Did retired Lt. Col. Oliver North really just say that a repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell could mean a return to the draft? Yes, in an appearance today on Fox News' Happening Now, North said DADT repeal could mean a loss of 30 percent of military personnel, and that an all-volunteer force could not survive such a loss. From the December 1 edition of Happening Now:
JENNA LEE (anchor): Viewers have a lot of questions about our resources though as a military, and this is follow-up from Ken Delap. He wants to know if there is ever a scenario you can imagine where we would have to reinstate the draft?
NORTH: Well, yeah, I can because of what they're about to do in terms of the Congress passing this revocation of section 654 of Title 10. What you're liable to have happen, is a consequence of-- and by the way that is known in the jargon as “don't ask, don't tell”. What you're likely to have is a whole lot fewer voluntary enlistments that we rely on right now for an all-volunteer force.
LEE: And Colonel North, you really think that would happen? Because Briana had a great question from Phoenix, Arizona. She says, “Is having homosexual men and women in the military really a detriment to the establishment of the military?” Sounds like you're saying yes?
NORTH: It is. There's no doubt. In all of my trips overseas, Briana and Jenna, and everyone else out there, in now almost two years of covering this war for Fox News on the ground with U.S. units, I have never - there's very few always and nevers in life -- I have never talked to a staff noncommissioned officer or a mid-grade officer with combat experience who believes this is a good thing to do. And if we're relying on the fact that 30 percent have already expressed their concern about this, don't leave the military and get replaced, then we've got a problem because you can't live with an all-volunteer force that loses 30 percent of the best-educated, trained, led, militarily equipped and combat-experienced force the world ever has known. It could be very, very dangerous in the long-term.
Why, that seems like a mighty strong assertion. If only we had hard data on the subject. If only a recent comprehensive survey of U.S. service members had asked how a repeal of DADT would affect their decisions to stay in the force.
What's that you say? The Pentagon recently asked over 115,000 service members in a survey about DADT?
12.6 percent of those surveyed said they would leave sooner than they had planned, 11.1 percent said they would think about leaving sooner. That adds up to 22.7 percent, assuming every respondent who said they would leave early actually did, and that every respondent who said they would consider leaving early decided to do so.
To approach 30 percent, one would have to assume that the 10.5 percent of respondents who said that they did not know how repeal would affect their career decisions would up and decide that the post-repeal military just wasn't for them. Given that absurd, baseless assumption, we arrive at a total of 33.2 percent. One would also have to disregard the estimated thousands of gay and lesbian military personnel who would be retained each year if not for DADT, and to assume that any uptick in recruitment of gay personnel was non-existent or negligible.
However, such an exodus is extremely unlikely, given similar surveys taken in foreign countries before those nations allowed open service. 45 percent of Canadian troops said they would refuse to work with gay personnel, and two-thirds of British troops said they would leave the military if the gay ban were repealed. Despite those indications, retention was not harmed.
So, to recap, repeal would cost the U.S. military 30 percent of its personnel only in a preposterous fictional world where every single service member who answered that they would leave sooner did not reconsider and actually left, where every single service member who answered that they would think about leaving sooner decided to leave early and did so, and where every single service member who couldn't say how repeal would affect their decision.
In that world, North's anecdotal evidence and persistent fear mongering might hold water. That anecdotal evidence is itself suspect: in “almost two years of covering this war for Fox News on the ground with US units,” has North really never spoken to any U.S. military personnel with positive things to say about gay troops in the British or Canadian forces in Afghanistan?
But in real world where people consider data and history, North's numbers just don't add up.