There’s really not very much gay about war, as anybody who has seen a battlefield up close and personal will tell you. The nation’s Army and Navy are organized for a simple ultimate mission, to kill people and break things.
You might think war is endless gaiety, like Mardi Gras, from this week’s coverage of Senate Armed Services Committee hearings about whether to repeal the law enabling homosexuals to serve in the armed forces so long as nobody asks and they don’t tell.
The military services have always discriminated against a lot of people in choosing who they want for the grim tasks and brutal duties of war. Congress and the courts have always granted the services wide latitude. The old, the halt, the lame, the one-legged man and even the man with flat feet are not allowed to serve, either. It would never have occurred to the generations who won America’s wars to question such common sense. Now we have pregnant sailors and routinely send mothers of small children off to do the work of men, so why not oblige men who look upon other men with lust?
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified they were ready to welcome “open” gays into the ranks just as soon as Congress says it’s OK, but neither man wanted to talk much about why many of their military colleagues think this would not be a good idea. More than a thousand retired generals and admirals, no longer at the mercy of the president or the bureaucracy, have signed a letter saying so.
Adm. Mullen wanted to talk mostly about how he’s not like the homophobes who resist introducing confusion and uncertainty into the ranks. Navies once took small boys aboard ship as cabin boys to make life pleasant for the officers, and that seemed to work out all right. So what’s the big deal?
He took pains to make it clear that his testimony was not necessarily reflecting anybody’s opinion but his own, but he nevertheless wanted to get something off his chest. “No matter how I look at this,” he testified, “I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” It’s his “personal belief,” he said, that “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.”
Mr. Gates agreed, though in testimony more suited for the congressional hearing than a prayer meeting. “We have received our orders from the commander in chief, and we are moving out accordingly. However, we can only take this process so far, and the ultimate decision rests with you, the Congress.” He didn’t have to say how happy he, and perhaps the admiral, are that the decision does rest with Congress, and not the military.
Many of the reporters present - mostly men and women whose only brush with military service was listening to the Beatles singing about Sgt. Pepper and His Lonely Hearts Club Band - wrote and talked about the hearings as if they had wandered into a revival meeting. Dana Milbank of The Washington Post was particularly wet: “Mike Mullen’s 42 years in the military earned him a chest full of ribbons, but never did he do something braver than what he did on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.” Or maybe Mike was mocking the media’s blowing of kisses and tossing of rose petals toward the admiral. Surely he was not mocking the admiral’s own resume, his experience as a military bureaucrat and his lack of combat experience. But one never knows.
Most of the media mockery was aimed at Sen. John McCain, who asked the most pertinent questions of the secretary and the admiral. The man The Washington Post identifies as a “former” war hero was mocked for telling a college audience three years ago that if the “leadership of the military” tells him the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy should be changed he would consider it. But so far that hasn’t happened. Both the admiral and the secretary carefully avoided saying that “the leadership,” which includes more than one admiral and the secretary, has decided to tell Congress what to do.
But congressmen everywhere are too busy running for their lives, as if chased by Confederates from Bull Run, to redeem one of Barack Obama’s fulsome promises. The president wrote this check, and he’s not eager to cash it this year, either.
c Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.