The nation's top military officer, Gen. Peter Pace, has expressed regret for comments he made recently about gays serving in the armed forces. But it's better that he said what he believed out loud and on the record.
Earlier this month, Pace told the Chicago Tribune that the Pentagon should keep the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, adding, "I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts. I do not believe the United States is well-served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way."
Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, didn't dwell on "good order and discipline." He didn't claim that gays in the military would disrupt "unit cohesion." He didn't make the claim that gay troops can't shoot or salute or serve with valor. Instead, he acknowledged a rank prejudice. He believes homosexuality is immoral; therefore, gays shouldn't be allowed to serve unless they hide who they are.
Unwittingly, the general dropped the facade that has covered the homophobia rampant among the top officer corps. That's progress. Now, the White House, military officials and congressional leaders can have a frank discussion of the risks of allowing simple bigotry to dictate fitness for the armed forces.
Last month, U.S. Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) reintroduced a bill to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," a compromise adopted in 1993 to appease military officials who were up in arms about President Bill Clinton's campaign pledge to end the ban against gays in the military. Under the policy, gays and lesbians may serve only if they keep their sexual orientation private and don't engage in homosexual acts. Meehan's bill would allow gays to serve openly.
Since "don't ask, don't tell" was adopted, the gay-rights movement has gained support; younger Americans, including many serving in the armed forces, don't have the knee-jerk disapproval of their older counterparts. A February Harris poll found that 55 percent of people now favor allowing gays to serve openly; a 2003 Gallup poll found that 91 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 favor that change.
Equally important, the military has bogged down in Iraq and desperately needs more recruits for its all-volunteer armed forces. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office estimated that about 10,000 gay personnel had been drummed out of the military in the first decade of "don't ask, don't tell," including about 800 whose jobs were considered "mission critical." Among those were 54 Arabic speakers — at a time when the military and the State Department are desperate for fluency in major Middle Eastern languages.
That absurdity isn't lost on U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.). "For some reason, the military seems more afraid of gay people than they are ... terrorists. ... If the terrorists ever got ahold of this information, they'd get a platoon of lesbians to chase us out of Baghdad," he joked during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month. (See video below)
Nor is it lost on Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, who wrote a March 14 newspaper column calling for the U.S. military to allow gays to serve openly.
"Is there a 'straight' way to translate Arabic? Is there a 'gay' Farsi? My God, we'd better start talking sense before it is too late. We need every able-bodied, smart patriot to help us win this war," Simpson wrote.
In January, retired Gen. John Shalikashvili, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, wrote a similar column. "I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces."
Truth be told, most top officers already know that gay troops don't undermine efficacy, disrupt unit cohesion or erode discipline. One of the dirty little secrets of current Pentagon policy is its hypocrisy: When soldiers are needed for battle, when the military is desperate for "boots on the ground," the purges of gay men and women drop significantly, as countless studies have shown. That's been true in every conflict since World War II. (The Washington Post has reported that 612 homosexuals were discharged in fiscal year 2006, fewer than half the 1,227 discharged in 2001.)
Order and discipline and cohesion are never more critical than when troops are taking fire. So if gay troops are disruptive, it would seem absolutely crucial to keep them out of hot zones. But that's not the way it works. They're more likely to be dismissed when they come home.
Now that's immoral.
Blame the Democrats.
Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman of NY
tells Condi and the enemy terrorists how
to get us out of Iraq. Fox News Alert?