Conservatives' attack on DADT repeal affecting “unit cohesion” not supported by facts

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, foreign policy journal editor Mackubin Thomas Owens argued against repealing a ban on gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military by claiming it would “undermine the nonsexual bonding essential to unit cohesion”; Family Research Council senior fellow Peter Sprigg made a similar claim during the February 2 broadcast of MSNBC's Hardball. But those claims are heavily undermined by the fact that other countries allow gay men and lesbians to serve in the military and have not experienced issues with “cohesion.”

In a Journal op-ed, Owens claims repealing DADT law would “undermine” “unit cohesion”

From Owens' February 3 Wall Street Journal op-ed:

The congressional findings supporting the 1993 law (section 654 of title 10, United States Code) reflect the common-sense observation that military organizations exist to win wars. To maximize the chances of battlefield success, military organizations must overcome the paralyzing effects of fear on the individual soldier and what the famous Prussian war theorist Carl von Clausewitz called “friction” and the “fog of uncertainty.”

This they do by means of an ethos that stresses discipline, morale, good order and unit cohesion. Anything that threatens the nonsexual bonding that lies at the heart of unit cohesion adversely affects morale, disciple and good order, generating friction and undermining this ethos. Congress at the time and many today, including members of the military and members of Congress from both parties, believe that service by open homosexuals poses such a threat.


Accordingly, the military stresses such martial virtues as courage, both physical and moral, a sense of honor and duty, discipline, a professional code of conduct, and loyalty. It places a premium on such factors as unit cohesion and morale. The glue of the military ethos is what the Greeks called philia -- friendship, comradeship or brotherly love. Philia, the bond among disparate individuals who have nothing in common but facing death and misery together, is the source of the unit cohesion that most research has shown to be critical to battlefield success.

Philia depends on fairness and the absence of favoritism. Favoritism and double standards are deadly to philia and its associated phenomena -- cohesion, morale and discipline -- are absolutely critical to the success of a military organization.

The presence of open homosexuals in the close confines of ships or military units opens the possibility that eros -- which unlike philia is sexual, and therefore individual and exclusive -- will be unleashed into the environment. Eros manifests itself as sexual competition, protectiveness and favoritism, all of which undermine the nonsexual bonding essential to unit cohesion, good order, discipline and morale.

FRC's Sprigg: "[T]he presence of homosexuals in the military is incompatible with good order, morale, discipline, and unit cohesion." On the February 2 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Sprigg -- who once said he would “prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them into the United States” -- claimed that “the presence of homosexuals in the military is incompatible with good order, morale, discipline, and unit cohesion. That's exactly what Congress found in 1993. And that's what the law states.” Aubrey Sarvis of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network replied that “there is no data, there is no evidence, there is no study whatsoever that you can point to, to support that outrageous statement.”

Experts say claims that “don't ask, don't tell” preserves “unit cohesion” are not supported by studies or experience

Award-winning Joint Force Quarterly essay: Unit cohesion argument “not supported by any scientific studies.” In an essay published in the fourth quarter 2009 issue of Joint Force Quarterly -- which is “published for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University” -- Col. Om Prakash wrote of “don't ask, don't tell”: "[T]he stated premise of the law -- to protect unit cohesion and combat effectiveness -- is not supported by any scientific studies." The essay won the 2009 Secretary of Defense National Security Essay Competition.

At least 25 nations -- including many U.S. allies -- allow military service by openly gay people. According to the Palm Center, as of June 2009, 25 nations allowed military service by openly gay people, including North America Treaty Organization member countries Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

None of the 104 experts interviewed for studies believed decisions to lift gay bans in U.K., Canada, Israel, or Australia undermined cohesion. In a 2003 article for Parameters, the U.S. Army War College Quarterly, Aaron Belkin, a University of California at Santa Barbara professor who specializes in sexuality and the military, wrote that the university's Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military had conducted studies of the impact of the decisions to lift bans on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military in the United Kingdom, Israel, Canada, and Australia, and found: “Not a single one of the 104 experts interviewed believed that the Australian, Canadian, Israeli, or British decisions to lift their gay bans undermined military performance, readiness, or cohesion, led to increased difficulties in recruiting or retention, or increased the rate of HIV infection among the troops.” According to Belkin: “To prepare the case studies, every identifiable pro-gay and anti-gay expert on the policy change in each country was interviewed, including officers and enlisted personnel, ministry representatives, academics, veterans, politicians, and nongovernmental observers. During each interview, experts were asked to recommend additional contacts, all of whom were contacted.”

GAO: Other countries say allowing gays to serve openly “has not created problems in the military.” In a June 1993 report to Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) studied four countries that allow gay men and lesbians to serve in the military -- Canada, Israel, Germany, and Sweden -- and found that military officials said “the presence of homosexuals has not created problems in the military because homosexuality is not an issue in the military or in society at large.” It also found that "[m]ilitary officials from each country said that, on the basis of their experience, the inclusion of homosexuals in their militaries has not adversely affected unit readiness, effectiveness, cohesion, or morale." GAO wrote that it chose those four countries to study because they “generally reflect Western cultural values yet still provide a range of ethnic diversity” and have similarly sized militaries.