President Obama's promise to repeal the ban on homosexuals in the military has caused tension among those responsible for military discipline. Former Marine Commandant Gen. Carl E. Mundy and 1,160 retired admirals and generals strongly oppose the change.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was tasked by Mr. Obama with implementing the change. But that task has proved difficult. On Jan. 15, The Washington Times reported, "Adm. Mullen was unable to get the full backing of other senior leaders during an unusual meeting of the top officers from each branch of the military." There are good reasons why top officers, including current Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway, oppose the change.
From 1992 to 1994, I served as chief of the Army's Criminal Law Division at the Pentagon. During that time, President Clinton ignited a firestorm when he tried to force the Department of Defense to admit known homosexuals into the military. Key obstacles were the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ ) and department regulations stating that "homosexuality is incompatible with military service." The uniform code prohibits indecent assaults, indecent acts, indecent liberties with children and sodomy. Each of those rules makes good sense in the unique military environment.
Even as Congress was wrestling with Mr. Clinton's proposal on homosexuals, officials were dealing with a major homosexual scandal at Fort Hood, Texas. Homosexuals had advertised a Fort Hood restroom as a gathering spot for casual sex. In just seven days, criminal investigators observed 60 men publicly committing serious acts on post. Officers, noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and enlisted personnel participated. Many wore uniforms displaying their insignia of rank.
The Army dealt with the matter discreetly, and the chief of public affairs referred to it as a "potentially explosive issue." It was "explosive" because it contradicted the administration's campaign to portray gay GIs as "perfect gentlemen - a boon to the force."
At the Criminal Law Division, facts contradicted that party line. Worldwide criminal reports documented serious offenses being committed frequently by homosexual GIs. To be certain, homosexuals weren't the only soldiers committing crimes, but the administration's proposals would have placed homosexuals in situations of forced intimacy, where same-sex attractions invite serious trouble.
Activists claim the risk of crimes from same-sex offenders is no greater than it is between servicemen and women. They are wrong. Women are not required to sleep and shower under the watchful eyes of men.
Homosexuals dismiss concerns regarding privacy in showers and in the barracks. But the risk is high. At Fort Sill, Okla., in 1991, two homosexual recruits caught a lone soldier showering at night. They violently sodomized the soldier, forcing him to submit by strangling him with a bath towel. At the time of trial, the victim was hospitalized under psychiatric care.
Recruit training is especially problematic. Male recruits had to physically subdue one homosexual drill instructor at an Army base to keep him from raping a male recruit as that recruit struggled to escape out a second-story window. At Marine boot camp, an aggressive female recruit was discharged for sexually touching and soliciting fellow Marines. Her intimidating manner caused fear and distrust throughout her platoon. At Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., a company gunnery sergeant sexually attacked a young officer candidate who had stayed back at the barracks while his platoon was out training.
Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, spoke firmly against dropping the ban on homosexuals, stating that it would cause "disruption" and "serious problems." Mr. Skelton is correct.
Assaults aren't the only problem. Few things threaten unit cohesion more than consensual sex between homosexuals while others are present. The Fort Hood incident demonstrates how public sex among homosexual officers, NCOs and enlisted men destroys respect for rank. How would men respond to such officers and noncoms in battle?
If widespread misconduct of that severity could happen with the prohibitions now in effect, how much worse would it become if consensual homosexuality were lawfully sanctioned - and made the subject of sensitivity training?
Discipline will suffer if gays are permitted to serve. I learned the importance of discipline on the Marine drill fields of Parris Island. S.C., and during fierce fighting with the 1st Marine Regiment. Later, in the disciplinary collapse following the Vietnam War, I spent many years helping rebuild discipline in the Army. Experience shows that highly disciplined units are important in garrison - and vital in battle.
Mr. Clinton practically brought down his presidency trying to lift the ban. After an exhaustive national debate, the House of Representatives determined that homosexuality is incompatible with military service. Congress then enacted Title 10 U.S. Code Section 654, which states that homosexuals are ineligible for military service. That ban is an essential element of military discipline. It must be retained.
Richard H. Black, retired from the U.S. Army, was chief of the Army's Criminal Law Division. As a Marine pilot, he flew 269 combat missions in Vietnam and he served four terms in the Virginia General Assembly.