Is the brass ready for gays in the military?

Only 22% of senior active and retired officers said so in a Foreign Policy survey. But only 29% of the total sample was under 60. Opposition in the active ranks may be largely a thing of the past.

Reader Joe reports finding that what looked like a lemon was in fact a dish of lemon sorbet:

Kevin Drum thought he found some bad news the other day. Apparently, only 22% of military officers who are field-grade or higher believe that the US should allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

Bad news? Not at all, when you look at the cross-tabs provided by Foreign Policy magazine, which ran the poll. Indeed, it is very good news indeed. The last question on the survey: “What is your age?” The breakdown:

38% 71+ years

34% 61-70 years

17% 51-60 years

6% 41-50 years

6% 31-40 years

.03% 25-30 years

Attitudes toward gay and lesbian folk are intensely generational, with homophobia increasing with age. Also, most officers retire in their early 50’s. Put these two facts together with the age distribution, and what do you get? Most active serving officers probably think that open service by gays and lesbians is a good idea! The poll is skewed by the retired blimps, who probably had more time on their hands, and were more likely to fill out the survey. Furthermore, the survey does not claim to be random.

It would be nice if Foreign Policy magazine could release the detailed cross-tabs showing attitude by age. But from what I see, our active military &#8212 especially those senior officers who will be serving in the Obama administration &#8212 support openly gay and lesbian troops.

There are two morals to this story. First, our military is far less troglodytic than some of its civilian boosters would have you think. Second, polls aren’t very useful if you don’t look at the cross-tabs.

Let me only add that this is consistent with what I heard from a junior officer who recently served a tour in Iraq: there’s still resistance to gays in the military among older colonels and generals, but everyone else thinks it’s a non-issue. It’s also consistent with the finding that discharges under “Don’t ask, don’t tell” have been 40% lower since 9/11 than they were before it.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: