Monday, April 20, 2009

A Bad Idea: Generals Making Social Policy

The Army A Democracy Deserves

According to Abe Lincoln,"war is too important to leave to the generals." But the larger truth is that there's just about nothing in a democracy that can be safely entrusted to generals. Or admirals, for that matter. For a recent example, check out Gays and the Military: A Bad Fit, a column that ran on April 15 in the Washington Post.

By law "homosexuals are not eligible for military service" wrote Generals James Lindsay, Buck Shuler, Joseph Went and Admiral Jerome Johnson. Section 654 of U.S. Code Title 10 says so. Further, they claim, if gays were allowed to legally and openly serve in the military, tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of valuable veterans would decide not to reenlist. "Losses of even a few thousand sergeants, petty officers and mid-grade officers, when we are trying to expand the Army and Marine Corps, could be crippling."

It gets worse, the generals wrote. Legislation legalizing the service of openly gay men and women "would impose on commanders a radical policy that mandates 'nondiscrimination' against 'homosexuality' or bisexuality, whether the orientation is real or perceived." The generals are also worried about "consuming valuable time" in training classes and litigation related to legalizing gay service in the military. And finally, "team cohesion and concentration on mission would suffer if our troops had to live in close quarters with others who could be sexually attracted to them."

The generals think they know that their boys have never previously "lived in close quarters with others who could be sexually attracted to them," because, I suppose, they also think that gay men are hyper-sexual people who are always up, or out, when the pants come off and the lights go out.

Perhaps when the generals put quotes around 'nondiscrimination' and 'homosexuality' they are trying to be true to some source. But who thinks such words need to be distinguished from real words, as though they depict some fanciful state?

Actually, guys, nondiscrimination is a primary and historic goal of American democracy. You need to get with the program. And homosexuality is a point on the continuum of sexuality. We all fall on that line somewhere and everyone on that line has to figure out how to manage their sexuality. Arguably, heterosexuals fail that challenge far more often than homosexuals do.

And, really, if we had left it up to your predecessor generals and admirals, we'd probably still have a racially segregated military. And women in the military might still be limited to changing bandages and emptying bedpans.

The military in a democracy ought to look like the democracy, itself. Otherwise, it becomes something more like a cult, dedicated and competent and serving a purpose, perhaps, but failing the democracy it claims to serve. It may be that in a true democracy, generals should be seen, but not heard.


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