Monday, May 18, 2009

Don't Ask, Don't Tell versus Honor and Integrity

Ed posted the open letter that West Point grad, Daniel Choi wrote to Obama and congress. This isn't the first time I have read statements by those in the military who feel that DODT is antithetical to the environment of honor and integrity that is, or should be the foundation of every person who serves in the U.S. armed forces. But Daniel's letter is possibly the most eloquent and poignant statement of that position I have ever seen or heard. Bereft of anger or vitriol, Choi's letter is all the more powerful a damnation of an inherently dishonorable and unethical law.

We live in a society that accepts and occasionally even perceives a certain nobility in dishonesty. We don't like to call it that, because the implication sounds so negative - we find euphemisms that pretty it up, such as "bending the truth" or "obfuscating," - unless of course it's coming from people we disagree with, in which case it's bullshit and horribly wrong. In our modern society, honor is not only too often considered anachronistic, it is often disparaged as representative of regressive patriarchal feudalism. This is not to say that modern society is entirely bereft of ethics, just that ethics and honor are not nearly as important in the mainstream, as they have been in the past. There are many factors that influence this phenom, but that is a discussion for another time...

One place that honor is still very much alive, is in the U.S. armed forces. Military academies in particular, place a profound emphasis on honesty and integrity - on the honorable conduct of it's students and alumni. Half truths are disparaged as a fallback of the weak, lies are the realm of petty crooks and criminals. Yet we expect members of our armed forces to accept and promote dishonesty and half truths as a matter of course. We expect some members to pretend to be something they're not and others to be complicit in this pretense. The personal damage this can cause aside, this denigrates and undermines the foundations of discipline in our service men and women.

Don't ask, don't tell is wrong on many levels. But I believe that issue that Choi so eloquently raises is possibly the most critical. I actually heard that same argument years ago, when DADT was first put on the table - then from a couple of vets. I have heard it a few times since then. But Daniel Choi presents it with remarkable clarity and obvious passion. And his passion raises another important factor in this discussion...

Repealing DADT isn't about gay rights, in the same way that marriage equality is about gay rights. The repeal of DADT is about men and women who have a passionate drive to serve their country with honor - no matter their sexual preference or gender identity.

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