Anyone with an interest in gender equality or fair treatment of gays and lesbians, take note: The Navy announced this week that it will start assigning women to its submarine crews next month. (That is, unless congressional opponents decide to intervene.)
To the uninitiated, that might not sound like a big deal. But it's a true sea change. In fact, it could foretell a faster end to the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy—and even its arcane injunction on women serving in combat roles.
The United States military has always been preoccupied with its hidebound traditions. In that respect, the Navy is like other military branches, only more so, with 21st-century sailors speaking of the Joneses—Davy and John Paul—like immediate family. Within that culture, there's always been an even more heritage-obsessed fraternity: the submarine service. It was officially born in 1900 with its first undersea ship of war, the USS Holland. It was also the first branch to truly go nuclear, with the atomic-powered USS Nautilus in 1955. In all those years, the "silent service" has reveled in its exclusivity, operating as a fraternity for some of the Navy's smartest and ablest sailors.
Except that it's a fraternity no more.
If that were the whole story, what a happy story it would be. But opponents of the move have a possible trump card to play.