Grownups in the Military

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Last Nov. 30, on the 14th anniversary of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law concerning gays in the military, 28 retired generals and admirals released a letter calling on Congress to end the policy.

The former brass weren’t asking Congress to return to the old no tolerance rules – rather, they want gays to serve openly. They provided data indicating that some 65,000 gays and lesbians currently serve, and that there are some one mil- lion gay veterans. “They have served our nation honorably,” the letter stated.

What a refreshing contrast to the attitude of former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace, who called homosexuality “immoral,” thus stigmatizing a significant portion of the force he oversaw. It is a tribute to serving gays and lesbians that they continued to carry out their duties despite being slurred by the nation’s top officer.

Gen. John Shalikashvili, who was JCS Chairman at the time don’t ask, don’t tell was introduced, was not among the signers of the letter. However, he had already come out (no pun intended) in favor of openness back in January 2007. Clearly, he was motivated in part by the stretching of the force and the difficulties in recruiting that the Army and Marine Corps were experiencing. But he also seems to have had a real change of heart.

I say it’s about time. The fact is that gays don’t hurt com- bat efficiency. Going back to the beginning of recorded history, successful armies have contained open homosexuals. Think of “mighty Achilles” and his lover Patroclus, or the Sacred Band of Thebes. The latter was a corps d’elite of 300 men – 150 pairs of gay lovers. They were the heart and soul of the Theban army that overthrew Sparta’s hegemony in 4th century B.C. Greece. They were never defeated until Alexander the Great, possibly history’s greatest captain (and a bisexual, by the way), annihilated them at the Battle of Chaeronea.

Cavalry, the dominant arm from the Middle Ages to the Boer War, was notorious for its large percentage of homosexuals. One could go on. The point is that sexual orientation has never mattered to the success or failure of a military force.

The U.S. military has integrated heterosexual women into the force without a discernible drop off in efficiency (and this despite the fact that a great deal of hanky-panky goes on – at home, on board ship, and even during deployments to war zones). It will be able to do the same with openly gay soldiers. The discomfiture of officers of Peter Pace’s ilk is nobody’s problem but their own.

America may finally be growing up. Congress should have the guts to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” and let gays and lesbians serve openly as well as honorably.

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