Magazine article The National Interest

Fit for Duty

Magazine article The National Interest

Fit for Duty

Article excerpt

IN 1950, a project undertaken for the Office of Scientific Research and Development of the U.S. Government and entitled "The Adjustment and Achievement of Former University Psychiatric Patients in Military Service" was completed. It had been conducted by Dr. Clements C. Fry, Chief Psychiatrist and head of Yale's Division of Student Mental Hygiene, and myself, then the Executive Associate and Director of Research for the Yale Division.

The seven-year investigation, done through the National Research Council and with the help of the Surgeons General of the Army and Navy, focused on a sample of 2017 Yale and Harvard undergraduate and graduate students who had been patients of the University psychiatrist and who had subsequently served in the military. Among these students was a group of 176 homosexuals. The report of the study in general was held classified until the mid-fifties before being released--too late to be of much interest to the psychiatric community, or to the military. Now, with political action focusing on the question of homosexuality and military service, this old report has suddently become topical. A central question it raised is still relevant: should the military be interested in homosexuality as such, or in an individual's conformity to the demands of service?

The study concluded that many former patients (in all diagnostic categories, including that of homosexual) who should have been rejected for service under the official regulations had entered one or another of the services, and performed their duties at least as well as former students who had not been patients. The rate of psychiatric discharge for the former was no worse than that for the nonpatient group.

The study was undertaken at a time when leading psychiatric figures were beginning to explore and question long-held opinions and judgments. Psychiatric experience with and knowledge of individual growth and development coinciding with the college years was limited. It was our conclusion that, for all categories reviewed, the value of the study lay primarily in the questions it raised about the adequacy of prevailing psychiatric classifications and projections, especially with regard to individuals of military service age. In the words of the report, "the diagnostic labels then in common use seemed to us to be not only inappropriate, in the light of case records available for our research, but shallow and sterile as well."

Thus the general thrust of the report was a considered evaluation of the state of psychiatric knowledge about individual behavior in circumstances of particular stress; how the knowledge related to predictability of individual performance; and what relevant factors evidenced themselves in a selected group of individuals who were not representatives of the total mass of draftees, but seemed to be representative of the pool from which junior officers were drawn. At the time, junior officers were recruited principally from ROTC members and volunteers from colleges and universities.

With regard to the homosexual men in the group, the report found that the issue of the homosexual and his relation to service was not so clear-cut and simple as the regulations of the day would indicate. The study undertook, therefore, to examine the theory underlying the regulation referring to rejection of homosexuals, and some of the problems involved in carrying it out:

It would seem to be worthwhile to explore

the validity of beliefs...popularly assumed to be

truths. Is it true, for example, that...homosexuals

always carry over undesirable habits from civilian

to service life, especially sexual behavior? Would

their behavior as officers be affected by their sex-

ual orientation? Would it disqualify them as offi-

cers? Would their sexual responses disrupt their

group? Would living in an exclusively male envi-

ronment be too great a strain for them? …

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