The Pentagon has commissioned a survey of more than 400,000 service members, available here, to test morale and other issues,including their reaction to a potential abolition of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy toward gay service members.
“If the law changes and we are told to implement it — and we will, if the law changes — then how do we do this in a way that makes sense?” Gates told soldiers in Korea this week. “How do we identify beforehand the problems, the issues and the challenges that we’re going to face? The kind of training requirements we’re going to need, the kinds of changes in regulations, the impact on benefits — all of these things need to be addressed in advance.”
The proposed policy change has been compared by gay-rights advocates to the historic decision by President Harry Truman in 1948 to desegregate the military. However, defenders of DADT reject that comparison and argue that Congress and the president should be guided on such matters by the sentiments of those who actually wear the uniform.
As it turns out, however, the military also surveyed its members prior to Truman’s decision, and the sentiment among troops at the time was overwhelmingly opposed to desegregation. (H/t Think Progress).
For example, one poll surveyed 2,360 white enlisted personnel in three Army divisions stationed in the South, with results broken down by the soldiers’ region of origin (North, South or Border States). It found that opposition to desegregation was strong and crossed all regional boundaries.
“White enlisted men from the North show a strong prejudice against sharing recreation, theatre or post exchange facilities with Negroes,” it found. “As would be expected, the white enlisted men from the Border States show a stronger dislike for sharing facilities with Negroes than do the Northerners, and the white enlisted men from the South show the strongest dislike at all.” (An example of the questions and reports is printed below).
Truman nonetheless decided to end segregation, a step that earned him a place of honor in civil rights history. His decision may have been influenced by other Army surveys, conducted with white officers and non-commissioned officers who had commanded black combat troops in the European Theater during WWII (a sample is also reprinted below).
Sixty-four percent of the white soldiers said they had initially opposed serving in a company that included “colored platoons,” but 77 percent said that attitude had changed for the better after actual service. In fact, fewer than 1 percent of the white soldiers reported that the colored platoons had performed poorly in combat, with more than 80 percent reporting they had done very well. Almost nine out of 10 reported that black troops had performed as well as if not better than white soldiers.