DADT Implications: Return of ROTC, Broadening the 'Sliver'

By James Fallows

In the short run, we don't know what will happen in the wake of yesterday's ruling striking down "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In the long run, as previously argued here, it is (to me) absolutely obvious and inevitable that gays and lesbians will be fully integrated into military service -- and that their exclusion, along with laws against same-sex marriage, will be viewed by future Americans with the same puzzled distance with which we consider anti-miscegenation laws today. I suspect that Americans now in their 20s can't really believe that until the mid-1960s, laws against "mixed race" marriages were still on the books. (For more: Loving v. Virginia.) I am sure that is how it will be with sexual-orientation issues; it's just a question of whether that's 20 years from now, or sooner, or later.

Given short-term uncertainty about DADT, but longer-term inevitability (according to me) of its change, two implications:

HarvROTC.jpg1) ROTC bans. The original reason for ROTC's removal from a number of elite universities, notably and symbolically Harvard, was to protest government policy during the Vietnam war. You can look it up (or check a past skein of posts here). In recent years the stated reason for continuing the exclusion -- after all, Vietnam is at least three wars in the past -- has been the DADT policy and related anti-gay strictures in the military. Colleges have said that these violate their rules of providing equal access for all students.

DADT is going away, whether that has already happened by court ruling or will happen soon via Pentagon advisory-panel recommendation and Congressional assent. It's time for the ROTC ban to go away as well. It would be better for the military -- because of the "narrow sliver" problem -- and better for the universities too. Again, many arguments to that effect here. Harvard, next step is yours.*

2) Broadening the "narrow sliver." After an earlier post on SecDef Gates's warning that too many Americans viewed the country's too-long wars in purely abstract terms, quite a number of readers wrote in to say that DADT intensified the problem. Here is a sample from Ned Hodgman, of Understanding Government, who explained on their site why repealing the ban could be an important step in building connections beyond the "sliver."

>>If "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is finally thrown out, the U.S. armed forces will -- in an instant -- finally become fully inclusive** of all Americans. This change may seem tangential to Secretary Gates's concerns about the distance between most Americans and their military, but I think it could induce a marked change in the way Americans look at the armed forces, even if they never choose to serve.

If the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are openly tolerant and ready to accept all Americans -- all Americans, regardless of gender, race, creed, or sexual orientation -- who are ready to fight for our country, we'll move a step closer together as a nation.<<

Again, we don't know whether the big DADT change has already happened, or is coming soon. Either way, it's significant and positive news, with effects that reach beyond the people directly affected.
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* At Harvard as at some other universities, students may enroll in ROTC and receive its scholarships; there is also a ROTC commissioning ceremony as part of the annual graduation observances. But students have to go off campus for classes and training. Details in the previously linked posts.

** UPDATE As several readers have pointed out, this sentence should really say that the military is becoming "more fully inclusive," rather than absolutely inclusive of all. The military excludes lots of categories of people from service -- for educational, physical, and other reasons. Among them, related to the DADT removal, is an ongoing exclusion of transgender recruits. So, more inclusive -- which is a step.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/10/dadt-implications-return-of-rotc-broadening-the-sliver/64500/