Point of View Columns

Don’t Ask? Don’t Tell?

It is with a sense of wonder that I have watched the continuing debate over whether gay men and women should be allowed to serve in the military while being “open” about their sexual orientation and gender preference.

Opposition to allowing millions of American men and women to serve in the military honestly is difficult to understand except for the obvious homophobic undertones. Morale issues are cited. Presumably the notion is that soldiers in combat who are primarily interested in staying alive, will now be forced to divert their attention from survival to concern about the sexual orientation of the artillery commander who might save their lives.

What is more difficult to understand is how the opponents to gays in the military are willing to obliterate the principle of civilian control of the military. Recent polls indicate that well over a majority of Americans support the concept of gay men and women serving openly in the military. In 2008 American voters elected as President a candidate who unequivocally stated his support for the abolition of the much maligned “Don’t Ask, don’t tell” policy. There would seem to be little doubt that any referendum on the issue would result in a similar outcome.

Nevertheless, the Congress and the Department of Defense have gone through this very expensive polling of the members of the American military to ask how they “feel” about gays serving openly in the military. The charade has continued as Senator John McCain, waving his internment as a P.O.W. like a cloak that is supposed to confer omniscience, suggests that the wrong questions were asked in the poll and that, in any event, the poll results are ambiguous and do not warrant a change in military policy. We should await full clarity on the matter.

To quote Representative John Boehner, “chicken crap”.

A bit of history is in order. Black soldiers served in integrated military units during colonial times, through the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. After that the U.S. military was segregated, even during the Civil War over 180,000 black troops fought for the Union in segregated units.

During World Wars I and II black and white troops were segregated. But in July of 1948 President Harry Truman signed an Executive Order abolishing racial segregation the military.

It is very clear that if President Truman had asked the military leaders for their opinion integration would have been delayed for decades. Future President Dwight Eisenhower as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in World War II commanded a fully segregated military. He only had black troops fight with white units as an emergency measure during the Battle of the Bulge. And even that life-saving move was opposed by many generals and members of Congress.

But President Truman signed an Executive Order. The order was clear and the military, observing the institutional deference of the military to the civilian government of this country, complied.

During the ensuing sixty years the American military has been a leading institution in promoting racial progress, if not complete harmony.

Think about the America in which President Truman signed this executive Order. In 1948 black men and women were still being lynched. The Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in schools was years away and Till, Chaney, Schwerner, Goodman and Evers all thought that they still had lifetimes ahead of them.

The opinion of the members of the military on the issue of gays in the military is not the issue. The duly elected President of the United States, aka the Commander in Chief, has been clear. To continue this charade is pitiful and dishonorable and only serves to further erode the principle of military deference to the civilian branch of the government.

We are approaching a slippery slope. Today it is the issue of gays in the military. Tomorrow it could be whether or not to withdraw troops from Afghanistan (remember General Stanley McChrystal?).

We need to wake up before the Night of the Generals is upon us.