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
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT