April 16th, 2009
05:29 PM ET

Allow gays to serve openly in military

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/16/art.army.jpg width=292 height=320]
Nathaniel Frank
Special to CNN

This week, four senior retired officers wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post predicting "grave harm" to the military if President Obama moves forward with his vow to let gays serve openly.

"Our experience," they wrote, "and that of more than 1,000 retired flag and general officers," suggest that lifting the ban would harm unit cohesion, recruitment and retention, and would ultimately "break the All-Volunteer Force."

The argument is an old one, and was an effective canard in defeating President Clinton's move to lift the ban in 1993. But it has never been rooted in fact or evidence, and the effort of these officers to defeat equal treatment this time around will face mountains of opposing data and a dramatically changed cultural landscape.

The officers who oppose openly gay service do not base their arguments on any new information. In addition to their own experience - an impressive credential that's nevertheless too vague to hang an argument on - the officers rely on a single poll.

They cite an unscientific survey - it does not draw from a representative sampling but from newspaper subscribers - indicating that 58 percent of the military oppose lifting the ban and that, if it's lifted, 24 percent claim they will leave or consider leaving after their tour ends.


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