If you spend a lot of time talking to opponents of gays in the military, one of the arguments you hear again and again is that U.S. troops cannot form bonds of trust with gay peers. This idea is the basis of the so-called unit cohesion rationale which was formulated in 1993 to justify the then-new "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
According to a new poll of 545 U.S. troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, the unit cohesion rationale may be out of date. Seventy-three percent of the troops say that they are personally comfortable interacting with gays. Amazingly, of the twenty percent who say they are uncomfortable, only 5 percent say they are "very" uncomfortable, with the rest indicating that they are "somewhat" uncomfortable. Clearly, the military has changed over time.
Perhaps even more interesting than the shift in military attitudes, almost a quarter of the troops say that they are sure that someone in their unit is gay. According to "don't ask, don't tell," this is not supposed to happen. The authors of the policy said that forcing gays to stay in the closet was necessary to preserve morale, readiness and cohesion. The fact that a quarter of the military knows a gay peer suggests that this logic is off-target.
When I appeared on Bill O'Reilly's show a few years ago, O'Reilly conceded that firing Arabic linguists just because they are gay doesn't make sense. But, he said, he still supports "don't ask, don't tell." O'Reilly and the other people who support the policy appear to think that firing Arabic linguists is just an incidental aspect of the policy. Why does it make sense to fire a gay brain surgeon but not a gay Arabic linguist?
If supporters of "don't ask, don't tell" can show that integration would harm the military, they should provide evidence to bolster their case. Given that only 5 percent of U.S. troops are very uncomfortable around gays, supporters can no longer invoke preserving unit cohesion as a reason for the policy.