Uncomfortable Parallels: Does McCain Really Want To Submit DADT To An Opinion Poll?

mccain-leaning3Responding to charges that he flip flopped on his support for repealing DADT, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’s office issued a statement arguing that Mike Mullen’s recent testimony does not reflect the view of the military as a whole. “One person, speaking individually, not on behalf of the Navy at all, is not going to change Senator McCain’s position” on the issue, McCain communications director Brooke Buchanan said and noted that “McCain had submitted for the record a list of thousands of former military officers who oppose lifting the ban on openly gay people serving in the military.” “Well, I hope you’ll pay attention to the views of over a thousand retired and flag general officers,” McCain said during yesterday’s hearing.

Of course, the over 1,000 “distinguished retired military leaders” who oppose repealing DADT do not accurately reflect military opinion. A PBS inquiry of the list found that “not all of those who appear on the list gave their permission to be used as signatories, and several are dead.” The majority “of the officers have not served in the military this century and never served under the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.” Officers who have overwhelmingly oppose the policy.

McCain’s insistence on submitting ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to an opinion poll — despite real world experiences and research suggesting that repealing the policy would not undermine unit cohesion — suggests that the Senator believes that we should surrender the rights of a minority to a vote before the majority. And that triggers some rather uncomfortable historic parallels.

In 1948, for instance, when President Harry Truman desegregated the military, “most civilians and military personnel opposed racial integration“:

One month before President Truman’s Executive Order, a Gallup poll showed that 63% of American adults endorsed the separation of Blacks and Whites in the military; only 26% supported integration. A 1949 survey of white Army personnel revealed that 32% completely opposed racial integration in any form, and 61% opposed integration if it meant that Whites and Blacks would share sleeping quarters and mess halls. However, 68% of white soldiers were willing to have Blacks and Whites work together, provided they didn’t share barracks or mess facilities.

A 1993 RAND study on integrating gay service members into the military noted, “[m]any white Americans (especially Southerners) responded with visceral revulsion to the idea of close physical contact with blacks. Many also perceived racial integration as a profound affront to their sense of social order.”

Since 1948 and 1993, attitudes and circumstances have changed. Most Americans have forgotten that the armed forces were ever racially segregated and many senior military officers — including Collin Powell — support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Surveys also suggest that an overwhelming majority of military members “are comfortable with lesbians and gays.”

And while their support may ease the integration process, it’s not a strong reason for repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ — a policy that was as unjust and counterproductive in 1993 (when many supported it) as it is today. That decision should be rooted in this country’s principles and moral obligations. As Mullen argued in yesterday’s hearing, “No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” “For me, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”