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Rights and Fights: Sexual Orientation and Military Effectiveness Tarak Barkawi and Christopher Dandeker Melissa Wells-Petry Elizabeth Kier To the Editors (Tarak Barkawi and Christopher Dandeker write): Homosexuals have always served in the armed forces: the key issues are the conditions under which they serve and the consequences of their doing so. In “Homosexuals in the U.S. Military,”1 Elizabeth Kier argues that the open integration of gays and lesbians would not disrupt combat effectiveness or unit cohesion while simultaneously advancing civil rights. Our contention is that Kier fails to grapple with the central issue of the heterosexist and masculine culture of the U.S. military. Her commitment to the civil rights of gays and lesbians, which we share, must not be allowed to obscure the real obstacles standing in the way of that commitment; civil rights are not advanced byºawed policy analysis. Kier’s thesis is undermined by three problems. First, she pays insufªcient attention to the historical and social structural context within which military personnel policy evolves. She fails to appreciate that given the functional imperative of managing violence, even modern high-technology militaries must retain a degree of distinctiveness from civilian society and nonmilitary institutions for purposes of combat effectiveness . Although she draws on a wide variety of data to support her arguments, much of it concerns group formation in civilian settings or is drawn from noncombat elements of the armed forces. This leads to a second problem: her analysis of the relationship between cohesion and homosexuality. Kier does not give sufªcient attention to the special nature of cohesion in the combat arms, particularly in ground combat forces, and to the ways in which militaries must produce soldiers from the civilian social context in which they are embedded. The context she focuses on—the U.S. case—however regrettable, is not generally supportive of the open integration of gays and lesbians International Security, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Summer 1999), pp. 181–201© 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tarak Barkawi is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Minnesota and an SSRCMacArthur Research Fellow in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. Christopher Dandeker is Head of Department and Professor of Military Sociology in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. The authors thank Martin Coward, Bud Duvall, Lynn Eden, Mark Laffey, and especially Diana Saco for their comments on earlier versions of this letter. Melissa Wells-Petry is a former U.S. Army major and member of the JAG Corps. She is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and has been awarded the Legion of Merit and the Army Parachutist Badge. She serves as counsel for the Family Research Council’s Military Readiness Project. Elizabeth Kier is an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Washington; an International Security Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; and an SSRC-MacArthur Postdoctoral Fellow for Peace and Security in a Changing World. She thanks Nora Bensahel, Colin Elman, Miriam Fendius Elman, and especially Aaron Belkin for their comments and suggestions. 1. Elizabeth Kier, “Homosexuals in the U.S. Military: Open Integration and Combat Effectiveness,” International Security, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Fall 1998), pp. 5–39. Further references to this article appear parenthetically in the text. 181 in either civilian or military life. Third, given these shortcomings, as well as the lack of space she devotes to specifying exactly what form open integration would take, it is impossible to determine from her analysis what consequences her proposals would have on the combat effectiveness of the U.S. military. Kier challenges “the premise that U.S. policy must represent some balance or compromise between two competing ideals: guaranteeing civil rights and maintaining military effectiveness” and argues that “no such compromise is necessary” (p. 7). This seems a strange contention to us. The issue of how “unique” or “separate” the military must be from civilian society to retain effectiveness remains a central problem in the evolution of civil-military relations. It is true, as Kier...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 181-201
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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