MAN: Forget about the badge! When do we get the freakin' guns?!Today when I read the news that congress plans, tentatively, to repeal Don't, Ask Don't Tell, I giddily did a skipping 1980s dance around my house to Sixpence None the Richer's 1990s hit, "Kiss Me." Not because I'm gay, mind you; this is just how I celebrate things.
WIGGUM: Hey, I told you, you don't get your gun until you tell me your name.
MAN: I've had it up to here with your "rules"!
— The Simpsons, Chief Clancy Wiggum dealing with a new cadet who later filled an army position vacated by a soldier discharged for homosexual conduct.
But after flashing a couple thumbs-up at my computer screen, I suddenly felt bad for Nathaniel Frank. He's the author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America.Like all authors who seek to end an injustice, I imagine he's in the bind of seeing his purpose achieved and his book made obsolete. While this reflects a social good, it's a pity from a non-fiction standpoint, because Frank's book is a gem. It's well-researched, humane, funny, outrageous and eminently readable. It features the luxury of moral clarity walking hand in hand with science, overcoming enemies undermined with no great effort by their hypocrisy and boobery.
Unfortunately, the book may still be relevant for a few more months — or years.
It's important to understand a little history of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (hereafter, "DADT") to understand what's wrong with it and the arguments for it. There isn't space here for anything comprehensive, but suffice to say that DADT is the unpleasant compromise produced in 1993 by the conflicting aims of the Clinton administration, conservative groups and some parts of the U.S. military. Clinton intended to make good on promises to the gay community that supported him during the 1992 election. However, he declined to integrate the military by fiat as the Commander-in-Chief—as Truman had with blacks—and instead deferred to congress and a bipartisan approach.
While initial public opinion either supported integration or remained salutarily indifferent, the voices of the culture war ramped up their acrimony with the aim of manipulating public opinion against an inexperienced administration without a central narrative for the issue. Interestingly, while most branches of the military began drawing up plans to integrate, assuming the issue was a fait accompli, members of the Army Working Group began organizing in what's difficult to label as anything other than open insubordination. (This is acceptable, in Democratic administrations, because Democrats never win wars, apart from WWI and WWII.) They used the old canard that a civilian liberal could not possibly understand the military to issue dire and elaborately fantastical warnings about American military collapse. Meanwhile, conservatism's culture warriors exploited the he-said/she-said nature of daily journalism—and its inability to check claims and "facts" before going to print—to poison the discourse with demonizing non-science about homosexuals and military integrity.