When the Pentagon was wrestling with the idea of ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gay men and women serving openly in the military, the Marine Corps quickly came to be seen as the service most opposed to the change. After all, General James Amos said he feared lifting the ban would be a “distraction” that could lead to casualties on the battlefield.
But once the Marines got their marching orders, they saluted and began carrying them out. “The law has changed, we follow the law,” Amos said after Congress voted to lift the ban. “We’re the Marines, and that’s what we do for a living.” So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Marine Corps University Press has just published The End of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: The Impact In Studies and Personal Essays by Service Members and Veterans. Battleland recently conducted this email chat with editors J. Ford Huffman and Tammy S. Schultz:
How did The End of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell come to be?
J. Ford Huffman: The motto at U. S. Marine Corps War College is “dare to know.” Col. Michael Belcher, director of the College in Quantico, Va., until last June, took the motto to heart. He dared students and faculty to challenge their thinking by taking on topics they might find uncomfortable. The possible repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) was such a topic. And timely, too, in the 2010-2011 academic term.
After a handful of students began researching and writing – one student studied whether the repeal might require a new definition of the Marine Warrior – Belcher realized the reports could form the basis for a book.
He got the support of Marine Corps University. The non-profit, privately funded Marine Corps University Foundation offered financial support. And the Marine Corps University Press agreed to print the book. He asked the College’s head of national security, Dr. Tammy S. Schultz, and me to co-edit.
Why me? Mike had read many of my reviews of nonfiction books out of Iraq and Afghanistan in Marine Corps Times (and the other Military Times papers) and knew my work at USA Today.
My immediate job was to recruit people – in and outside the Marine Corps – to write personal pieces that would balance the book’s four scholarly reports.
I sent queries to at least 121 service members and veterans—straight and gay, female and male, officer and enlisted—plus a dozen civilians with military expertise. If they agreed to write, Tammy and I told them, they would be rewarded with a limit of no more than 1,500 words, would go through the editing process, and some day be the owner of two copies of the published book. I figured if Tammy and I got 12 writers out of 121, we would be lucky.
We won a literary lottery. There are 25 essays, and two other writers’ submissions work as part of my introduction rather than as stand-alone pieces. Each military branch is represented.
Why was it important to do it?
JFH: Because the book gives a public voice to some voices that have rarely been heard. Belcher, who left the Corps last November, says the issue of ending discrimination against gay service members is “an issue that must be addressed – openly, honestly, intelligently, and unemotionally.”
“Openly” was the first challenge.
As a journalist, I think anonymity lacks credibility, introduces mystery and breeds distrust in many readers’ minds. None of that seemed appropriate in an anthology about the impact of the repeal of a law that required some service members to remain anonymous or be discharged. It was important to let people write as themselves.
I recommended that all writers be identified by name, even at the expense of reducing the number of possible contributors.
Tammy S. Schultz: When doing research on DADT for a different scholarly book (Attitudes Aren’t Free: Thinking Deeply About Diversity in the U.S. Armed Forces, Edited by James E Parco and David A. Levy, Air University Press, 2010), I lamented the lack of a single work on desegregation that included policy recommendations and voices from the time President Truman instituted the policy in 1948. I wanted this to be the book on DADT that I could not find on desegregation.
Is it right to think of it as an After-Action Report?
JFH: I think “During-Action Report” is apt.
Tammy and I began working on the effort last summer. Active-duty writers were writing about DADT while the law was still around, and the first edits were finished by Labor Day – a couple weeks before President Obama signed the law ending the repeal.
The first version of the manuscript that went to the brass at Marine Corps University was censored. How? The bylines of active-duty gay writers were crossed out because otherwise those writers would be incriminating themselves. The deletions were done to protect the officers who read the material as well.
Are you surprised by the lack of drama in response to the end of DADT?
JFH: As a civilian, my answer is no – because of what I learned while editing the book.
One Marine officer, an Iraq veteran who chose not to write when we asked him last August, said “most active duty Marines I know do not intend to come screaming out of the closet on 20 September. Most only intend to tell a select few of their colleagues, if anyone.”
In the book, Nora Bensahel of the Center for New American Security and formerly of RAND points to research that indicates “several U.S. allies that once barred gay people from serving in the military have allowed them to serve openly for years and even decades. The U.S. is likely to be even more prepared to effectively manage the implementation process.”
TSS: By and large, the only people who predicted a lot of drama, or that allowing gay people to serve openly would destroy the U.S. military as we know it, were those that disagree with homosexuality for reasons that have nothing to do with military readiness. I, along with many others who wrote prior to September 20, believed that the U.S. military is the most professional force in the world that and could adapt to this change while maintaining readiness. Although more research remains to be done, apparently that has proven to be the case.
The Marines always had the reputation as being the most anti-gay service. Is/was that reputation warranted?
JFH: About a month ago in New Orleans I was having a drink with a gay former Marine officer who was not out during his nearly two decades in the Corps.
I mentioned that a former general’s news-making statements two years ago – saying the repeal of DADT could mean that the Corps might have to change its policy requiring unmarried Marines to share rooms – made some observers wonder whether the general really thought there were no gay Marines. The general really thought that way, my friend smiled, knowingly. “I worked for him.”
TSS: It is true that the Department of Defense’s Comprehensive Review of DADT that surveyed hundreds of thousands of service members showed that Marines, especially those in the combat arms, were most reticent about changing the policy. Part of that uncertainty, though, comes from the fact that many of these Marines did not believe that they had ever served with someone who is gay, which is one reason that this book is so important.
Has it changed?
TSS: One of the things that will change minds is when stereotypes are replaced by real people – when the gay “boogeyman” is replaced with a corporal, warrant officer, colonel, or general the individual Marine respects. As this increasingly happens across the force, more and more Marines will realize what many in the service already know: That a Marine is a Marine regardless of sexual orientation, just as the Commandant has emphasized. To paraphrase the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, you don’t have to be straight to shoot straight, and the ability to take care of one’s Marines and get them back home safely while executing the nation’s missions is the most important thing – not who that Marine loves in his/her personal life.
Given that background, should it be surprising that the MCUP is publishing this book?
JFH: Nearly everyone I’ve talked with is surprised. After they think about it for a second, they are impressed that the Corps is on the forefront on this topic. One Army veteran, Virginia Military Institute graduate Andrew Harris, says (in his essay) that the repeal is an opportunity for the U.S. military “to catch up with society.”
TSS: The Commandant’s guidance was “to step out smartly to faithfully implement this new law,” so while some outside the Marine Corps are surprised, I am proud but not surprised.
Who approved doing this book?
TSS: Marine Corps University has a strong tradition of academic freedom. Since I am a professor at the War College, I enjoy the ability to research and publish on a wide range of topics, from national security strategy to issues such as health of the forces and DADT.
How much did it cost the Marine Corps to publish this book?
TSS: The Marine Corps University Foundation generously provided funding for us to get J. Ford involved in the project. For both J. Ford and me, this was a labor of love that we both worked on above and beyond our “normal” hours. The authors receive no monetary compensation.
Printing the book will cost under $9,000, and because the Government Printing Office (GPO) soon will handle the book, that money will ultimately be repaid to the U.S. taxpayer.
Who do you want to read this book?
JFH: The United States is ordering straight and gay men and women to fight in Afghanistan and to be prepared to fight elsewhere. The book offers one opportunity for readers to get to know the people who fight.
The End of DADT is not ancient military history. The book is live and in color. In fact, some readers will find some of the language quite colorful.
TSS: In addition to today’s academics, policymakers, and public who are interested in learning more about what it was like for service members under DADT, I hope that historians and dissertation students pick this up in 50 years and marvel at the courage of these service members. I also hope that my daughters, 3 and 5, read it someday not only to see what their mom does, but about some real-life heroes.
Who do you think will read this book?
JFH: The writers will read their own essays and reports. I hope they read the others’ essays and reports, too. Seriously: Some people will read the book to affirm their beliefs, one way or the other. As Col. Belcher says, the book will “fascinate and infuriate.” Either way the book can inform and enlighten.
TSS: Since this is the only book of its kind published by a service on such a topic, we have received a lot of interest ranging from the general public to academics to policymakers.
Is this book online? If so where?
JFH: The GPO can offer wider distribution, digital and print, and it can be ordered here. Readers can watch for details about the online availability on the War College’s and Marine Corps University’s web site, www.mcu.usmc.mil [Editor’s note: here are a couple of the essays: one by Andrew Harris, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute who served in the Army for five years before leaving as a captain in 2009 who now works for the Deloitte consulting firm, and a second by Brendan P. Kearney, who joined the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course program in 1971, was commissioned in 1975, retired as a colonel in 2006, and is now an independent consultant.]
Where can I buy a copy of this book?
JFH: Soon more readers will be able to get copies through the GPO. Meanwhile, as a public service the War College is making a limited number of copies available. Readers can put their names on a wait list by contacting the War College at 2076 South St., Quantico, Va. 22314-5068. I know, some people think mailing a letter in 2012 is quaint. But I figure serious readers will spring for the 45-cent stamp.
Are any of the other services contemplating a similar book, if you know?
TSS: This is the only book of its kind, not only on DADT, but desegregation and the like. This book is as unique as the service members who wrote for it.
What bigger lessons, if any, does this book contain for the U.S. military?
TSS: There are some policy lessons in this book, such as the notion that leadership is key to ensuring DADT’s smooth implementation. This book also demonstrates that one’s sexual orientation does not change why he or she joins the military and serves. The love of service our authors have shines through the pages of this book, and is humbling. Their service should be honored and valued as much as any other individual’s, no matter whom that person loves in his or her personal life.