“Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
Mr. Spock uttered these words as he sacrificed himself to save the Enterprise and her crew in The Wrath of Khan. Another man will soon weigh that balance as the Secretary of Defense provides a recommendation to the President regarding the continued service of transgender members of the armed forces while attempting to prevent a nuclear war.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis has a goal, as expressed in the newly released National Defense Strategy, to “Dissuade, prevent, or deter state adversaries… from acquiring, proliferating, or using weapons of mass destruction.” His near-term focus is currently on preventing a war of words with North Korea from escalating into nuclear conflict.
According to the Wall Street Journal, some within the administration are advocating a ‘bloody nose strategy’ wherein the United States makes a limited strike against North Korea’s nuclear capabilities in the hope that it would “illustrate the high price the regime could pay for its behavior.”
Dr. Van Jackson, a former pentagon nuclear strategist, describes an attack like this as “sheer folly” according to a detailed walkthrough of the likely responses, including a nuclear option, of the North Korean regime.
To prevent a policy like the bloody nose option from turning into action, one of the most powerful tools a senior figure in government has is the threat of resignation. If their conviction is strong enough, and they are willing to lay their position on the line, the person ordering that action may reconsider.
Policy makers like Secretary Mattis have to ask themselves where that line is. What action would cause them to risk their career? For Secretary Mattis, perhaps it’s the prevention of a reckless activity that could lead to nuclear war.
To prevent such action, Mattis also has to remain Secretary until the key moment arrives. The Washington Post adroitly asked how long can he “…continue to act as a force for continuity and caution and still retain influence with a president impatient to hit back at America’s enemies” while facing the decisions he needs to regularly make that could draw the ire of the White House.
By February 21st, Mattis owes the President an implementation recommendation on the transgender ban that the President announced via Tweet in July. Since then, the Pentagon has re-looked at transgender service with the only new data being 18 months of transgender people contributing to military readiness and lethality while serving openly and honorably around the world.
Despite that, the President says he is “doing the military a great favor” by banning these highly trained transgender service members. Though the courts have vehemently disagreed and placed multiple injunctions against the ban, the Department of Justice announced that it will be defending a new policy as of February 21st.
If Secretary Mattis’ recommendation is that transgender people should continue their service while remaining eligible for medically necessary care and the White House disagrees, Secretary Mattis will have a difficult decision to make.
Assuming he uses Spock’s logic, it’s unlikely he’d threaten resignation on this issue. If he stakes his position on the dignity and service of our 10,000+ transgender service members, would he be in place to possibly prevent a nuclear war with the threat of millions of casualties?
What made Spock’s sacrifice so moving was that it was his choice to put the life of his crewmates before his own. Ask yourself, would it have felt different if Admiral Kirk had ordered Spock to his death to save the crew?
That’s the same decision Secretary Mattis would have to face, either carry out the order to sacrifice thousands of valuable transgender service members or sacrifice himself. That’s a tough decision if he thinks he’s in position to potentially save millions of lives.
As a transgender service member, it’s agonizing to be part of the few who sit on the sacrificial altar. I joined to defend this country and the ideals we represent at our best, and like Spock I would willingly choose to make a critical sacrifice. I hope the administration doesn’t take away my ability to make that choice and we can all continue to meet the needs of the many.
Bryan (Bree) Fram is an active duty Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Department of Defense or the United States Air Force.