Propaganda Principles: The Bigger, the Better

by Palm Center | July 29, 2019

The House of Representatives recently passed, on a bipartisan basis, an amendment to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that would prohibit discrimination in eligibility for military service and treatment while in military service. Modeled on President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive order to desegregate the military, the amendment, if enacted, would be the first time Congress has enforced an expectation of equality in military service. It would protect all service members from discrimination on the basis of “race, color, national origin, religion, or sex (including gender identity or sexual orientation).”

During debate on the amendment, only one member spoke against it: Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-MO). She has a history of leading the opposition to inclusive policy allowing transgender people to serve under the same standards as everyone else, deploying a litany of false claims in an effort to derail the usual military standard of one policy, applied to all.

But it was a tall order to come up with a way to oppose a nondiscrimination principle of such impeccable pedigree, and one that did nothing more than codify the military’s own nondiscrimination principles as set out in DoD Directive 1020.02E, “Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity in the DoD.”

So Hartzler went big, falsely alleging that the Harry Truman amendment would upend all military personnel policy and prevent the military from ensuring only qualified persons could serve. In essence, she argued that nondiscrimination meant no rules at all. Here is the explanation why she is wrong. Unfortunately, it always takes longer to unwind and rebut the bigger misrepresentations than it takes to make them in the first place.

  1. Hartzler claimed that the amendment (entitled “Nondiscrimination with Respect to Service in the Armed Forces”) would eliminate all medical qualifications for enlistment, but the amendment does not eliminate military qualifications of any kind. It applies to “any qualifications established or applied for eligibility for service,” and its only effect is to eliminate certain bases for discrimination in applying those standards.
  2. Medical qualifications for enlistment are part of the “occupational standards for military service generally” referenced in the amendment. It is nonsensical to claim that occupational standards for military service somehow exclude or excuse basic medical qualifications.
  3. Congress established requirements for “gender-neutral occupational standards” in military service in 1994. In the 25 years since then, this phrase has not prevented the military from enforcing medical standards at the time of enlistment. For that matter, the Truman executive order more than 70 years ago has not prevented the military from enforcing medical fitness standards.
  4. Hartzler lacks the most basic understanding of military personnel standards, and that ignorance should be exposed. The most vivid example is her 2017 claim that one of her interns was rejected for military service because she had a bunion. This is incorrect. Under medical enlistment standards (page 31), no one is rejected for having a bunion alone. The standard for feet is an entirely functional one. An applicant is disqualified based on a “symptomatic” deformity of the toes, meaning a deformity that is “expected to prevent properly wearing military footwear or impair walking, marching, running, maintaining balance, or jumping.” Hartzler’s intern was apparently rejected for not being able to wear military footwear or not being able to walk, march, run, balance, or jump, an entirely reasonable expectation for military service.
  5. Inclusive transgender policy was based on a similar functional standard that ensured applicants were fit to serve, without excessive time lost or geographic limitation.
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