Exactly how homogenized need a military be? Must it exempt from its rank and scratch from its file every soldier who doesn’t quite fit the prescribed build?
It behooves us to remember that such a build, as we in our present day think of it, is one of an ancient kind. It’s one steeped in the traditional, in the virile, in the martial. It’s the child reared by our culture—a culture, needless to say, brawny in its history, manly in its past, but maybe too short-sighted when it comes to its future. It’s the idea sired by a people, a species, who have been, until recently, enmeshed interminably in conquest and embattled all the time. It was a patriarchal civilization riven with strife, with salvos, with fusillades, and with barrages. The rule was war and the exception was peace. Ever present was the threat of invasion and ever portentous the concept of loss. It was a civilization gravely certain that it would in time be attacked, but cripplingly unsure as to when, by whom, and from where.
Life was, in most places, a fragile thing; one didn’t merely shuffle off the mortal coils in the coming twilight of one’s life, but was violently stripped of them by a marauding force. Dotage was unknown and senescence (with all of its wrinkles, lineaments, and liver spots—all the things that turn a face into canvas and a life into a topography) was only seldom an experience with which one had to deal. We hadn’t the luxury to complain about a body slow in its decline. Aesthetics appeal very little to the man who faces, before the age of thirty, an imminent and painful death. To sustain our earlier selves, we needed protection. Clans became armies, to which young men lent their futures and their limbs. The opportunity cost for such an investment was unimaginable, yet essential. Around them, governments formed. The lay people, whose existence the army secured, relinquished to the new commonwealth part of themselves and a bit of their rights.
These military roots from which the modern age grew remain deeply entrenched in us today. So it was then, as it is now, a strong military and a capable and a real potential for its use of force preserves us in all times. It’s a solemn but unavoidable fact. Of course, now, in the present state of the world and its modern, largely westernized mores, our armed forces tend more toward deterrence and the safeguard of a peaceful status quo rather than the provocation of internecine strife. Wars, for the better part of the last seven decades, have become anomalies. They’ve become flashes in a pan rather than infernal, interminable fires of hell. They’re less conflagrations, more controlled burns. As democracy suffuses and liberates the globe from its benighted veil of indecency, and an enlightened sense of being takes hold, even less necessary might our armies become. Perpetual and unequivocal peace, as Immanuel Kant quixotically imagined, might very well be feasible in the not-too-distant days to come.
But, until that time, we must stay vigilant and must be secure. Our armed forces mustn’t lag. They mustn’t weaken nor become too complacent in the face of these encouraging trends. Instead, they must remain stolid and astute, well-tempered and protective like dogs on guard. Trained they ought to be, but only commensurately to nip at hungry foes. But who is to constitute our pack of patriotic canines, our warriors, our wolves? What is the breed and the build, to take from my opening line the term I used, to which all of our soldiers must conform? Must they be preferably male and cis-gender, virile and unanimously straight? If not, and if others are to be permitted into the ranks, must we intimidate or mute the service member who is a homosexual or decide spontaneously to ban he or she who is transgender—he or she whose sexual identification bestrides more realms than one, but whose dedication to this beautiful country is unquestionably and singularly defined?
The answer to that final question has been made clear. By and large, excepting a few unusual circumstances to be decided on a case-by-case basis, no longer will transgender soldiers be permitted to serve in the armed forces. In a way, this recent decree is the recrudescence of an earlier move. In the summer of 2017, President Trump tweeted, extemporaneously and without further explanation, his intention to ban from the military all transgender people. His statement at the time lacked little of his wonted ambiguity. “The United States Government”, he declared, “will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military”. A more crisp and lucid statement he’s never said. He cited as his rationale the burden of a transgender serviceman’s “tremendous medical cost” to the tax-paying American and the “disruptions” in the units that transgender soldiers sow.
Trump’s announcement was clear, but it was made in a most cursory manner. He seemed at the time not thoroughly to have discussed the issue with his top military command. Likely, it was a decision he’d made long ago, independent of the Pentagon, and was simply waiting to enact it—however perfunctorily done. But some questions weren’t fully considered. Specifically, what was to become of the valiant transgender men and women currently serving overseas? Were they immediately to be demoted of hard-earned ranks, despoiled of their accolades, and divested of the pensions they so earned? Would they be returning stateside with access to the VA’s benefits, with a G.I. Bill, or with so much as a scintilla of dignity intact? These soldiers, as deserving of our reverence and our veneration as any other straight, blue-blooded boy, were left to sweat in the limbo of their Commander-in-Chief’s whim. All the while, the repercussions of Trump’s decision, the many questions that lingered in its wake, went callously unaddressed.
In time, the ban was rationalized as a financially conservative, rather than a socially conservative measure. Trump later clarified that the “tremendous medical cost” associated with the provision of uniquely expensive healthcare for transgender soldiers was burdening the Department of Defense. A feasible explanation, as the cost for gender transition therapies and surgeries can certainly accrete, it was revealed that the expense wasn’t as burdensome as the president made it seem. In the now widely-cited Rand Cooperation analysis, entitled “Assessing the Implications of Allowing Transgender Personnel to Serve Openly”, the group studied gender transition and re-assignment healthcare costs in the military as a whole, as well as the consequent force readiness of those who underwent such a medical intervention. The study concluded that the costs associated with gender re-assignment health services would increase the Department of Defense’s bill, and ipso facto, the taxpayer’s bill, by about $2-8 million. This assumes, quite at odds with reality, that most transgender servicemen and women would be seeking and receiving gender re-assignment surgeries. These surgeries, intrusive as they are rare, change irrevocably one’s physical make-up so that it might conform with one’s psychological bent, to which one is convinced or affixed. (Financially astute observers have pointed out that the military spends about $84 million each year on erectile dysfunction medication, making transgender treatment a mere drop in the bucket).
In addition to the question of how much money a transgender soldier’s healthcare might cost is the question of just how many transgender soldiers are actually serving in the military. Again, in reference to the Rand Cooperation study, it’s estimated that 1,320-6,630 transgender soldiers currently serve. Doubtless a broad estimate with plenty of room in between, the Rand Cooperation’s finding potentially leaves over 5,000 soldiers unaccounted. Remarkably, taken in comparison with any other business sector or public administration in America, the U.S. military is by far the largest employer of transgender men and women—even if the absolute number of said men and women is currently unknown.
Transgender service members weren’t alone in being ill-prepared for the president’s tweet; neither were Pentagon officials nor military generals, who—like everyone else at home and abroad—learned of Trump’s declaration in real time. It so happens that, at the time of the tweet, Secretary of Defense James Mattis was in the process of conducting his own analysis on transgender soldiers. He was amalgamating statistics regarding their cost, their readiness, and their effectiveness, among other things. Prior to Mattis’ ascension to the role and his subsequent research, Obama’s Defense Secretary Ash Carter had been preparing the complete integration of transgender individuals into the military. He was doing so under the edict of President Obama, who wanted to see, before his tenure was through, their full integration, normalization, and acceptance in all branches of the military. Having failed to complete this process before Trump assumed office, Mattis was able to put the brakes on this integration effort, so that he might more thoroughly vet the questions that were supposed to have been answered before.
Vet them he did, and now, approximately eight months later, the ban has been formally adopted and stands to be implemented into practice. As the edict stands, “transgender persons who require or have undergone transition treatments” cannot and will not serve in the U.S. military. Nor will those who plan to have such a surgery be allowed to serve. Those diagnosed with gender dysphoria—excepting those who’ve been diagnosed under rare circumstances or before the beginning of Trump’s presidency—will also effectively be banned.
Doubtless, this newest iteration of the ban will be contested in court. So it was previously, the order will be the subject of ardent and exhaustive dispute by litigant LGBTQ groups across the nation. They’ll argue its incompatibility with the equal protection clause and our Constitution’s basic, enumerated civil rights. It seems though, that this latest moratorium will clear all of those awaiting hurdles and remain in place. It seems ludicrous and illiberal to think that transgender people—so long as they are physically, emotionally, and cognitively fit—might be excluded from military service. These people are of the same “build”, of the same valiant spirit that allows us as a country to persist. Their exclusion weakens not only our army, but our ethos; not only our navy, but our sense of justice. We, simply put, are a weaker nation without their presence. It might be time to re-consider how a modern army is built.