Few issues draw more ire against the American right than gay rights, particularly Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, a rule in which military servicemen are required to keep their sexual orientation private. It is often forgotten, however, that principled conservatives are deeply sympathetic to individuals whose liberty is denied of them, for they believe that every man and woman, straight or gay, is endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these being the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They believe that people should be free from government to live their life how they please, provided they don’t infringe upon the liberties of another individual. Yet despite the conservatives’ passionate love of freedom, they understand that it must be safeguarded and that such protection is best provided by a collectively organized military largely devoid of individuality.

There is no freedom in the military, and for good reason. In order to defend our nation and protect American interests, the U.S. military must be the best trained and most tightly disciplined fighting force in the world. Soldiers must be prepared to cope with every obstacle, from the ambush-laden jungles of Vietnam to the sweltering deserts of Iraq; to do so, military units are taught to rigorously follow orders, even if those orders are to run headlong into machine gun and mortar fire over a blood-soaked Normandy beach.

Our men and women in uniform are not taught to be drones without independent minds, but they understand that their needs, feelings and interests are subsumed by the unit in order to fulfill their duty to the greater American good. Their feelings must be anesthetized against killing, their nerves steeled against the explosive chaos of modern warfare and their natural inclinations devalued against the importance of the mission objective. General George Patton famously remarked, “An army is a team. … This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap. The bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality … don’t know anything more about real battle than they do about fornicating.” The military is not about expressing your culture or lifestyle choices. An army is a precisely-honed implement of destruction with a singular objective of annihilating the enemy.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” may appear to be a policy unfairly directed at gays, but it is entirely consistent with the structure of a well-organized fighting force. The point is not that the military cannot function with gays serving openly but that it cannot function if the expression and tolerance of individuality is held over duty to the mission. The U.S. military is not a purveyor of underrepresented cultures and lifestyles; it is its own carefully constructed culture of collective service and complete self sacrifice. Proponents of gay rights affect military policy at their own risk. The United States remains the freest and most tolerant society in the world, and if its means of defense are castrated by irrelevant pursuits of diversity over unity of purpose, it may not remain so for long.