How a book about the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” by 27 veterans and service members, a think-tank expert, a professor and a journalist got published by the Marine Corps, which had urged Congress not to repeal the law.
It started with a “colonel” of truth.
“What about a class on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’?”
That’s the question Col. Michael Belcher, director of the Marine Corps War College, part of Marine Corps University in Quantico, Va., asked the college’s national security director Dr. Tammy S. Schultz in February 2009.
The two had been talking about possible “controversial issue” topics that might engage their students’ critical thinking, a goal of the school whose motto is “dare to know.” Belcher’s instincts were right, and during the 2010 – 2011 school year, several Marine Corps University students chose to write theses about DADT. When the theses began to cross his desk, Belcher suggested that the college might “have enough solid, publishable papers for a DADT anthology.”
Schultz figured the idea was worthwhile but would require additional information and input.
When she had researched a report on desegregation in the armed forces, she lamented the lack of a single volume that contained the voices and documents of the era.
“If I were to put together a DADT anthology,” she said, “I wanted the collection to be something as valuable to the modern policymaker as to the future historian or dissertation student.” The anthology needed more than academic studies, she felt. It needed personal voices.
Belcher e-introduced Schultz and me in June 2011, and we met a few days later in a lobby of the Willard Hotel in downtown Washington during a break in the annual Center for New American Security conference. We agreed to work together and got busy in late July. Meanwhile, Belcher lined up Marine Corps University’s support, and MCU convinced Marine Corps University Foundation, a private nonprofit, to support the effort financially. Marine Corps University Press agreed to print the book.
Schultz’s and my noble goal was to publish an instant anthology by or around September 20, the day President Obama was scheduled to sign Congress’ law.
Half the book would be comprised of reports by MCU students. Check. We had the academic reports, although they had not been edited for a general audience. The other half of the book would be comprised of personal essays by service members and veterans. All we needed were the essays. Not a problem.
Immediately I compiled a list of potential writers – friends, friends of friends, acquaintances of friends, acquaintances of acquaintances, and writers whose work I had seen elsewhere. Some people offered to widen the call by posting the query on websites such as OutServe, the association of active-duty gay service members.
In early August, Schultz and I sent this note to at least 121 potential essayists: Service members and veterans from all four military branches, straight and gay, female and male, officers and enlisted – plus a dozen civilians with military expertise:
Marine Corps War College (MCWAR) is producing a scholarly anthology about DADT’s cultural impact on the Marine Corps and the rest of the U.S. military, including spousal benefits.
The book will be available on the day DADT officially ends, probably 20 SEP.
Marine Corps University Press will publish the book with support from the Marine Corps University Foundation.
Obviously a book coming out of Marine Corps Base Quantico will include much content by Marines.
That’s where you come in.
The book needs the voices of sailors, airmen and soldiers, too.
Dr. Tammy Schultz, professor at the War College, and Military Times contributing writer J. Ford Huffman want you to consider writing a personal essay about your experience with DADT. Your finished essay (and others’) will be considered for publication in the book.
What’s in it for you?
Although you will not be paid, this book – with your name on your essay – will likely be newsworthy. (Some journalists will receive advance copies of the book with a news embargo.) You will receive a free copy.
You have a maximum 1,500 words. You may write less.
Your deadline is 12 AUG.
Because the book will not be available to the public until End-of-DADT Day, any active-duty writer who happens to be gay can be comfortable being out in his or her essay.
BTW, your receiving this note does not imply that MCWAR presumes anything about your sexual orientation.
Please tell Dr. Schultz or Mr. Huffman that you accept this TDY assignment.
Send your essay, with dates of service and rank, by EOD on 12 AUG so that your work may be considered for publication.
(Huffman and Schultz)
What was the result?
Some said they’d think about it, which I learned was code for no, they would not submit anything. Some writers wanted to write something but were afraid to because DADT was still the law.
Why fear the law? Couldn’t a service member contribute to the book anonymously? No.
In the lobby of the Willard I had suggested that each essay be signed, and Schultz agreed. Why? Anonymity lacks credibility and can breed distrust in many readers’ minds. That did not seem appropriate in a collection about a law that required some service members to remain anonymous.
The decision to use bylines obviously limited the number of submissions.
One soldier who wanted to write said he could not because to do so would requires his outing himself before Sept. 20, 2011: “For me to participate in this very important and timely submission,” the officer e-mailed me from Iraq, “I would have to engage PAO (public affairs officer) prior to the full repeal – and that has its own inherent pitfalls.”
One career military member presumed an anti-repeal essay would be verboten. On the contrary. We encouraged him to expand on his view that the military has always provided a 1950s-style environment for raising a family with traditional values and the repeal would affect that atmosphere. He chose not to write.
From 12 dozen queries, I received around 30 essays. I figured we would be fortunate if a dozen of those 30 were worth publication. I was astonished and exhilarated. At least two dozen were worth publishing, Schultz and I agreed. The stories were individual, their styles distinct.
I began the editing process, and immediately I was reminded that:
- I had failed to alert writers that the editing process would require that everyone follow a consistent style (a combination of The Associated Press and – to satisfy academic standards – the Chicago Manual of Style).
- I had forgotten that 30 writers would have 30 different voices that would require 30 different styles of management. Some of the essayists, new to the world of editing and publishing, were not accustomed to somebody’s suggesting a word or two be changed or a phrase be streamlined. One writer dropped out. Another writer questioned my “wasting time” with editing suggestions. I offered to stop wasting the writer’s time but he agreed to stick with the process, and the book is better because he stuck around.
The first version of the manuscript that went to the brass at Marine Corps University in mid-September 2011was censored. How? The bylines of active-duty gay writers were crossed out because otherwise those writers would be incriminating themselves. The law was still on the books. The deletions were done to protect the officers who read the material as well.
The University questioned the number of essays – there were 27 – for reasons of quantity, not quality. We were able to use two of the writers’ voices elsewhere in the book. In the book there are essays from 25 diverse voices: 14 are Marine, five are Army, four are Navy, and two are Air Force. Eighteen essayists are male and seven are female. In the end, three active-duty Marine officers publicly identify as gay for the first time – in the published book. What is the gay-straight breakdown? The book’s introduction invites readers to compile their own tallies.
Speaking of numbers, why didn’t the book come out, so to speak, last September when the law was repealed, as Schultz, Belcher and I originally hoped? Why was the book published six months later, on March 20?
Marine Corps University Press’ printing plates were full with other projects also vying for top priority, and the 254-page effort fell in the middle of the winter holidays. While the delay was frustrating to Schultz and me and to writers who would be seeing their work published for the first time, the evolving schedule meant that the book would come out six months after the repeal. Not a bad news peg, Schultz realized, and her news hunch was right. At this writing, TIME has written about the book, as has Huffington Post and McClatchy-Tribune News Service and Military Times. Rolling Stone chose to excerpt Marine Corp Maj. Dirk Diener’s poignant essay. Other national news organizations have asked for copies of the book.
And the Government Printing Office has agreed to take over the distribution – a sign that the immediately popularity of “The End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” makes the publication worthy of wider distribution in the GPO’s eyes.
Wider distribution means production costs will even out but wider distribution does not mean Schultz’s and my royalty checks get bigger. Authors and editors of government publications receive no royalties.
Below are two essays from the book that Time published on its Battleland blog. If you click on the arrow icon in the upper right, you can view the pages full-screen.
To get a copy of the book, contact the GPO bookstore.
J. Ford Huffman is a long-time journalist and former deputy managing editor at USA Today. More details on his background.