I finally decided to ask Google about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Because every time I heard someone talk about it on TV, I thought maybe I was really stupid. I never quite understood what they were talking about.

Now I’m beginning to feel like it’s not me who’s stupid. It’s like some enormous shell game, a slight-of-hand exercise that appears to respect human rights but doesn’t.

It goes like this: we are a democratic, open society BUT … these gays and lesbians are different enough that having them around might make us so uncomfortable it’ll make us lousy fighters. And since the terrorists are determined to destroy our democratic, open way of life we have to be at the top of our game.

We want to say that gays and lesbians can protect the homeland, but we’re worried that if they actually do, it’s going to undermine order.

Which brings us to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: risk your life but please don’t let it slip that you’re not straight. Die without telling us who you really are.

Don’t Ask mandates that superior officers not investigate a service member’s sexual orientation if there’s no evidence he or she is engaging in behavior that is forbidden.

Don’t Tell prohibits any homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation, and speaking about these relationships while serving in the United States armed forces.
Then there’s the reality of Don’t Be, which means that any evidence of homosexual behavior may cause an investigation. Followed by dismissal.

Don’t Be prevents anyone who “demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” from serving in the armed forces, because “it would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”

Congress offered a bunch of reasons why army life wasn’t like ordinary life. And why in the interests of “unit cohesion” you need not respect human rights. Congress wrote: “the bonds of trust among individual service members that make the combat effectiveness of a military unit greater than the sum of the combat effectiveness of the individual unit members.”

A former Marine friend of mine could see why they might be a problem today. He thought many male soldiers might trust a gay soldier to watch his back in combat but not his front in the shower. The worry being that every gay man wants to spend his time hitting on straight men. Especially during war time.

I have a feeling many Congressmen were obsessing about showers, too, when they explained that combat: “… routinely make[s] it necessary for members of the armed forces involuntarily to accept living conditions and working conditions that are often spartan, primitive, and characterized by forced intimacy with little or no privacy.”

But my guess is these very same worried soldiers and anxious Congressmen would leap at the chance to shower with a lesbian.

But really wasn’t there a time in the Armed Forces when wealthy officers didn’t trust poor recruits; or when white soldiers didn’t trust black soldiers. Didn’t the Marine Commandant in 1993 say that black soldiers couldn’t shoot or swim or read compasses as well as whites?

I understand we are frightened of people who are different. But the idea of America – give me your tired, your poor, not to mention your huddled masses yearning to be free – is what makes us different than the Taliban and Al-qaeda. They take fear to the next level: mayhem and murder.

Maybe I’m unrealistic to think we can chuck the whole thing. But until we figure out that gays and lesbians can shoot, swim, read compasses, and just want to be friends, how about we compromise? Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell. Don’t Shower. That’s one way to drive the enemy from the battlefield.

Mickey Friedman writes from the Grossinger Clinic for Failed Comedians: “I have convinced seven not-so-funny stand-up comedians not to shower this Friday. One small step.”

The Berkshire Record Thursday March 11, 2010 © Mickey Friedman, All rights reserved.