Sunday, December 05, 2010

Lessons from the 1940s

Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon's general counsel and the co-author of the report on the repeal of DADT, has a coincidental but striking personal relationship to the issue.

His uncle, Robert B. Johnson, was not only one of the Tuskegee Airmen, but was also a participant in what is known as the Freeman Field Mutiny in 1945, when a group of the airmen were arrested for entering an all-white officers’ club at Freeman Field in Indiana. The airmen were imprisoned for 10 days until the Army chief of staff, Gen. George C. Marshall, intervened. Three years later, President Harry S. Truman integrated the military by executive order.

Although Mr. Johnson says that discrimination based on race and sexual orientation are different — sexual orientation, he maintains, is “not a self-identifier” — he has found similarities in the way the armed forces reacted in both cases to the prospect of change. The study Mr. Johnson wrote with Gen. Carter F. Ham found that, over all, 70 percent of the troops surveyed said the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” would have little effect, but about 60 percent of Marines predicted a negative impact.

The opposition to integrating the armed forces in the 1940s, Mr. Johnson said, was as high as 80 percent. “The lesson to be drawn from that,” he said, “is that very often the predictions about what is going to happen overestimate the negative consequences and underestimate the military’s ability to adapt.”

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