Skip to main content

A year after DADT repeal, no harm done

By Peter Singer and Aaron Belkin, Special to CNN
updated 5:00 PM EDT, Thu September 20, 2012
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
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT