Skip to main content

A year after DADT repeal, no harm done

By Peter Singer and Aaron Belkin, Special to CNN
September 20, 2012 -- Updated 2100 GMT (0500 HKT)
Former U.S. Navy Petty Officer Joseph Rocha, left, was discharged in 2007 under
Former U.S. Navy Petty Officer Joseph Rocha, left, was discharged in 2007 under "don't ask, don't tell."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peter Singer, Aaron Belkin: The big "scare" over DADT repeal a year ago was unfounded
  • Writers: New report says readiness, cohesion, morale, recruitment unaffected by repeal
  • They say last year's uproar by some were hype, hysteria in place of facts and substance
  • Writers: Election could affect change. RNC platform calls for "review;" Romney waffles

Editor's note: Peter W. Singer is director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at Brookings. Aaron Belkin is director of the Palm Center, a research group at the University of California, Santa Barbara, that is focused on gender, sexuality and the military and recently published the report, "One Year Out: An Assessment of DADT Repeal's Impact on Military Readiness."

(CNN) -- According to a leading senator, it presented "an intolerable risk" to national security.

According to a consortium of retired generals, it would "break" the U.S. military. And according to a leading advocacy group, over "528,000" servicemen and women would be lost.

Something this terrible must be averted. We must take action now!

Except it is too late. The scary danger that these generals, John McCain, and the Family Research Council were warning about wasn't a future terrorist attack or war with China, it was allowing gay and lesbian service men and women to openly serve in the U.S. military. That "grave risk" is now celebrating its one year anniversary, and none of the dire predictions proved correct.

News: One year later, no overall negative impact on military after repeal of DADT

Peter Singer
Peter Singer
Aaron Belkin
Aaron Belkin

"Don't ask, don't tell" was one of the most controversial issues in American politics, with tens of thousands of articles and speeches on the topic. And yet, once it happened, it played out a lot like Y2K. There was a huge amount of hype and hysteria, but the world did not end.

Far from the U.S. military being broken by allowing gays to serve openly, a recent report by a group of U.S. military school professors writing for the Palm Center found, "The repeal of DADT has had no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale." The U.S. military today has the same level of readiness as it did in 2011. It didn't have over half a million servicemen exit in protest, as these opponents claimed would happen.

In fact, only two service members resigned, neither of them combat troops. Recruitment is just as high now as then. And when the CIA recently did an assessment of the risks to American national security, they found dangers that ranged from loose nukes to terrorism. Gays and lesbians in uniform didn't make it into the threat matrix.

Politics: The grades are in -- Obama's first-term report card

Those who predicted doom ignored that the military of today is staffed by young, millennial men and women who do not share the anti-gay sentiments of previous generations. They ignored empirical research, drawn from over half a century of evidence gathered by independent researchers and the U.S. military itself. They ignored the experiences of allied militaries in places like the UK, Australia, and Israel, all of which found that open service would not be destructive. They ignored that planning and leadership are the keys to successful policy change, and that the U.S. military excels at both. Simply put, their predictions of peril were endemic of the "post-truth" practice so common in politics today: hype and hysteria as a poor substitute for facts and substance.

History of 'don't ask, don't tell'
Cheney backs 'don't ask' repeal
'Don't ask, don't tell' is done

That DADT's end has been a relative non-story is the best evidence of how the transition to allowing open service has been an unmitigated success by all measures. But the experience of the last year is still instructive to keep in mind. The journey does not end here.

Only one year in, the policy could easily be overturned or mismanaged into something less successful. Indeed, there are still some who appear interested in returning to the past and forcing troops back into the closet. The 2012 Republican National Convention platform called for a "review" of such policies, while Mitt Romney has sent mixed signals on his personal position.

When running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, he supported "gays and lesbians being able to serve openly and honestly in our nation's military," but when running for president he argued that the policy should not have been changed to allow it "until conflict was over."

It is also useful to keep the experience on "don't ask, don't tell" in mind, when the same tactics are used in other debates. Indeed, many of the very same people are at it once more on topics that range from the role of women in the military to budget cuts. These too are again "the most destructive thing in the world" and would "destroy the military."

If we are ever going to push past the poisonous political climate of today, we have to start turning to the facts to build our positions, and when we genuinely disagree in our opinions, stop painting the other as hell bent only on total destruction and treason.

News: Army general is military's first openly gay flag officer

Perhaps that is the biggest lesson of looking back on the differences between the hype back then of ending DADT and the reality today. Our political leaders can continue to speak the language of the extreme. Or, they can just show a little bit of faith in the resilience and maturity of both the American military and the people they represent.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peter W. Singer and Aaron Belkin.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Mary Allen says because of new research and her own therapy, she no longer carries around the fear of her mother, which had turned into a generalized fear of everything
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1959 GMT (0359 HKT)
Gilbert Gottfried says the comedian was most at home on the comedy club stage, where he was generous to his fellow stand-up performers
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 2054 GMT (0454 HKT)
Iris Baez, whose son was killed by an illegal police chokehold, says there must be zero tolerance for police who fatally shoot or otherwise kill unarmed people such as Michael Brown
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
Maria Cardona says as he seeks a path to the presidency, the Kentucky Senator is running from his past stated positions. But voters are not stupid--and they know how to use the internet
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 0219 GMT (1019 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the shock at the actor and comedian's death comes from its utter implausibility. For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing could stop.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Soledad O'Brien says the story of two veterans told in a documentary airing on CNN shows the challenges resulting from post-traumatic stress
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT