While comparisons are seldom, if ever, so precise that one can ignore the differences, there are remarkable similiarities between the racial segregation in the military and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gays openly serving. A reading of the history of racial desegregation in the military is fascinating in and of itself, but one finds the same prejudice, resistance to change, arguments in favor of the status quo, that the military shouldn’t be used as a “social experiment”, questions raised about unit cohesion and barracks facilities, etc., that were used against desegregation as are used now against gays openly serving. One such striking example comes from the testimony opposing full desegregation of Kenneth C. Royall, Secretary of the Army, before the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity In The Armed Forces on March 28, 1949:
At the outset I want to make it clear that in my opinion the policies which should be applied to the use of all Army personnel, regardless of race, are those policies which best promote a sound national defense. Our basic mission is to win battles and to establish an organization capable of winning battles.
Specifically the Army is not an instrument for social evolution. It is not the Army’s job either to favor or to impede the social doctrines, no matter how progressive they may be – it is not for us to lead or to lag behind the civilian procession except to the extent that the national defense is affected…
Another – and an important – factor to be considered on the question of segregation is the morale of the troops as a whole – their satisfaction with Army life, and the spirit with which they perform Army tasks. In war, when the chips are down, this morale factor may well be the difference between victory and defeat.
We must remember that soldiers are not mere bodies that can be moved and handled as trucks and guns. They are individuals who came from civilian life and often return thereto. They are subject to all the emotions, prejudices, ideals, ambitions and inhibitions that encumber our civil population throughout the country.
Solders live and work closely together. They are not only on the same drill field also in the same living and eating quarters. From the standpoint both of morale and of efficiency it is important in peace and in war that the barracks and the unit areas be so attractive to them that they will devote not only their duty time but a reasonable part of their optional time at the post – that they will not be watching the clock for a chance to get away.
In war it is even more important that they have confidence both in their leaders and in the men that are to fight by their sides. Effective comradeship in battle calls for a warm and close personal relationship within a unit…
In this connection we must remember that a large part of the volunteers in the Army are Southerners – usually a larger proportion than from any other part of the country. Whether properly or not, it is a well known fact that close personal association with Negroes is distasteful to large percentage of Southern whites.
A total abandonment of – or a substantial and sudden change in – the Army’s partial segregation policy would in my opinion adversely affect enlistments and reenlistments not only in the South but in many other parts of the country, probably making peacetime selective service necessary. And a change in our policy would adversely affect the morale of many Southern soldiers and other soldiers now serving…
[I]n my opinion – and I believe in the opinion of a great majority of the experienced Army men and officers – it would be most difficult – and unwise from the standpoint of national defense – to require any substantial proportion of white soldiers – whether from the South or from other sections of the country – to serve under Negro officers or particularly under Negro non-commissioned officers.
On the website for the US Army is an excellent book called Integration of the Armed Forces 1940-1965 by Morris J. MacGregor, Jr. on the history of racial desegregation in the military which is an interesting read on the subject. While I recommend a full reading of the text, I would like to highlight some sections from Chapter 13 that I find relevant to the modern debate on DADT that one can reasonably compare to efforts to desegregate the military 60 years ago:
Ironically, the most celebrated pronouncement on segregation at the moment of the Truman order came not from publicists or politicians but from the Army’s new Chief of Staff, General Omar N. Bradley. Speaking to a group of instructors at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and unaware of the President’s order and the presence of the press, Bradley declared that the Army would have to retain segregation as long as it was the national pattern. This statement prompted questions at the President’s next news conference, letters to the editor, and debate in the press. Bradley later explained that he had supported the Army’s segregation policy because he was against making the Army an instrument of social change in areas of the country which still rejected integration. His comment, as amplified and broadcast by military analyst Hanson W. Baldwin, summarized the Army’s position at the time of the Truman order. “It is extremely dangerous nonsense,” Baldwin declared, “to try to make the Army other than one thing—a fighting machine.” By emphasizing that the Army could not afford to differ greatly in customs, traditions, and prejudices from the general population, Baldwin explained, Bradley was only underscoring a major characteristic of any large organization of conscripts. Most import, Baldwin pointed out, the Chief of Staff considered an inflexible order for the immediate integration of all troops one of the surest ways to break down the morale of the Army and destroy its efficiency. […]
Commenting independently, General Bradley warned [Secretary of the Army Kenneth] Royall that integrating individual Negroes in the National Guard would, from a military point of view, “create problems which may have serious consequences in case of national mobilization of those units.” […]
And when his subordinates added to this sentiment the notion that integration would disrupt the Army and endanger its efficiency, they quickly persuaded the already sympathetic Royall that segregation was not only correct but imperative. The secretary might easily have agreed with General Paul, who told an assembly of Army commanders that aside from some needed improvement in the employment of black specialists “there isn’t a single complaint anyone can make in our use of the Negro.” […]
The specific object of Royall’s indignation was Lester Granger’s final report on the work of the National Defense Conference. That report emphasized the conferees’ rebuttal to Royall’s defense of segregation on the grounds of military expediency and past experience with black soldiers. The Army has assumed a position, Granger claimed, that was unjustified by its own experience. Overlooking evidence to the contrary, Granger added that the Army position was at variance with the experience of the other services. His parting shot was aimed at the heart of the Army’s argument: “It is as unwise as it is unsound to cite the resistance of military leadership against basic changes in policy as sufficient cause for delaying immediate and effective action.” […]
[Secretary of the Navy John Nicholas] Brown did not spell out the risk, but a Navy spokesman on [Secretary of Defense James] Forrestal’s staff was not so reticent. “Mutiny cannot be dismissed from consideration,” Capt. Herbert D. Riley warned, if the Navy were forced to integrate its officers’ wardrooms, staterooms, and clubs. Such integration ran considerably in advance of the Navy’s current and carefully controlled integration of the enlisted general service and would, like the proposal to place Negroes in command of white officers and men, Captain Riley predicted, have such dire results as wholesale resignations and retirements. […]
[Marine Commandant General Clifton B.] Cates seemed determined to ignore the military inefficiency attendant on such elaborate attempts to insure the continued isolation of black marines. The defense establishment, he was convinced, “could not be an agency for experimentation in civil liberty without detriment to its ability to maintain the efficiency and the high state of readiness so essential to national defense.” Having thus tied military efficiency to segregation, Cates explained to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air that the efficiency of a unit was a command responsibility, and so long as that responsibility rested with the commander, he must be authorized to make such assignments as he deemed necessary. It followed then, that segregation was a national, not a military, problem, and any attempt to change national policy through the armed forces was, in the commandant’s words, “a dangerous path to pursue inasmuch as it affects the ability of the National Military Establishment to fulfill its mission.” Integration must first be accepted as a national custom, he concluded, “before it could be adopted in the armed forces.” […]
But there was to be no easy road to integration for the service. Considerable resistance was yet to be overcome, both in the Air staff and among senior commanders. As [Assistant] Secretary [of the Air Force Eugene] Zuckert later put it, while there was sentiment for integration among a few of the highest officers, “you didn’t have to scratch far to run into opposition.” The Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, General Edwards, reported to Secretary [of the Air Force Stuart] Symington that he had found solid opposition to any proposed policy of integration in the service. Normally such resistance would have killed the study group’s proposals. In the Army, for example, opposition supported by Secretary Royall had blocked change. In the Air Force, the opposition received no such support. Indeed, Secretary Symington proved to be the catalyst that the Army had lacked. He was the Air Force’s margin of difference, transforming the study group’s proposal from a staffing paper into a program for substantial change in racial policy.
Finally, in commenting here on a repeal of DADT some have objected because, as they see it, certain gay activist groups have at times through their actions or inactions behaved in a manner they find to be reprehensible. In essence, they take a view that all gays should be held responsible for the misbehavior of special interest groups that purportedly represent them. Yet as I previously replied about this:
[U]nless [one is] willing to subscribe to the liberal notion that such groups do indeed speak for whomever they say they do and only them (NAACP for blacks, SLDN for gays, NOW for women, etc.), this is contradictory. In such a case, liberals have every right to condemn blacks who disagree with the NAACP, gays who stray from say HRC, or women who don’t believe NOW represents them.
Putting pressure on civilian and military leaders for change is nothing new in this country, and such is not necessarily worthy of condemnation. It might be instructive to end this post by looking at some of the pressure brought to bear by civil rights groups opposed to segregation, courtesy of the website for the Harry S. Truman Museum & Library, for an example:
March 27, 1948: Twenty African-American organizations meeting in New York City issue the “Declaration of Negro Voters,” which demands, among other things, “that every vestige of segregation and discrimination in the armed forces be forthwith abolished.”
March 30, 1948: A. Philip Randolph, representing the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training, testifies to the Senate Armed Services Committee that African-Americans would refuse to serve in the armed forces if a proposed new draft law does not forbid segregation.
April 26, 1948: Sixteen African-American leaders tell Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal that African-Americans will react strongly unless the armed forces end segregation.
June 26, 1948: A. Philip Randolph announces the formation of the League for Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation. Randolph informed President Truman on June 29, 1948 that unless the President issued an executive order ending segregation in the armed forces, African-American youth would resist the draft law.
— John (Average Gay Joe)