Wide-ranging critique of the U.S. military’s controversial policy.
Frank (History/New York Univ.) quickly and effectively sketches the long history of gays in the military, including many interesting details. Most readers will be unaware, for example, that the first homosexual American soldier was expelled during the Revolutionary War. The bulk of the book, however, is taken up with the debate over the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” guidelines, enacted into federal law in the early days of President Clinton’s administration. The law bars gay service members from disclosing their sexual orientations or speaking about their relationships on penalty of expulsion. Though Clinton at the time praised it as an “honorable compromise,” it left in place the longtime ban on homosexuals serving in the military. Frank tears down the pro-ban position on multiple fronts. In response to the common argument that openly gay soldiers would endanger “unit cohesion,” he points out that in many foreign militaries, including Canada, France and Italy, the presence of acknowledged homosexuals has had no measurable effect on unit effectiveness. Frank dismantles many of the most vicious prejudices—that gays in the military would increase the risk of service members getting AIDS; that they would victimize or “recruit” naïve soldiers—by debunking them with hard facts. The book’s most effective section addresses the policy’s national-security implications. In an age when the military embraces former convicts to meet recruitment quotas, he points out, it’s absurd to reject or expel excellent soldiers due to their sexual orientation. He brings home the danger of such a policy in stories of the military’s harassment and expulsion of dozens of gay Arabic linguists, who possess skills indispensable to the fight against terrorism.
Frank builds a solid case that the ban on gays in the military is not only wrong, it is endangering the country.