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Unit cohesion in the United States military it has been the subject of dispute and political debate since World War II as the United States military has expanded the categories of citizens it accepts as servicemembers. Unit cohesion is a military concept, defined by one former United States Chief of staff in the early 1980s as "the bonding together of soldiers in such a way as to sustain their will and commitment to each other, the unit, and mission accomplishment, despite combat or mission stress".[1] The concept lacks a consensus definition among military analysts, sociologists, and psychologists.[2]


Prior to US Executive Order 9981, issued on July 26, 1948 by President Harry S. Truman, the American military was segregated. Opponents of racial integration frequently alleged that integrating the armed forces would have detrimental effects on unit cohesion.[3]

Women in combatEdit

Brian Mitchell, in his article "Women Make Poor Soldiers" (excerpted from his 1989 book "Weak Link: The Feminization of the American Military"), expressed concern that placing women in combat lowers unit cohesion, either due to sexual relationships taking priority over group loyalty, or because men would feel obliged to be more protective of women than other men.[4] Mitchell's view was harshly criticized in a New York Times review, which stated the book was "spoiled by intemperate allegations and a supercilious tone" and lacked sourcing for statements.[5]


Air Force Instruction 36-2909 on Professional and Unprofessional Relationships says:

Dating, courtship, and close friendships between men and women are subject to the same policy considerations as are other relationships. Like any personal [*pg 1038] relationship, they become matters of official concern when they adversely affect morale, discipline, unit cohesion, respect for authority, or mission accomplishment. Members must recognize that these relationships can adversely affect morale and discipline, even when the members are not in the same chain of command or unit. The formation of such relationships between superiors and subordinates within the same chain of command or supervision is prohibited because such relationships invariably raise the perception of favoritism or misuse of position and erode morale, discipline and unit cohesion. [1]

Sexual orientationEdit

Conservative commentary in the U.S. has taken the view that the service of gays in the military is deleterious to essential components of unit cohesion, such as moral and discipline.[6] Urvashi Vaid, criticizing the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy in 1995, called unit cohesion a euphemism for "heterosexual male bonding" and wrote that "the essence of male bonding lay in the forcible suppression of undercurrents of homosexual desire."[7]


  1. "Morale and Cohesion in Military Psychiatry, Fred Manning, p.4 in Military Psychiatry: Preparing in Peace for War, ISBN 0160591325; Manning cites Meyer, EC, "The unit", Defense, 1982;82(February):1-9
  2. Brian Palmer (2010), "Pentagon Sees Little Risk in Allowing Gay Men and Women to Serve Openly" magazine, Dec. 1, 2010
  3. Sexual orientation and U.S. military personnel policy: options and assessment. National Defense Research Institute (U.S.), United States. Dept. of Defense. Page 171, 'Racial Integration, Unit Cohesion, and Military Effectiveness.'
  4. Rooks, Sheri Crowley. "Looking at G.I. Jane through Lenses of Gender". "According to Mitchell (1991), when women and men work under stressful conditions in close quarters, sexual liaisons may become likely. These liaisons may threaten the stability of military families, disrupt discipline, and distract personnel from the mission." 
  5. Halloran, Richard (3 September 1989). "FIGHTING WOMEN". Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  6. North, Oliver (December 3, 2010). "Is Wrecking the Finest Military In the World the Price We'll Pay for 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'?". Fox News. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  7. Urvashi Vaid, Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay & Lesbian Liberation (NY: Doubleday, 1995), 176


  • Schaub, Gary Jr. (2010). "Unit Cohesion and the Impact of DADT" Strategic Studies Quarterly Vol. 4, No. 3 (Fall 2010), pages 85–101
  • Tarak Barkawi, Christopher Dandeker, Melissa Wells-Petry and Elizabeth Kier, "Rights and Fights: Sexual Orientation and Military Effectiveness," International Security, vol. 24, no. 1 (Summer 1999), 181-201

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