who oppose repeal of DADT seem convinced that the stereotype of gays as feminine or flamboyant also applies to gays in the Marine Corps. Like any other Marine, gay Marines are Marines first, and it is a mistake to think when gay Marines are allowed to serve openly that they would try to be anything other than what they already are: Marines.