Marines, LGBT Integration, And Unit Cohesion

Minorities and women have gained broader rights and acceptance through military service. Service in the open would result in broader acceptance and understanding for LGBTs. And we can't have that, can we?

Both courts and Congress are still discussing how DADT may or may not shake out in the next 100 days, but everyone is agreeing that some nebulous consensus of opinion should form among DoD branches. The Air Force seems ready to adapt to social change, the Navy and Army have not spoken. Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos has been the first to weigh in with a contrary opinion, but no one should be surprised because the Corps is always last to integrate. As the US Army's history on service integration of minorities puts it:

The Truman order, the Fahy Committee, even the demands of civil rights leaders and the mandates of the draft law, all exerted pressure for reform and assured the presence of some black marines. But the Marine Corps was for years able to stave off the logical outcome of such pressures, and in the end it was the manpower demands of the Korean War that finally brought integration. (Emphasis mine)

Much more after the jump and a video:

The Marines took longer than any other service to integrate brown and black Americans. But at last biting the bullet, the transition went fairly smoothly for a service dominated by southern sensibilities:

Most significantly, the war provided a rising generation of Marine Corps officers with a first combat experience with black marines. The competence of these Negroes and the general absence of racial tension during their integration destroyed long accepted beliefs to the contrary and opened the way for general integration. (Emphasis mine)

Compared to women, however, no man of any color or sexuality has room to complain. DoD didn't fully integrate women until 1978. The Marines first enlisted women in 1943, but the female percentage of Marine personnel today is by far the lowest of any service. The USMC has always been dead last to adapt to the changing society it protects.

General Amos, of course, couched his objections in the exigencies of battle. The Commandant speaks with command:

"There is nothing more intimate than young men and young women – and when you talk of infantry, we're talking our young men – laying out, sleeping alongside of one another and sharing death, fear and loss of brothers," he said. "I don't know what the effect of that will be on cohesion. I mean, that's what we're looking at. It's unit cohesion, it's combat effectiveness."

He's right about the intimacy factor, and the corps emphasizes intimacy way more than other services. But I have served with Marines before, and I'd rather share my foxhole with an honest gay Marine than a dishonest straight one because of unit cohesion. Amos is not so subtly suggesting: (A) there are bigots in the ranks, (B) he is afraid the bigots will frag the fags, (C) LGBTs won't have sense enough to bunk with accepting people, and (D) bigots won't take orders from them.

The first is inevitable, but already changing; the second is possible, but already subject to military discipline; the third informs Amos' objection because the Corps is the most deliberately spartan of the services. The last is the actual reason why bigots fight to keep DADT.

The "shakedown" every military recruit experiences early (and academies of service have made legendary) is the first lesson that mission accomplishment is the sole standard of merit, and one will be expected to maintain sanity under extreme pressure. There are no pre-existing distinctions. Everyone starts from absolute zero. From that shared experience, strangely, a 'unit' is born and individualism gives way.

The term 'unit cohesion' was best explained by General S. L. A. Marshall (BG, USAR, Rtd.) thusly:

I hold it to be one of the simplest truths of war that the thing which enables an infantry soldier to keep going with his weapons is the near presence or the presumed presence of a comrade. The warmth which enables an infantry soldier to keep going with his weapons is the near presence or the presumed presence of a comrade. The warmth which derives from human companionship is as essential to his employment of the arms with which he fights as is the finger with which he pulls a trigger or the eye with which he aligns his sights. The other man may be almost beyond hailing or seeing distance, but he must be there somewhere within a man's consciousness or the onset of demoralization is almost immediate and very quickly the mind begins to despair or turns to thoughts of escape. In this condition he is no longer a fighting individual, and though he holds to his weapon, it is little better than a club. Men Against Fire, Ch. 3

Man is a social animal. He is generally unwilling to face danger alone, and worse, surprisingly unwilling to kill without companions to share culpability. This is why six millenniums of warfare record an unceasing use of formations to keep men together. The lethality of 20th Century warfare led to the breaking of large formations into smaller units, but in operational terms one can argue an armored corps on the move is still moving in formation.

Every formation in western history -- from the phalanx of ancient Hellas to the maniples of Rome to the pike square to the colonial musket line -- involved a shared risk. If the army broke, death was likely and capture unwelcome. If the army stayed together, it might be defeated but retire with fewer losses. The evolutionary message: stick together. For equal risk, there was equal reward, which is why pay is a constant issue of morale throughout the ages. So is reward for service, including the civic franchise.

It is no coincidence that veterans led the civil rights movement. Medgar Evers, for instance, returned from the meritocratic system of rank to Mississippi, where separate-but-unequal inspired him to start a new fight. He was such a potent leader for civil rights that he had to be gunned down.

I don't mean to suggest that all armies create democracy. Indeed, armies themselves are notoriously authoritarian, and even within the societies I've mentioned democracy has been incomplete at best. These issues took time for America's democracy to get right, as well, but upon integration all four services have actually become stronger for it, and so has the republic.

I suspect the future is no different. I expect prejudiced young men and women of every color will join the military of the future and learn that gay officers can not only order them around, but put lesbian sergeants in charge of them. They will find themselves accidentally forming friendships with people of a different pride and discover that those peoples' relationships are just as tender as theirs. Your teammate is your teammate, and Dear John will be hard on the person you depend on to cover your back no matter their preference. The bigot's nightmare is that a storm might not break out in the ranks. Worse, a new generation of stereotype-destructing heroes might get made, and generals would have to pin medals on them. Shudder!

If DADT is overturned, General Amos will have to ensure the will of the commander-in-chief gets carried out -- through orders, the chain of command, and the EO chain already in place (.PDF). In essence, the general is claiming that Marines won't follow orders or maintain their military discipline. Something tells me that isn't true.

Now here is a video about an army with full gender and preference integration:

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