In Glory, Dressed
The desire to serve in the armed forces of your nation is one that has been promoted as a selfless and necessary sacrifice a good citizen makes for the preservation of the liberties and rights of themselves, their loved ones and their countrymen. This sacrifice, a necessary component of maintaining state security, is one that has occasionally been denied to some citizens - be it for their height, their frailty, their ethnic background, their gender, their sexual orientation and, rarely, for a lack of need of new soldiers. These denials can happen because serving as a soldier is not a right - it is a privilege, and occasionally an obligation, but an individual's service is at the behest of the government. What makes the White House's statement of returning the ban on transgendered soldiers so interesting is what part of the government it is coming from.
War, at its basic level, knows no gender. It is a desperate struggle to kill or be killed; when the Celts and Germans were fighting the Romans and each other the men would be the ones to make up the majority of the front line; but behind them would be the women, waving hatchets and knives above their heads, shouting abuse at the tribesman that ran and hacking them down, yelling about the slavery and murder their tribe would endure if they lost the battle. The legendary Amazons of Greek myth reportedly cut off one or both of the breasts to better draw a bow. The Amazons were likely based on the historical Scythians, and it was an affiliate tribe of the Scythians, called the Massagetae, who decapitated Cyrus the Great and supposedly used his skull as a drinking cup. In Vietnam, the first rebellion against Chinese domination was started by the Trung sisters. The Soviet Union famously utilized female snipers and pilots, generally keeping them away from the frontlines, but showing that women could handle combat in the modern age.
War doesn't really care about your sexual orientation, either. Everybody knows of the Spartan hoplites that guarded Thermopylae, less known is the Sacred Band of Thebes. This military organization was known for pairing up its members in a senior-junior couple that would use a homosexual relationship to increase the esprit-de-corp. After all, if you are fighting for your loved ones, wouldn't you fight even harder with your loved one literally right next to you? They were good enough to crush the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra, so it probably counted for something. Frederick the Great, considered the preeminent Prussian King and idol of Adolf Hitler, was notorious for his flamboyancy and having "inseparable" male companions throughout his life, notably Voltaire. Modern assumptions of limp-wristed sexual deviance simply does not hold up to historical analysis.
Basic training in the military is supposed to bring everybody to the same standard of combat ability to prepare them for assignment and deployment. One would assume that as long as a prospective soldier can meet these standards - keeping pace in march with 50 lbs of equipment on your back, or being able to carry a 200 lb person on your shoulders, for example - they can fairly enter service. But we live at a time where we are coming to terms with the importance of mental health. Being able to "tough it out" is a necessary skill when you are a soldier, and having mental frailty in a combat situation is not only dangerous for the frail, but for the unit.
Assuming somebody's frailty because of gender or sexual orientation is fallacious, but the specter of mental instability has been ever-present in warfare - from the ancient times of "solder's heart" to the "shell shock" of World War I to the "battle fatigue" of World War II to the "post-traumatic stress disorder" of today, war takes a large toll on soldiers. Even avoiding direct combat doesn't spare a soldier - having to be on alert for all hours of the day wondering if the next randomly lobbed mortar round is landing at your feet will chip away at you.
And it is this realization of the mental stress of war that makes our limited understanding of mental health a pressing concern. It is this same limited understanding that has us not fully comprehend transgenderism. It is unusual that an issue that affects so few people has such an emotional reaction from so many Americans; this reaction is likely tied to a person instinctively being weirded out by a kind of person they likely don't interact with on a daily basis. Exposure to more transgendered people may reduce this instinctive revulsion; conversely, as the exposure to transgenderism increases, it will be seen as being pushed on the population by reactionaries who will rally to remove this exposure on the pretense of eliminating degeneracy and protecting children.
So, what causes transgenderism? Some argue it is due to sexual trauma during childhood that causes a child to interpret their role in sexual coupling in an unnatural way. Others argue it is a choice made by somebody that wishes to live their life as they wish. Still others argue it is a misfiring of chemicals during the embryonic stage of growth. The nature of evolution may gave some insight here. Evolution works off of mutations, not all of which are beneficial. The body you inhabit was the product of billions of years of false starts and dead ends; it was one of these mutations that led to the Y chromosome. There are a multitude of mutations of the X and Y chromosomes, some inconsequential, some debilitating.
And the mutations don't occur just as the sperm and egg meet. Mutations can occur during development both by innate genetic makeup and by the fetus' environment in utero exposing them to the body chemistry of the mother. Be it lead or testosterone, the maxim of no man being an island applies to you before you even leave the womb. That some people end up somewhere between male and female isn't unnatural - on the contrary, it is proof of our place in a complex, imperfect, messy world. The biological imperative drives all living beings to procreate, and while being transgender doesn't make this impossible, it obviously inhibits it. But does that make being transgender inherently unstable and unfit for service?
Transgendered people commit suicide and suffer from drug addiction at a far higher rate than the national average. How much of that is caused by their inherent nature and how much of that is caused by social pressure (such as people expressing a desire to torture them to death) is going to depend on how the question is phrased and who is answering it. Being a soldier will almost certainly not help them in either regard, and our ability to help both of these groups will be as limited as our understanding of the human brain. The moral imperative of having the government explain why you can't do something instead of you explaining why you can do something applies to this situation, but there is another imperative at play here - the imperative of military submission to civilians.
How much influence should the civilian government have over how the military conducts itself? There is inherent civilian supremacy by having an elected President in charge of the United States military. It was Harry Truman who issued an executive order to desegregate the armed forces (which was not fulfilled until several years later), while the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was enacted by Congress. Generally, military planning is at its best when separated from domestic political considerations. The reasoning of the TransBan obviously did not come from the Department of Defense, as evidenced by their lack of immediate action and response. Claims by the President that generals were referred to about the ban are questionable in light of his well-documented usage of hyperbole and the lack of preparedness on account of the DoD.
A cynic would approach this as either a smokescreen to take attention off contextual issues the President is facing or a hatred-based rally point for his political base to flock around; either way, one should keep in mind that the desegregation and loss of combat cohesiveness predicted with racial inclusion in the armed forces failed to materialize, and it is a unique mind to suggest that recent geopolitical failures are due to gay inclusiveness in the military. Vocal concerns about incapable transgendered soldiers are baseless at best and dogwhistling at worst, and if the White House has data that suggests otherwise, it would be reasonable to release it to support its argument.