Data & Don’t ask don’t tell
Mary Eberstadt has an excellent article in Policy Review on the difficulties faced by military mothers and their children. Some of the statistics she cites are especially notable:
- Around 40% of women on active duty have children
- Approximately 10% of female service members at any given time are pregnant
- About 30% of all female service members report being sexually harassed.
- Only 8% of sexual assaults in the military are prosecuted, compared to a 40% prosecution rate for similar civilian cases
- Marriages of female recruits are three times as likely to fail as those of male counterparts
- Maternal deployment is correlated with risk behavior among children: “While 75 percent of the adolescents exhibited no risk factors prior to deployment according to parental responses, just as many of the children engaged in risk behaviors during and after deployment.”
Eberstadt goes on to say:
The facts are these. With the obvious assent of the American people, as well as most of our political and military and other leaders, the United States military now routinely recruits mothers or soon-to-be mothers of babies and young children — and often puts them in harm’s way more or less as it does every other soldier. This is a practice so morally questionable, and in virtue of that fact so fraught with policy difficulties, that both its persistence and its apparent lack of controversy fairly beg for explanation. It is past time to ask the question: Why?
Liberalism has a habit of framing every issue in terms of fundamental rights. When any policy question is either a vindication of or an attack on some group’s basic rights, the consequences become unimportant. And so does data. There is no need to look at the statistics on the likely outcome of a given policy if we must enact it in order to vindicate a basic right.
Which brings me to “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Eberstadt suggests that there isn’t a very good argument — just from the social-science data — for having mothers serve in the military. But by the same standard, there seems to be little reason not to permit gay service members to serve openly. What I’d really like to oppose is the rhetoric of rights that animates calls for the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.” When that reversal happens, a lot of people will hail it as a significant, if belated, victory for civil rights. I don’t deny that there are fundamental rights that need protecting, but serving in the military is not one of them. When we speak of repeal as an absolute demand of justice, rather than as a simple, sensible change in policy, we promote a view of politics that devalues data and complicates compromise.
I try to avoid contentious topics when making a first impression, but the blogosphere ain’t polite society. Nonetheless, please forgive me if I end my first post on the League with a few formalities: I am a recent college graduate currently working as a research associate at the Witherspoon Institute and as an editor of its online publication Public Discourse. I speak only for myself here. Oh, and you can call me Matt.