he Pentagon is surveying 400,000 troops on the possible repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military, and gay-rights groups are calling foul. The survey, developed and administered under a $4.4 million contract with research firm Westat, is part of the Defense Department's review of the policy barring openly gay people from serving in the military, and includes questions about whether soldiers suspect people in their units of being gay. What does testing soldiers' "gaydar" accomplish? (Watch activist Dan Choi sound off on the military survey.)
Nothing. This is a waste of taxpayer money: Asking soldiers how they feel about DADT (the survey doesn't) could be useful, says Nate Silver in FiveThirtyEight, but encouraging them "to use their 'gaydar'" is worse than "useless." Since gay soldiers are, by dictate, closeted, the survey relies on "gossip" to predict the effect of openly gay soldiers on morale. And the soldiers most likely to see phantom gay colleagues are homophobes and soldiers in units where morale is low.
"Pentagon spends $4.4 million to test troops' gaydar"
Honesty is the best policy: If there's rampant homophobia or resistance to changing DADT, we have to be prepared, not "put our head in the sand," says Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, to Think Progress. That means some of the questions have to be phrased "in as candid a manner as possible." But remember, the survey is supposed to help "determine how to implement a repeal of DADT," not whether to repeal it in the first place.
"Pentagon pushes back against claim that DADT survey..."
Polling soldiers is a bad idea: Why ask soldiers what they want, then? asks Mark Thompson in Time. When Harry Truman integrated African-Americans in 1948, and when the Navy integrated woman in 1978, the military brass didn't poll the troops, they relied on the old maxim: "If we want you to have an opinion, we'll issue you one." Changing that ethos now sets a dangerous precedent, because it gives soldiers the impression they can veto policies they don't like.
"Why is the military polling the troops about gays?"
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