James Bowman on Gays in the Military

An attempt to remake the case for "Don't ask, don't tell" looses an avalanche

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Proponents of overturning the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy were frustrated enough with Obama's foot-dragging on the issue. But when James Bowman tried to remake the case for the policy in the conservative Weekly Standard, they pounced. Bowman argued that crucial military unit bonding is (a) partly based on the concept of manliness, which assumes heterosexuality and (b) built on strong male friendship that would be corrupted by the introduction of erotic love, an emotion Bowman believes, whether in homosexual or heterosexual form, crowds out other bonds.

Response has been swift:

  • 'The Worst Argument You've Ever Heard,' says the New Republic's Isaac Chotiner. "What wing of society," asks Chotiner, "has decided that 'the reputation of manliness' is incompatible with homosexuality?" Chotiner witheringly suggested that Bowman's use of Latin is "supposed to subtly remind the reader that society is going to the dogs." The author has, he notes "unsurprisingly, ... written a book called Honor: A History. (Do conservatives ever get tired of this stuff?)" Chotiner also questions the publication itself: "Can't the Standard move beyond this nonsense?"
  • 'Sissies' Served in Iraq  "Just when you thought," begins the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, "the Weekly Standard's institutionalized contempt for gay people could not get any worse." Bowman, writes Sullivan, "might want to avoid a fight" with those he labels sissies, "because many of them could take his sorry ass to the cleaners, and because many more, over the centuries, have fought and died for their country and are more men than he, from his armchair, will ever be." He rejects Bowman's argument:
Beneath the elegant prose and the admission that gay soldiers are as good as straight ones--and as American as anyone else--is an old schoolyard epithet: no sissies allowed, and all fags are sissies ... It is true that for much of human history ... masculinity has been conflated with heterosexuality ... But now we do know better--and the next generation of civilized men and civilized intelligent warriors understand this. Giving individuals a chance to prove their mettle as openly gay, and giving straight soldiers a chance to demonstrate that they care more about their duty than prejudice, is so obviously the right thing to do only bigots resist it at this point.
  • Actually, an Air Force Colonel Says Bowman's Wrong  Bowman, it seems, correctly predicted that he would be "identif[ied] ... as a bigot." But more persuasive refutation lay in other quarters. On Saturday, the New York Times editorial board reviewed a new paper by an Air Force colonel that, they argue, "effectively demolishes the primary, wrongheaded rationale for the law: that unit cohesion would be harmed if homosexuals served openly." Countries that have allowed gays to serve openly have had "no adverse effects on military performance or readiness." In fact,
Colonel Prakash argues that the law has undermined unit cohesion, in part by compromising the integrity of homosexuals who have to dissemble and by posing a moral quandary for commanders--look the other way or risk discharging a valuable service member. He judged the policy a "costly failure" because of the lost manpower and the administrative costs of recruiting and separating homosexuals.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.