Why military bloggers are taking a nuanced approach to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell debate

In February I interviewed several LGBT bloggers who had banded together to create a “blog swam” that pressured human rights groups into taking a more firm position on repealing the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. The idea, I gathered, was that by speaking as a unified voice the group could exert more influence than any individual blogger. From initial press reports, the joint letter released yesterday by 15 military bloggers (or “milbloggers,” as they’re affectionately called) seemed to aim for this same organizational heft. “Milbloggers call for end to ‘Don’t Ask’” Ben Smith at POLITICO wrote. Similarly, Huffington Post characterized it as, “Milbloggers Urge Repeal Of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’” But after reading the joint letter, a short four paragraphs, I wasn’t so sure this was the case. An email from Andrew Lubin, one of the co-signers of the letter, confirmed these suspicions. “Simon: please read our statement more carefully,” he wrote. “We’re not calling for the repeal of DADT, but rather are calling its repeal inevitable – we’re calling for Congress to wait until the military study is completed and support its recommendations – and not to act precipitously. This is an important difference than your statement that we’re calling for its repeal.”

Was it? I spoke on the phone and via email to a few of the bloggers who had signed onto the letter, and all seemed to agree that the repeal of DADT was inevitable, and the report referenced in Lubin’s email — due out in December — would likely reach the same conclusion. So why be so careful in their wording?

The first draft of the letter, Lubin told me, was sent around a little over a week ago and went through a few edits before everyone signed on. Though nobody mentioned any disagreements between the 15 bloggers — at least pertaining to this letter — Mark Seavy, another co-signer, said that milbloggers have different views on how DADT should be implemented. “There are some among the coalition that feel that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell should come down almost immediately,” he told me. “There are others that feel that we should give the military its chance to finish the study and then figure out what they’re going to do.”

Both Lubin and Seavy offered several reasons for the measured approach. “If Congress turns around and changes the law tomorrow, you have to change it from something to something else,” Lubin said. “The military understands that the law is going to change, and they have to come up with something different than they have now. We understand it’s going to change, but if we’re going to change this in the middle of two wars, you have to change it so you don’t hurt unit cohesion. This isn’t something you do overnight.” Seavy elaborated: “For instance, if a chaplain were to give some kind of sermon that touched on Leviticus, would that be grounds for removing the chaplain? And what’s going to happen with military members who have a same sex marriage and they happen to be in the same unit? There’s a lot of nuance to the policy that needs to be worked out. I haven’t thought out all the possible permutations that may happen. That’s why we really want to see what the report is before Congress goes ahead and finally pushes in there.”

Either way, there’s no doubt that these bloggers have organizational heft with higher-ups in the military. Several are regularly quoted in the media and Seavy told me about memos — leaked to Wired — that were prepared for top Army brass discussing some of the issues in the blogosphere. Many of the milbloggers were referenced dozens of times. “How much effect we have on the Congressional side” — which will ultimately determine how the issued is addressed — “it’s really hard to tell. We know there are members of Congress, or at least their staff, that read us fairly regularly. We can tell from the incoming IP addresses.”

I asked Seavy whether there had been any backlash against their letter, but he said that most blogs — conservative ones included — seemed to be supportive, aside from a few commenters in comment sections. But today, we saw a letter signed by several milbloggers that unequivocally called for the rejection of any efforts to repeal DADT. Ironically, one of the bloggers who signed onto the original letter also signed onto this one. Given this, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the first letter took on such a nuanced approach.

Overall, however, milbloggers are recognizing where this issue is inevitably headed.

“Eventually, this is going to happen whether they want it to or not,” said Seavy. “And I don’t think anyone wants to stand in the way of history knowing that it’s going to happen. I don’t think there’s anyone who disputes that within the next five years, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will be going away.”