FIRST-PERSON: Let's not make the military's job harder

DALLAS (BP)--Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has commissioned an 11-month review of U.S. policy regarding homosexuals serving in the military with an eye towards getting Congress to change the law. In 1993, by a veto-proof majority, Congress passed a bill affirming that homosexuals are ineligible to serve in the armed forces. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is not the law; it's a policy, a compromise. Its title describes it well.

The policy serves to keep open homosexual behavior in the military at bay. Our president has pledged to get rid of it. Secretary Gates supports the president but says it's not all that simple because of the military's necessity to maintain certain conditions. These were laid out in a recent Wall Street Journal column by Mackubin Thomas Owens, a Marine infantry veteran of the Vietnam War and editor of Orbis, a quarterly journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

As Owens points out, the military exists to win wars. Success on the battlefield depends, in large part, on military organizations' ability to mitigate three natural phenomena that affect the individual soldier: paralyzing fear, friction, and uncertainty. This is done by fostering what he describes as, "an ethos that stresses discipline, morale, good order, and unit cohesion." He writes that there is a "nonsexual bonding," something the Greeks called philia (friendship or comradeship), "the bond among disparate individuals who have nothing in common but facing death and misery together."

Congress, in passing the 1993 law, acknowledged the consensus among military leaders that the presence of open homosexuals in the military threatens this military ethos. Allowing gays and lesbians to serve on ships or in military units injects another kind of love: eros. This love is sexual, individual, and exclusive. It undermines philia which, Owens writes, depends upon an atmosphere without double standards characterized by "fairness and the absence of favoritism." With eros, you get "sexual competition, protectiveness, and favoritism."

"The destructive impact of such relationships on unit cohesion can be denied only by ideologues." Owens writes. "Does a superior order his or her beloved into danger? If he or she demonstrates favoritism, what is the consequence for unit morale and discipline? What happens when jealousy rears its head? These are questions of life and death, and they help to explain why open homosexuality and homosexual behavior traditionally have been considered incompatible with military service."

One might argue that these requirements should also preclude women from serving in the military. Amorous relationships, both inappropriate and appropriate, do pose challenges. But the differences between men and women are, at least, obvious. People know what they're dealing with. And men and women are not expected to shower together or sleep together in barracks. And, although women work in military convoys, they are not supposed to serve in full combat.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supports allowing homosexuals to serve openly. He says the military will adjust. But he's having trouble convincing many of his fellow top leaders who have been steeped in this military ethos and are convinced of its necessity.

Richard Black, former chief of the Army's Criminal Law Division, also wrote recently about the importance of discipline in the military. In a Washington Times column, he describes several disturbing incidents perpetrated by recruits, male and female, and one by a homosexual drill instructor. He also wonders how open homosexual sex will affect morale and respect for rank.

Military law discriminates. It's supposed to, so those serving can do so effectively. Let's not make their job harder.


Penna Dexter is a conservative activist and frequent panelist on the "Point of View" syndicated radio program. Her weekly commentaries air on the Bott and Moody Radio Networks.

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