The U.S. Army recently discharged nine linguists, six of whom speak Arabic, because they are gay. Two of the other dismissed linguists speak Korean; the third speaks Mandarin Chinese. The Army’s decision to discharge these linguists is a result of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which states that gay members of the military may serve as long as they keep their sexual preferences secret, a compromise President Clinton reached with military commanders early in his first term.

Aside from being openly discriminatory, the recent firings are especially ill-timed because of the shortage of Arabic translators currently working for the government. According to a variety of defense experts and government reports, the agencies charged with fighting terrorism lack a sufficient number of translators, especially those fluent in Arabic. Even before Sept. 11, which highlighted the already present need for good communication with the Arab world, documents sat, untranslated, for weeks because of this shortage. Firing skilled translators during such a crisis is counterproductive and results from a policy that is clearly not in the national interest.

According to one former linguist, Alastair Gamble, in 2000 alone the military dismissed over 1,200 service members because they were gay. This amounts to a staggering waste of money as the military spent thousands of dollars training each one of these service members only to discharge him later.

Any military policy that puts bigotry above national security should be repealed immediately.

While dismissing skilled translators is about as useful to the military as shooting itself in the steel-toed boot, the justification for keeping these service members should not have to be made through practical cost-benefit analysis.

Those opposed to the integration of gays into the military employ the same tired arguments that segregationists used to keep African-Americans and members of other races from serving alongside whites and women from serving alongside men in the field. It is foolish to think that in the middle of combat soldiers would engage in inappropriate sexual behavior instead of fighting for their country and their lives. It also defies logic to make the claim that in combat, soldiers would be distracted by other soldiers’ sexual orientations. They would likely be concerned with more pressing matters in mid-battle.

President Bush should replace the current policy with a more inclusive policy that does not restrict gays from serving in the military. Both heterosexuals and homosexuals deserve equal treatment by the federal government. Great Britain, Canada, Israel and 20 other countries all allow gays to serve in their militaries. It is time that the United States follows suit.

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