Sunday, June 17, 2007

SOUND OFF: DON'T ASK, DON'T TRANSLATE?

Forty members of the U.S. House of Representatives have written to the House Armed Services Committee asking the Pentagon to explain how it can afford to have expelled 58 Arabic-language experts from the U.S. military because they were gay. According to the Associated Press, the letter pointed out that the loss of "capable, highly skilled Arabic linguists continues to compromise our national security during time of war." (The Associated Press article as it ran in the Navy Times is at Sailor among latest Gay Arab linguists booted.)

The U.S. military continues to operate under the "don't ask, don't tell" law that was passed in 1994. Service members cannot be asked about their sexual orientation, but those who are openly gay must be discharged from the U.S. military.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said that he is not reviewing the policy.

If a shortage of Arabic-language experts is jeopardizing soldiers' lives, is the "don't ask, don't tell" law ethically compromised? Would it be wrong to allow such a decision to be driven by this sort of practical consideration? Or is there a larger ethical reason why the law should stay in place or be overturned?

Send your thoughts to rightthing@nytimes.com or post them here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, your hometown and state or province. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

12 comments:

Chris said...

The military has always used a twisted logic to justify its position against gays. "If the enemy discovers you're gay, they can blackmail you with that information." Of course, that only works if you can't admit you're gay. So if gays were allowed to openly serve, that logic would crumble. Before you claim I don't know what I'm talking about, let me say I'm a 20 year veteran of the Air Force & I'm straight.

Anonymous said...

When discussing the relative danger of not having enough tranlators for Arabic language versus bringing the number of gay translators into the picture, as with any other discussion about gays, it becomes less what is the right thing to do as it is that one must consider the agenda gay activists always have when the discussion becomes why aren't gays simply allowed to serve without Army interference. Also, it is hard to believe that a particular area of expertise (translators) in the Army comes down to will it succeed or fail based on the sexual preference of members. If the Army has so many gays that translators for Arabic are mostly gays, we have a problem more serious than simply discussing a translator problem.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't translators be hired under contract, thereby getting around the problem?

Shmuel Ross said...

"Forty members of the U.S. House of Representatives have written to the House Armed Services Committee asking the Pentagon to explain how it can afford to have expelled 58 Arabic-language experts from the U.S. military because they were gay."

Rather than asking the Pentagon why it's enforcing the current laws pertaining to military service, wouldn't it be more productive for them to see about changing those laws? You can't have it both ways...

Anonymous said...

Mr. Seglin,

I can understand why the military would expel 58 Arabic-language interpreters who are gay even though we need people with their skills.

In Muslim countries homosexuality, ust as much as stealing, adultry, and mocking the Profit Mohammad, is a crime. They stone, whip, behead and hand people over there for doing those things. It is part of their culture, religion, laws and way of life.

While those acts undeniabaly do occur, they are not tolerated, let alone encouraged or legalized and I can see what the Army would not want gay Abdul over there as his actions could cause an international incident.

Suppose our fictional Abdul gets lonely and wants to hold the hand of a Muslim man he just met at a tea shop. The man, a traditional Muslim (as opposed to radical Muslims who are willing to sacrifice their lives to preserve their way of life) becomes offended and has Abdul arrested.

What then? Does the US stand by and cite "our" freedoms or "natural human rights" while Muslims are gathering rocks with which to stone Abdul? What if he's tried this before and they now want to behead him?

Gay and liberal protests in Manhattan won't do Abdul any good and his stoning or beheading won't improve our relations with that country. Do we have any right to impose our culture on Muslims anywhere else in the world?

Get caught with a kilo of hash in Baghdad and your editors can write all they wish about "human rights," but under the concept of multiculturalism and soverignty of other nations, you mnight as well kiss your ass goodby.

Personally, I have no feelings towards gays one way or the other. But if they want to be open about it in countries where it is against the law, they should be prepared to accept the consequences. I think the Army is simply trying to spare them that. The argument that homosexuality "should be" tolerated in Muslim countries is fine, but that's as far as it goes - an argument.

Burl Estes
Mission Viejo, CA

Anonymous said...

The 1994 law re "don't ask, don't tell," is archaic now as it was when passed. The common belief that gays could be blackmailed and thus would compromise their positions in highly secret [or otherwise] government positions may have held some merit 50 or more years ago. But, certainly since the late 80's and positively since the 90's, being gay for the most part doesn't lend itself to blackmail as most gays are openly comfortable with others knowing their sexual proclivities.

I believe there is no higher contribution to society than to serve in our military forces for the good of one's country. Since the chance of blackmail is taken off the table if it is common knowledge that someone is gay, let the gays serve in our armed forces--you can bet that heterosexual military personnel care little about one's sexual orientation when going into battle. The only thing I cared about during my 31 years in law-enforcement was if I could depend on my crime-stopping partner; were they there for me when I needed them?

Mike Padore (retired heterosexual law-enforcement officer)
Irvine, CA

Anonymous said...

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy is at its core ethically flawed discrimination. It is based on bigotry and false premises that have been disproven by the non-discrimination practices of several modern militaries, let alone Alexander the Great's military success.

Nonetheless, abandoning it specifically for Arabic translators, without scrapping it altogether, adds just another layer of unethical behavior... That narrow change would be a selfish action on the part of the government, doing something solely for its own best interest. The members of the House phrased their argument in this manner, pointing out the damage done to the government by the policy, and suggesting the self-serving move of reversing it in that case. But I suspect they were using it only as an example and would like to see the bad policy lifted for the gay Marine fighting in Iraq just as much as for the translator.

Anyone who questions whether specific exemptions to rules are indeed unethical should consider the hypothetical CEO of a large corporation. He has successfully implemented non-discrimination of all sorts for 50,000 employees on a company wide basis. But he insists that his own personal secretary be an attractive, large-breasted woman under 30. That's a 99.998% success rate at non-discrimination -- a very laudable achievement. But that doesn't make his action with his secretary correct.

Sooner or later the government will see the light and lift the ban on gays in the military. The sooner, the better for everyone, including the government. But in the meantime don't discriminate in discrimination.

I read you column in the Orange County Register.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Rev. Dr. Mark Shirilau
Irvine, CA

Anonymous said...

It's time to admit the truth that the men and women who are defending our freedom have the God given right to openly live as gay and lesbian in the military. We are willing to sacrifice our lives, but not our own honor?

Jack Raab
Westmont, IL

Carroll Straus said...

There have been men and wpomen of same gender orientation in the military since the Greeks. At least! i have "gay" friends who have served honorably and ably. I am a veteran and could not care less what anyone else is doing behind closed doors, and didnt when i was on active duty. (and there is PLENTY of cheating on spouses, which can and does cause divorce and violence which are not exactly condusive to good order and discipline. And NO ONE egts discharged for that!)

There is an strong anti-gay bias in the military culture. If someone wishes to serve knowing this, we should let them.

Anonymous said...

Long before homosexuality was a household word, I was freshman in college in the days when all dormitories were either all-male or all-female. (Imagine that!). I remember noticing that one particular guy was often in the bathroom shaving while I was taking a shower. Others, it turned out, had the same experience. We were slow to figure out that his purpose for being there was to watch us, but once we felt “targeted,” it became uncomfortable. One day, he was suddenly not around anymore, and we all assumed why.

I wouldn’t have expected him to try to hold my hand in the classroom any more than he would do so with a fellow soldier in a firefight, but in the intimacy of military living, knowing that the guy next to you might be “hot for your bod” adds an unnecessary worry when you have a lot of problems already. It’s tough enough to keep morale up as it is.

Much of the anti-gay bias in any group of male team members under rough conditions is a macho thing. Most guys don’t like to associate with effeminate men, even if they are not gay. Sure, gay men or women have just as much character, patriotism and honor as everybody else, and no doubt fight with the best of them, but to the vast majority of people who are attracted to members of the opposite sex, there is a natural disinclination to live in close quarters with a same-sex person who they fear might find him/her very attractive and seek an opportunity to “interact” if the stress levels got to him/her.

Anonymous said...

Do an internet search of penalties for homosexuality in Muslim countries. Then revisit the questions. The issue should become simpler.

Anonymous said...

Which shall we choose: the tyranny of the majority or the tyranny of the minority? If the majority of military personnel are straight, and are uncomfortable sharing living quarters with homosexual personnel, do we have the majority rule, an keep homosexuals out? Or do we insist that homosexual personnel live openly in the shared living quarters, thus making the heterosexual personnel uncomfortable? Don't bring sex into the barracks. It's that simple.

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