Earlier this month, as part of the year-long Defense Department review of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, the Pentagon distributed surveys to some 400,000 servicemembers to gauge their reaction to repealing the policy. While LGBT groups have characterized the questionnaire — which asks the troops to speculate on the sexuality of fellow servicemembers — as “derogatory and insulting,” the Pentagon continues to insist that they need to know what the troops are thinking in order to properly repeal the ban. “How do we identify beforehand the problems, the issues, and the challenges that we’re going to face? The kind of training requirements we’re going to need, the kinds of changes in regulations, the impact on benefits — all of these things need to be addressed in advance…. That’s where we want to hear from you all,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates told troops stationed in South Korea.
Earlier this week, the Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld reported, contrary to prior reports, that this is not the first time the military had surveyed the troops. “Prior to President Truman’s 1948 executive order integrating the armed forces…our preliminary research shows that branches of the armed forces undertook a number of modestly sized surveys of the attitudes of enlisted and nonenlisted troops concerning racial issues, integration, and morale,” Eleveld quoted a Defense Department spokesperson as saying.
Following this lead, the Wonk Room traveled to the National Archives and recovered some of the surveys the military conducted about the troops’ attitudes towards black and Jewish people between 1942 and 1946. At the time, the military — along with the overwhelming majority of the country — opposed integrating black servicemembers into the forces and preferred a ‘separate but equal’ approach that would have required the military to construct separate recreation spaces and facilities. The survey about Jews was no more promising, with 86% of the soldiers agreeing that “there is nothing good about Jews“:
While “no official Army action was being considered with respect to Jewish soldiers,” Truman integrated the forces despite the objections of the troops. He allowed them to voice their opinions but did not let them dictate the policy.
It remains to be seen if Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen and President Obama (who have to sign off on the DOD study) are willing to do the same for Don’t Ask, Don’ Tell. So far, the Pentagon insists that it will. “It is abundantly clear to this working group that their marching orders from the Secretary of Defense are to determine how to implement a repeal of DADT,” Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon’s spokesperson insists. “Their job is not to determine whether or not the force wishes a repeal to take place or not to take place. Their job is to prepare for that inevitability.” (While the results of the DADT survey are obviously pending, past surveys of military veterans have found that an overwhelming majority say it’s “personally acceptable to them if gay and lesbian people were allowed to serve openly in the military.”)
Post produced with research help from Think Progress intern, Nina Bhattacharya.