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Make war, not love.

The uproar over President Clinton's plan to end the Pentagon's policy banning open homosexuals from the military has subsided -- for now. Both sides are braced for the next phase in the battle, to begin this spring with hearings before Senator Sam Nunn's Senate Armed Services Committee. The intensity of this debate should surprise no one, for few things get Americans so riled up as thinking about sex and talking about rights. It is unfortunate, however, that the controversy has focused more on the presumed rights of homosexuals than on the principles that are fundamental to a strong military.

The Pentagon's policy toward homosexuals is both wise and just. It is wise because it accounts for real people functioning in the real world, and recognizes that despite their best intentions, heterosexuals and homosexuals are above all human. It is just because it can be defended without recourse to any criticism of homosexuality on moral grounds; indeed, the only moral basis for the ban is the assertion that preventing unnecessary loss of life is more important than sexuality of any variety.

Those who would lift the ban have tried to dismiss the ensuing public outcry as a moral crusade orchestrated by the religious Right. But this underestimates the public's genuine concern. Senator Sam Nunn and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell are hardly right-wing fanatics. Nor are most other Americans, who view this as more than a discrimination issue; they may not condone hatred or intolerance toward homosexuals, but they see how sexuality in the ranks could endanger men in uniform.

The ban against homosexuals in the military is neither judgmental nor ideological. It is based on the recognition that military life cannot provide for different individual lifestyles, and that distractions in combat, sexual or otherwise, get people killed.

The Marine Corps Is Not Burger King

The primary objective of the armed forces is to win battles with as few casualties as possible. For the president or any other leader to permit anything that detracts from this objective to influence military policy and training constitutes gross negligence and is truly immoral. While the military has been better at providing equal opportunity to women and minorities than any other part of society, this has until now been a fortuitous side benefit, not an objective or an obligation.

Combat is a team endeavor. To win in combat, individuals must be trained to subjugate their individual instinct for self-preservation to the needs of their unit. Since most people are not naturally inclined to do this, military training must break down an individual and recast him as part of a team. This is why recruits give up their first names, and why they look, act, dress, and train alike. To paraphrase an old drill instructor, the Marine Corps is not Burger King -- you can't have it your way.

The purpose of this training, which is continually reinforced throughout the military culture, is to build unit cohesion. Unit cohesion -- on an athletic team, in a family, in a marriage, and on the battlefield -- hinges on trust. Military leaders gain the trust of their subordinates by demonstrating such attributes as character, courage, sound judgment, respect, and loyalty. Soldiers trust each other because of their shared values, objectives, training, and other experiences. To risk one's life willingly demands a degree of trust in one's comrades and one's commanders not found in any other environment on earth. Although such demands occasionally may be made of firefighters or police, soldiers fight in wars, where such demands are routine.

It is difficult to foresee a time when homosexuals and heterosexuals no longer see each other as different in a fundamental way. With the slightest introspection, the reasonable person quickly realizes that bonds of trust will be difficult to create between men if there is sexuality beneath the surface. The thought that your comrade might have sexual feelings for you -- even if he is suppressing those feelings -- will make such trust impossible. The slightest inkling that a commander is influenced by his sexuality -- even to the extent that he must resist that influence -- will destroy his effectiveness as a leader. Soldiers must trust each other, and their commanders, if they are to risk their lives in causes our nation deems appropriate. When trust is absent among civilians, society, although demeaned, still survives. But breaking trust within the military will cause our soldiers to die, our battles to be lost, and our interests to be threatened.

No Right to Serve

Access to the military is not a right enjoyed by all Americans. It is not guaranteed in the Constitution or anywhere else. Indeed, to build effective units, the armed forces routinely deny the privilege of military service to patriotic Americans who are too tall, too short, too fat, color blind, flat-footed, and mentally or physically handicapped in any way. Single parents are not allowed to enlist, nor are chronic bedwetters. This is not a judgment of the inherent worth of these people as human beings; indeed, each of these individuals properly enjoys numerous civil rights. It is simply a determination that they are not suited for military service.

In a recent decision in California, U.S. District Court Judge Terry Hatter ordered the Navy to reinstate an openly gay petty officer because, in his opinion, the Pentagon's policy on homosexuals is based merely on "cultural myths and false stereotypes." This language attempts to join the gay rights movement to the civil rights movement, and strikes a responsive chord among Americans who believe in civil rights and have yet to shake the burden of collective guilt over past injustices visited upon various racial and ethnic minorities. But logically, neither this language nor the linkage behind it make sense.

Skin color and sexual orientation are different. It is no irony that black Americans have strongly rejected attempts by homosexuals to cloak themselves in the civil rights movement. No clearer statement of this view can be found than General Colin Powell's response to a letter from Representative Pat Schroeder of Colorado. To Ms. Schroeder's patronizing assertion that "I am sure you are aware that your reasoning would have kept you from the mess hall a few decades ago, all in the name of good order and discipline and regardless of your dedication and conduct," General Powell responded:

I am well aware of the attempts to draw parallels between this position and positions used years ago to deny opportunities to African-Americans.... I can assure you I need no reminders concerning the history of African-Americans in the defense of their nation and the tribulations they faced. I am part of that history.

Skin color is a benign, non-behavioral characteristic. Sexual orientation is perhaps the most profound of human behavioral characteristics. Comparison of the two is a convenient but invalid argument. I believe the privacy rights of all Americans in uniform have to be considered, especially since those rights are often infringed upon by the conditions of military service.

As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as an African-American fully conversant with history, I believe the policy we have adopted is consistent with the necessary standards of good order and discipline required in the armed forces.

A lot of interesting things occur in bedrooms all across America. If minorities begin to be defined based on sexual behavior, there will soon be some fascinating civil rights cases. If the concept of "civil rights" is to continue to mean anything, it cannot be extended to various groups of people based on how they seek sexual pleasure. As for the president's assertion that in the absence of untoward behavior it is wrong to discriminate based on status alone, one notes that society discriminates on precisely this basis all the time. My behavior in a women's locker room might be above reproach, but I am still not allowed to enter one, simply because of my status as a male. Perhaps -- to apply General Powell's standards to a civilian situation -- my mere status might be a threat to good order and discipline.

Consider Judge Hatter's reference to "cultural myths and false stereotypes." It is true that to accept racial integration of the armed forces, whites had to overcome what were truly false stereotypes and cultural myths. In the case of homosexuals, heterosexuals may likewise learn that homosexuals are not compulsive perverts, weaker or less masculine, or a physical threat of any kind. These are myths and stereotypes. But it is neither a myth nor a stereotype that homosexual men have sex with other men. It is this specific behavior to which people react.

Attraction, Jealousy, Hurt, Shame

What would be the effect of mixing homosexuals and heterosexuals in combat? Begin by making two assumptions: first, that homosexuality is viewed as entirely normal, natural, and otherwise acceptable throughout the population; and second, that the order has been given to admit open homosexuals, and that every military person attempts to execute it in good faith. Even under these highly unlikely conditions, the presence of homosexuals in a military unit would still be an invitation for disaster.

Military leaders are responsible for the training, morale, and physical well-being of each member of their unit. They must first mold a group of individuals into a cohesive team, and then lead them into battle. To their men, they must appear capable, physically and mentally tough, brave, and above all fair. Their typical responsibilities include, but are not limited to: planning a mission; navigating and otherwise controlling the movement of their troops; maintaining communication with their commander; directing aircraft and artillery fire to support their attack; arranging for resupply of food and ammunition; coordinating with other ground units; and seeing that casualties are treated and evacuated if necessary. They often do all of this in darkness, miserable weather, or both, and always with an enemy trying to kill them. They must continually make decisions that may cost one man's life and spare another's, such as choosing who is assigned a dangerous mission, and which of the wounded is treated and evacuated first. Should they be asked to contend with human sexual emotions as well?

One hopes that most people have enough common sense and experience to know that human sexuality is enormously complex. Even in the most civilized society, sexuality is never far from the surface. It can inspire attraction or revulsion, intimacy or objectification, trust or fear, jealousy, hurt, or shame. Any of these emotions can be enormously distracting and disruptive. Civilian employers recognize this and enact various policies that proscribe fraternization in the workplace. Still, as any woman -- and some men -- will attest, these rules are broken every day. Yet while the highest price a civilian will pay for sexual distractions will be some form of degradation, or the loss of a job, reputation, or career, distractions in the military cause people to suffer physical mutilation and often death. If this sounds extreme, consider the following:

A heterosexual lieutenant must order one of his squads to attack a machine gun position that has taken his platoon under fire. Two squads are in position to attack; one is led by a homosexual sergeant. The lieutenant must decide; if he sends the homosexual sergeant, and the sergeant is killed, will the platoon's other homosexual troops think that the lieutenant sent the sergeant because he dislikes homosexuals? Will they trust him with their lives in the future? If the lieutenant were homosexual, and found himself attracted to the sergeant -- he is, of course, only human -- would he spare that sergeant from dangerous missions and send the other squad instead? What would be the effect on the platoon's morale if he were even perceived as doing so? Above all, would weighing these issues cause him to hesitate while the lives of his men hang in the balance?

If every decision is made, and reacted to, with even the slightest chance that sexual attraction or revulsion played a part in it, how could those decisions be trusted? If a man does not trust his leaders or those around him, will he willingly put his life in their hands?

The Stakes Are Life and Death

In this scenario, no heterosexual is an irrational bigot, no homosexual is either compulsive or perverse, and no sexual advance or contact takes place; in short, no stereotypes are present. The reader will realize that, were the proportion of homosexuals and heterosexuals in society reversed, this argument rightly would be used to ban heterosexuals from the armed forces. The clearest and strongest reason for the ban is to remove the influence of sexuality -- not heterosexuality, not homosexuality, just sexuality, period -- from an environment where the stakes are literally life and death.
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Title Annotation:banning of homosexuals in the military
Author:Luddy, John
Publication:Policy Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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